The Human Chessmatch is a staple at a lot of Ren Faires the world over. It is light, laid-back entertainment and it can even get some of the attendees involved – crowd participation is always nice. Usually it is a kind of mass cast game that many of the entertainers, especially the street performers, take part in.
One of the first depictions of the human chess match is in the book Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. In this version, Alice, of course, is a pawn in the game being played. Much in the this tradition, people take on the roles of the varying pieces on the chess board. They also move in the same way as the chess pieces. So if the person playing the game commands the Queen’s Knight to move he can only move in the same style as the knight on the chessboard would move. Now this sounds boring but it has a bit of a twist.
There is almost always a story line that goes along with this activity. Several years ago, at the Tennessee Renaissance Festival, they had the Queen playing and Sir Walter Raliegh was one of her pieces, I believe he was the knight – that would make sense. As the story unfolded, the pieces that were entertainers from the faire got into a little more action than the regular pieces. There would be fights of every imaginable pairing. There would be duel between knights, duels between pages and trolls, duels between wenches and knights and sometimes the wenches won. It is great fun and as I said, at some faires they even get the guests at the faire involved.
There is nothing like watching kids actually playing Human Chess. Most of the time they have to be helped to know where to go but they have a blast, making memories that they will never forget. If you notice that Human Chess or Chess with the Queen is on the list of entertainment for the day, make sure you are there. And get there early in case you can get picked to be a pawn.