English Holiday Celebration in New England

The Misquamicut Players Bring Guy Fawkes Day Reenactment and Bonfire to Rhode Island


The folks in Misquamicut celebrate Guy Gawkes Day with a play, bonfire, and firewords, but  who the heck is Guy Fawkes? The story begins in 1605, when Guy Fawkes (also known as Guido-yes, really) and a group of coconspirators attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament. The conspirators were angered because King James had been exiling Jesuits from England. The plotters wanted to wrest power away from the king and return the country to the Catholic faith. Today, they would be known as extremists.

However, in an attempt to protect a friend in the House of Lords, one of the group members sent an anonymous letter warning his friend to stay away from the parliament on the evening in question. The warning letter reached the King, and the conspirators were caught, tortured and executed. Guy Fawkes and his friends had rolled 36 barrels of gunpowder under the Houses of Parliament.

These days, Guy Fawkes Day is also known as Bonfire Night. The event is commemorated in England every year with fireworks and burning an effigy of Fawkes on a bonfire. The effigies are simply known as “Guys”, which the English have been burning to mark Guy Fawkes Day for almost 400 years.

In the first bonfires, called “bone fires” at the time, it was not the bones or effigies of Guy Fawkes which were burned. Not until 1806, two centuries later, did the people start burning effigies of Guy Fawkes himself. Still today, communities throw dummies of Guy Fawkes, politicians and people in the news on the bonfire.

The Misquamicut Players have made an annual tradition of reenacting this night of inquisition and execution. Written and Directed by Caswell Cooke, Jr. and Wayne Holmes and presented by the Misquamicut Business Association at the Andrea Hotel, this evening brings together local actors and musicians for a comedic look at this English holiday.

Actors play the parts of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Duke of Earl, Earl of Nottingham and King. The setting is the Court of King James I in England circa 1605. There are flutes, a five piece trombone section, and marvelous costumes. Then there are bagpipes, hot cider, the large bonfire, fireworks and so much more. The whole family is invited to step back in time and enjoy this magical evening.

In early October each year, the players present their reenactment of the Guy Fawkes Trial and bonfire, concluding in a grand finale fireworks display . The reenactment performance features “The Misquamicut Players,” a group of local actors, and “King Crimson’s Jesters,” an ensemble of local musicians (aka The Beach Bums), and will begin at 7PM on Misquamicut Beach.

Each season the Guy Fawkes performance incorporates a different thematic element into the 17th century trail and execution of Guy ‘Guido’ Fawkes, who attempted, for religious reasons, to blow up British Parliament with the everyone it, including the King.

One year, musicians performed the Beatles Classics “All You Need Is Love,” as well as a medley from the famous 1969 album Abby Road. Past performances have included Star Trek, Monty Python, and Braveheart themes.

The event includes an enormous bonfire on the beach, usually with displays by the Westerly Morris Men, as well as the full marching regalia of Rhode Island’s Kentish Guards Fife and Drum Corp.

All are welcome and the event is free of charge.

Just a side note to the celebration: Even 400 years ago, people had a love of conspiracy theories. A common question asked is; “was there really a gunpowder plot, or were the ‘conspirators’ framed by the king?” There was no doubt an attempt to blow up parliament. Guy Fawkes and his associates may have been caught in a Jacobean sting operation. Many of the plotters were known traitors. It would have been almost impossible for them to get hold of 36 barrels of gunpowder without the government finding out.

As for the secret warning letter, many historians believe the King’s officials fabricated it. The letter made it easy to explain how the king found out about the plot and stopped it just in time. The letter was in fact very vague. It said nothing about the details of the attack. Still, the King and his men knew exactly where and when to catch the conspirators and stop the plot.

Of course, Rhode Island’s presentation is a bit more tongue-in-cheek, but if you’re in an English sort of mood, you might consider buttering your crumpets and heading to Misquamicut Beach for a bit of British entertainment. Oh, and it’s free.

For details on the next (and previous) Guy Fawkes bonfires at Misquamicut Beach, visit http://www.guyfawkesusa.com

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