Entertainment has played important role in human life since ancient times. Numerous forms of entertainment appeared every century, and its amount is nowadays enormous. All entertainment forms worth interest, however circus seems most attractive to me. In the current paper I will research the history of circus, the reason of its popularity, and conditions of its development.
Circus as a form of entertainment has very long and vivid history. Circus played significant role in leisure experience of ancient ages, hence to my mind this form of entertainment should be carefully researched by theatre historians of our time. Originally circus was born in Ancient Rome (8th century BC – 4th century) as a public exhibition where chariot races, acrobat shows, battles, and other amusements were exhibited. It represented an open stadium with round arena, with rows of seats around it. Among performers who were involved in circus shows were exotic animals’ trainers, horse riders, acrobats, athletes, magicians, and many more participants.
There were not too many kinds of entertainment in that era, and circus successfully combined almost all of them. For this reason circus became very popular in Ancient Rome, therefore people built four circuses in the city of Rome (Maximus, Flaminius, Neronis, and Maxentius). Unfortunately with a fall of Roman Empire circus as a form of entertainment suffered from hard times. No more new circuses were built after that time, and performers had to make up groups to travel from town to town exhibiting their shows. However in the period from 5th to 15th century circus almost disappeared.
Circus as a form of entertainment had a second birth in the 18th century, when Philip Astley founded first circus built in London. Since then circus regained its popularity after more than 1,300 years, and almost every big European city has opened its circus in a separate building. In European circus of Middle Age some new artists appeared, such as lion and elephant trainers, trapeze artists, clowns, or fire breathers. In the 1850-ies circus was brought to America where it became a favorite entertainment. American experience brought so-called freak-shows and large tents to circus culture. After that many traveling circuses were created with their famous circus trains.
However, circus had to survive controversial times in the middle of 20th century, being attacked by fighters for animals’ rights and new entertainment forms. Still, many circuses exist in our time. Circus became more vivid and interesting, involving new technologies and numerous special effects (for instance Big Apple Circus in New-York, Moscow State Circus, or Circus Krone in Munich). Although it is not the most popular entertainment nowadays, Circus will always have its audience that loves vivid atmosphere of beauty, strength, brightness, laughter, and magic.
Sutton, Felix. The Big Show: A History of the Circus. Doubleday Press, 1971.
Chindahl, George Leonard. A History of the Circus in America. Caxton Printers, 1959.
Wilson, Edwin, and Alvin Goldfarb. Living Theatre: A History. McGraw-Hill Publishing, 2003.
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