A circus is a company of performers who put on diverse entertainment
shows that include clowns, acrobats, trained animals, trapeze acts,
musicians, dancers, hoopers, tightrope walkers, jugglers, magicians,
unicyclists, as well as other object manipulation and stunt-oriented
artists. The term 'circus' also describes the performance which has
followed various formats through its 250-year modern history. Philip
Astley is credited with being the 'father' of the modern circus when
he opened the first circus in 1768 in England. A skilled equestrian,
Astley demonstrated trick riding, riding in a circle rather than a
straight line as his rivals did, and thus chanced on the format which
was later named a 'circus'. In 1770 he hired acrobats, tightrope
walkers, jugglers and a clown to fill in the pauses between acts.
Performances developed significantly through the next fifty years,
with large-scale theatrical battle reenactments becoming a significant
feature. The 'traditional' format, whereby a ringmaster introduces a
varied selection of acts that mostly perform choreographed acts to
traditional music, developed in the latter part of the 19th century
and continued almost universally to be the main style of circus up
until the 1970s.
As styles of performance have developed since the time of Astley, so
too have the types of venues where these circuses have performed. The
earliest modern circuses were performed in open air structures with
limited covered seating. From the late 18th to late 19th century,
custom-made circus buildings (often wooden) were built with various
types of seating, a centre ring, and sometimes a stage. The
'traditional' large tents, commonly known as 'Big Tops' were
introduced in the mid-19th century as touring circuses superseded
static venues. These tents eventually became the most common venue and
remain so to the present day. Contemporary circuses perform in a
variety of venues including tents, theatres and casinos. Many circus
performances are still held in a ring usually 13 m (42 ft)
in diameter. This dimension was adopted by Astley in the late 18th
century as the minimum diameter that enabled an acrobatic horse rider
to stand upright on a cantering horse to perform their tricks.
Contemporary circus has been credited with reviving the circus
tradition since the 1980s when a number of groups introduced circus
based almost solely on human skills and which drew from other
performing art skills and styles.
2.2 Modern format
2.2.1 Astley and early British circus
2.2.2 Ricketts and the first American circus
2.2.3 Expansion of American format
2.3 International awards
2.4 Contemporary types
3.2 Animal acts
5 In art, music, films, plays and books
6 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
First attested in English 14th century, the word circus derives from
Latin circus, which is the romanization of the Greek κίρκος
(kirkos), itself a metathesis of the
Homeric Greek κρίκος
(krikos), meaning "circle" or "ring". In the book De Spectaculis
early Christian writer Tertullian claimed that the first circus games
were staged by the goddess Circe in honour of her father Helios, the
Sun God.[page needed]
Sells Brothers Circus
Sells Brothers Circus with Great Danes
Video of a circus from 1954.
The modern and commonly held idea of a 'circus' is of a Big Top with
various acts providing entertainment therein. However, the history of
circuses is more complex, with historians disagreeing on its origin,
as well as revisions being done about the history due to the changing
nature of historical research, and the ongoing 'circus' phenomenon.
For many, circus history begins with Englishman Philip Astley, while
for others its origins go back much further—to Roman times.
In Ancient Rome, the circus was a building for the exhibition of horse
and chariot races, equestrian shows, staged battles, gladiatorial
combat and displays of (and fights with) trained animals. The circus
of Rome were similar to the ancient Greek hippodromes, although
circuses served varying purposes and differed in design and
construction, and for events that involved re-enactments of naval
battles, the circus was flooded with water. The Roman circus buildings
were, however, not circular but rectangular with semi circular ends.
The lower seats were reserved for persons of rank, There were also
various state boxes for the giver of the games and his friends. The
circus was the only public spectacle at which men and women were not
separated. Some circus historians such as
George Speaight have stated
"these performances may have taken place in the great arenas that were
called 'circuses' by the Romans, but it is a mistake to equate these
places, or the entertainments presented there, with the modern circus"
 Others have argued that the lineage of the circus does go back to
the Roman 'circuses' and a chronology of circus-related entertainment
can be traced to Roman times, continued by the
Constantinople that operated until the 13th century, through medieval
and renaissance jesters, minstrels and troubadours to the late 18th
century and the time of Astley.  
The first circus in the city of Rome was the
Circus Maximus, in the
valley between the Palatine and Aventine hills. It was constructed
during the monarchy and, at first, built completely from wood. After
being rebuilt several times, the final version of the
could seat 250,000 people; it was built of stone and measured 400m in
length and 90m in width. Next in importance were the Circus
Flaminius and the
Circus Neronis, from the notoriety which it obtained
through the Circensian pleasures of Nero. A fourth circus was
constructed by Maxentius; its ruins have helped archaeologists
reconstruct the Roman circus.
For some time after the fall of Rome, large circus buildings fell out
of use as centres of mass entertainment. Instead, itinerant
performers, animal trainers and showmen travelled between towns
throughout Europe, performing at local fairs.
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Astley and early British circus
Astley's Amphitheatre in London c.1808
The origin of the modern circus has been attributed to Philip Astley,
who was born 1742 in Newcastle-under-Lyme, England. He became a
cavalry officer who set up the first modern amphitheatre for the
display of horse riding tricks in Lambeth, London on 4 April
1768. Astley did not originate trick horse riding, nor was he
first to introduce acts such as acrobats and clowns to the English
public, but he was the first to create a space where all these acts
were brought together to perform a show. Astley rode in a circle
rather than a straight line as his rivals did, and thus chanced on the
format of performing in a circle. Astley performed stunts in a
42 ft diameter ring, which is the standard size used by circuses
ever since. Astley referred to the performance arena as a Circle
and the building as an amphitheatre but these were to later be known
as a Circus. In 1770 Astley hired acrobats, tightrope walkers,
jugglers and a clown to fill in the pauses between acts.
Astley was followed by Andrew Ducrow, whose feats of horsemanship had
much to do with establishing the traditions of the circus, which were
perpetuated by Henglers and Sangers celebrated shows in a later
generation. In England circuses were often held in purpose built
buildings in large cities, such as the London Hippodrome, which was
built as a combination of the circus, the menagerie and the variety
theatre, where wild animals such as lions and elephants from time to
time appeared in the ring, and where convulsions of nature such as
floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions have been produced with an
extraordinary wealth of realistic display. Joseph Grimaldi, the first
mainstream clown, had his first major role as Little
Clown in the
pantomime The Triumph of Mirth; or, Harlequin's Wedding in 1781.
Royal Circus opened in London on 4 November 1782 by Charles Dibdin
and his partner Charles Hughes. In 1782, Astley established the
Amphithéâtre Anglais in Paris, the first purpose-built circus in
France, followed by 18 other permanent circuses in cities throughout
Europe. Astley leased his Parisian circus to the Italian
Antonio Franconi in 1793. In 1826, the first circus took place
under a canvas big top.
Trapeze artists, in lithograph by Calvert Litho. Co., 1890
Ricketts and the first American circus
John Bill Ricketts
John Bill Ricketts brought the first modern circus to the
United States. He began his theatrical career with Hughes Royal Circus
in London in the 1780s, and travelled from England in 1792 to
establish his first circus in Philadelphia. The first circus building
in the US opened on April 3, 1793 in Philadelphia, where Ricketts gave
America's first complete circus performance. George Washington
attended a performance there later that season.
Expansion of American format
In the Americas during the first two decades of the 19th century, the
Circus of Pepin and Breschard
Circus of Pepin and Breschard toured from Montreal to Havana, building
circus theatres in many of the cities it visited. Victor Pépin, a
native New Yorker, was the first American to operate a major
circus in the United States. Later the establishments of Purdy,
Welch & Co., and of van Amburgh gave a wider popularity to the
circus in the United States. In 1825, Joshuah Purdy Brown was the
first circus owner to use a large canvas tent for the circus
Dan Rice was the most famous pre-Civil War
circus clown, popularizing such expressions as "The One-Horse
Show" and "Hey, Rube!". The American circus was revolutionized by P.
T. Barnum and William Cameron Coup, who launched the travelling P. T.
Menagerie & Circus, the first freak show. Coup
also introduced the first multiple ringed circuses, and was also the
first circus entrepreneur to use circus trains to transport the circus
between towns, a practice that continues today.
Circus parade around tents, in lithograph by Gibson & Co., 1874
In 1838, the equestrian
Thomas Taplin Cooke
Thomas Taplin Cooke returned to England from
the United States, bringing with him a circus tent. At this time,
itinerant circuses were becoming popular in Britain. William Batty's
circus, for example, between 1838 and 1840, travelled from Newcastle
to Edinburgh and then to Portsmouth and Southampton. Pablo Fanque, who
is noteworthy as Britain's only black circus proprietor and who
operated one of the most celebrated travelling circuses in Victorian
England, erected temporary structures for his limited engagements or
retrofitted existing structures. One such structure in Leeds,
which Fanque assumed from a departing circus, collapsed, resulting in
minor injuries to many but the death of Fanque's wife. Three
important circus innovators were Italian Giuseppe Chiarini, and
Frenchmen Louis Soullier and Jacques Tourniaire, whose early
travelling circuses introduced the circus to
Latin America, Australia,
South East Asia, China, South Africa and Russia. Soullier was the
first circus owner to introduce Chinese acrobatics to the European
circus when he returned from his travels in 1866 and Tourniaire was
the first to introduce the performing art to Ranga where it became
Lion tamer, in lithograph by Gibson & Co., 1873
Following Barnum's death, his circus merged with that of James Anthony
Bailey, and travelled to Europe as the Barnum & Bailey Greatest
Show On Earth, where it toured from 1897 to 1902, impressing other
circus owners with its large scale, its touring techniques (including
the tent and circus train), and its combination of circus acts, a
zoological exhibition and a freak show. This format was adopted by
European circuses at the turn of the 20th century.
The influence of the American circus brought about a considerable
change in the character of the modern circus. In arenas too large for
speech to be easily audible, the traditional comic dialog of the clown
assumed a less prominent place than formerly, while the vastly
increased wealth of stage properties relegated to the background the
old-fashioned equestrian feats, which were replaced by more ambitious
acrobatic performances, and by exhibitions of skill, strength and
daring, requiring the employment of immense numbers of performers and
often of complicated and expensive machinery.
Painting by Venezuelan Arturo Michelena, c. 1891, depicting a
backstage area at the circus
In 1919, Lenin, head of the USSR, expressed a wish for the circus to
become 'the people's art-form', with facilities and status on par with
theatre, opera and ballet. The
USSR nationalized Russian circuses. In
1927, the State University of
Circus and Variety Arts, better known as
Circus School, was established; performers were trained
using methods developed from the Soviet gymnastics program. When the
Moscow State Circus
Moscow State Circus company began international tours in the 1950s,
its levels of originality and artistic skill were widely applauded.
Circuses from China, drawing on Chinese traditions of acrobatics, like
Chinese State Circus
Chinese State Circus are also popular touring acts.
Circus Festival of Monte-Carlo has been held in
Monte Carlo since 1974 and was the first of many international awards
for circus performers. From the late 19th century through the first
half of the 20th century, travelling circuses were a major form of
spectator entertainment in the US and attracted huge attention
whenever they arrived in a city. After World War II, the popularity of
the circus declined as new forms of entertainment (such as television)
arrived and the public's tastes became more sophisticated. From the
1960s onward, circuses attracted growing criticism from animal rights
activists. Many circuses went out of business or were forced to merge
with other circus companies. Nonetheless, a good number of travelling
circuses are still active in various parts of the world, ranging from
small family enterprises to three-ring extravaganzas. Other companies
found new ways to draw in the public with innovative new approaches to
the circus form itself.
Main article: Contemporary circus
Cirque du Soleil
Cirque du Soleil performing
Dralion in Vienna, 2004
Contemporary circus (originally known as nouveau cirque) is a recent
performing arts movement that originated in the 1970s in Australia,
Canada, France, the West Coast of the United States, and the
Contemporary circus combines traditional circus skills
and theatrical techniques to convey a story or theme. Compared with
the traditional circus, the contemporary genre of circus tends to
focus more attention on the overall aesthetic impact, on character and
story development, and on the use of lighting design, original music,
and costume design to convey thematic or narrative content. For
aesthetic or economic reasons, contemporary circus productions may
sometimes be staged in theatres rather than in large outdoor tents.
Music used in the production is often composed exclusively for that
production, and aesthetic influences are drawn as much from
contemporary culture as from circus history. Animal acts appear rarely
in contemporary circus in contrast to traditional circus where animal
acts have been a significant part of circus entertainment.
Early examples of nouveau cirque companies include:
Circus Oz, forged
in Australia in 1978 from SoapBox
Circus and New Circus, both founded
in the early 1970s; the Pickle Family Circus, founded in San Francisco
Ra-Ra Zoo in the UK in 1983,
Nofit State Circus
Nofit State Circus in 1984 from
Wales; Cirque du Soleil, founded in
Quebec in 1984; and
1986. More recent examples include: Teatro ZinZanni, founded in
Seattle in 1998; Quebec's Cirque Éloize; Les 7 doigts de la main
(also known as The 7 Fingers); and the West African Circus
Baobab in the late 1990s. The genre includes other circus troupes
such as the Vermont-based
Circus Smirkus (founded in 1987 by Rob
Mermin), Le Cirque Imaginaire (later renamed Le Cirque Invisible, both
founded and directed by Victoria Chaplin, daughter of Charlie
Chaplin), the Tiger Lillies, Dislocate, and Vulcana Women's
Circus, while The
Jim Rose Circus
Jim Rose Circus is an interesting take on the
sideshow. Swedish contemporary circus company
Cirkus Cirkör was
founded in 1995. U.S. Company PURE Cirkus was founded in the
subgenre of "cirque noir" in 2004, and in Northern England, (United
Kingdom), Skewed Circus combines punk, rap, dance music, comedy,
and stunts to deliver "pop-circus" entertainment to young urban
The most conspicuous success story in the contemporary genre has been
that of Cirque du Soleil, the Canadian circus company whose estimated
annual revenue now exceeds US$810 million, and whose nouveau
cirque shows have been seen by nearly 90 million spectators in
over 200 cities on five continents. Despite the contemporary
circus' shift toward more theatrical techniques and its emphasis on
human rather than animal performance, traditional circus companies
still exist alongside the new movement. Numerous circuses continue to
maintain animal performers, including UniverSoul Circus, and the Big
Circus from the United States,
Circus Krone from Munich, Circus
Lennon Bros Circus from Australia, Vazquez Hermanos Circus,
Circo Atayde Hermanos, and Hermanos Mayaror Circus from Mexico,
Moira Orfei Circus from Italy, to name just a few.
Ticket Sale of
Sirkus Finlandia in Jyväskylä, Finland
Fire breathers risk burns, both internal and external, as well as
poisoning in the pursuit of their art.
A traditional circus performance is often led by a ringmaster who has
a role similar to a Master of Ceremonies. The ringmaster presents
performers, speaks to the audience, and generally keeps the show
moving. The activity of the circus traditionally takes place within a
ring; large circuses may have multiple rings, like the six-ringed
Moscow State Circus. A circus often travels with its own band, whose
instrumentation in the United States has traditionally included brass
instruments, drums, glockenspiel, and sometimes the distinctive sound
of the calliope.
Common acts include a variety of acrobatics, gymnastics (including
tumbling and trampoline), aerial acts (such as trapeze, aerial silk,
corde lisse), contortion, stilts, and a variety of other routines.
Juggling is one of the most common acts in a circus; the combination
of juggling and gymnastics is called equilibristics and include acts
like plate spinning and the rolling globe. Acts like these are some of
the most common, and the most traditional. Clowns are common to most
circuses and are typically skilled in many circus acts; "clowns
getting into the act" is a very familiar theme in any circus. Famous
circus clowns have included Austin Miles, the Fratellini Family, Rusty
Russell, Emmett Kelly, Grock, and Bill Irwin.
Daredevil stunt acts and sideshow acts are also parts of some circus
acts, these activities may include human cannonball, chapeaugraphy,
fire eating, breathing, and dancing, knife throwing, magic shows,
sword swallowing, or strongman. Famous sideshow performers include Zip
the Pinhead and The Doll Family. A popular sideshow attraction from
the early 19th century was the flea circus, where fleas were attached
to props and viewed through a Fresnel lens.
Female lion tamer and leopard.
Elephants from Cole Brothers
Circus parade through downtown Los
gorillas horse act
A variety of animals have historically been used in acts. While the
types of animals used vary from circus to circus, big cats, elephants,
horses, birds, sea lions, bears, and domestic animals such as cats and
dogs are the most common.
The earliest involvement of animals in circus was just the display of
exotic creatures in a menagerie. Going as far back as the early
eighteenth century, exotic animals were transported to North America
for display, and menageries were a popular form of entertainment.
The first true animals acts in the circus were equestrian acts. Soon
elephants and big cats were displayed as well. Isaac A. Van Amburgh
entered a cage with several big cats in 1833, and is generally
considered to be the first wild animal trainer in American circus
Mabel Stark was a famous female tiger-tamer.
Elephant act at a 2009 circus in Pachuca, Hidalgo, Mexico. In December
2014, as a response to reports of animal mistreatment, the Mexican
Congress passed a law banning the use of animals in any circus in the
country. The law set fines for violations and required circuses to
submit lists of the wildlife they possessed, which would then be made
available to zoos interested in taking the animals.
Animal welfare groups have documented many cases of animal cruelty in
the training of performing circus animals. The animal rights
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) contends that
animals in circuses are frequently beaten into submission and that
physical abuse has always been the method for training circus animals.
According to PETA, although the US Animal Welfare Act does not permit
the use of electric shock prods, whips, hooks, or similar instruments
by trainers, these are still used today. According to PETA,
during an undercover investigation of Carson & Barnes Circus,
video footage was captured showing animal care director Tim Frisco
training endangered Asian elephants with electrical shock prods and
instructing other trainers to "beat the elephants with a bullhook as
hard as they could and to sink the sharp metal bullhook into the
animals' flesh and twist it until they screamed in pain."
On behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality of
the Netherlands, Wageningen University conducted an investigation into
the welfare of circus animals in 2008. The following issues, among
others, were found:
71% of the observed animals had medical problems
33% of tigers and lions did not have access to an outdoor enclosure
Lions spend on average 98% of their time indoors
An average enclosure for tigers is only 5 m2
Elephants are shackled in chains for 17 hours a day on average
Elephants spend on average 10 hours a day showing stereotypic
Tigers are terrified of fire but are still forced to jump through fire
Since 1990 there have been over 123 cases of lion attacks at circuses
Animals are trained through discipline.[clarification needed]
Based on these findings, the researchers called for more stringent
regulation regarding the welfare of circus animals. In 2012, the Dutch
government announced a ban on the use of wild circus animals.
In testimony in
U.S. District Court
U.S. District Court in 2009, Ringling Bros. and Barnum
Kenneth Feld acknowledged that circus
elephants are struck behind the ears, under the chin and on their legs
with metal tipped prods, called bull hooks. Feld stated that these
practices are necessary to protect circus workers. Feld also
acknowledged that an elephant trainer was reprimanded for using an
electric shock device, known as a hot shot or electric prod, on an
elephant, which Feld also stated was appropriate practice. Feld denied
that any of these practices harm elephants. In its January 2010
verdict on the case, brought against Feld Entertainment International
by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals 'et
al.', the Court ruled that evidence against the circus company was
"not credible with regard to the allegations". In lieu of a USDA
hearing, Feld Entertainment Inc. (parent of Ringling Bros.) agreed to
pay an unprecedented $270,000 fine for violations of the Animal
Welfare Act that allegedly occurred between June 2007 and August
A 14-year litigation against the Ringling Bros. and Barnum &
Circus came to an end in 2014 when The Humane Society of the
United States and a number of other animal rights groups paid a
$16 million settlement to Feld Entertainment. However, the
circus closed in May 2017 after a 146-year run when it experienced a
steep decline in ticket sales during the year after it discontinued
its elephant act and sent its pachyderms to a reserve.
On February 1, 1992 at the Great American
Circus in Palm Bay, Florida,
an elephant named Janet (1965 – February 1, 1992) went out of
control while giving a ride to a mother, her two children, and three
other children. The elephant then stampeded through the circus grounds
outside before being shot to death by police. Also, during a
Circus International performance in
Honolulu, Hawaii on 20 August
1994, an elephant called Tyke (1974 – August 20, 1994) killed her
trainer, Allen Campbell, and severely mauled her groomer, Dallas
Beckwith, in front of hundreds of spectators. Tyke then bolted from
the arena and ran through the streets of
Kakaako for more than thirty
minutes. Police fired 86 shots at Tyke, who eventually collapsed from
the wounds and died.
In 1998 in the UK, a parliamentary working group chaired by MP Roger
Gale studied living conditions and treatment of animals in UK
circuses. All members of this group agreed that a change in the law
was needed to protect circus animals. Gale told the BBC, "It's
undignified and the conditions under which they are kept are woefully
inadequate—the cages are too small, the environments they live in
are not suitable and many of us believe the time has come for that
practice to end." The group reported concerns about boredom and
stress, and noted that an independent study by a member of the
Wildlife Conservation Research Unit
Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at
Oxford University "found no
evidence that circuses contribute to education or conservation."
However, in 2007, a different working group under the UK Department
for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, having reviewed information
from experts representing both the circus industry and animal welfare,
found an absence of "scientific evidence sufficient to demonstrate
that travelling circuses are not compatible with meeting the welfare
needs of any type of non-domesticated animal presently being used in
the United Kingdom." According to that group's report, published in
October 2007, "there appears to be little evidence to demonstrate that
the welfare of animals kept in travelling circuses is any better or
any worse than that of animals kept in other captive
A ban prohibiting the use of wild animals in circuses in Britain was
due to be passed in 2015, but Conservative MP Christopher Chope
repeatedly blocked the bill under the reasoning that "The EU
Membership Costs and Benefits bill should have been called by the
clerk before the circuses bill, so I raised a point of order". He
explained that the circus bill was "at the bottom of the list" for
Animal Defenders International non-profit group
dubbed this "a huge embarrassment for Britain that 30 other nations
have taken action before us on this simple and popular measure".
There are nationwide bans on using some if not all animals in circuses
in Sweden, Costa Rica, India, Finland, Singapore, Switzerland, Norway,
Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic,
Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Bolivia,
Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Israel,
Taiwan, Malta, Netherlands, and Denmark. Spain, Ireland, United
Kingdom, Argentina, Austria, Chile, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, and the
United States have locally restricted or banned the use of animals in
entertainment. In response to a growing popular concern about the
use of animals in entertainment, animal-free circuses are becoming
more common around the world. In 2009,
Bolivia passed legislation
banning the use of any animals, wild or domestic, in circuses. The law
states that circuses "constitute an act of cruelty."
had one year from the bill's passage on July 1, 2009 to comply.
City ordinances banning performances by wild animals have been enacted
San Francisco (2015),
Los Angeles (2017), and New York City
Greece became the first European country to ban any animal from
performing in any circus in its territory in February 2012, following
a campaign by
Animal Defenders International and the Greek Animal
Welfare Fund (GAWF).
On June 6, 2015, the
Federation of Veterinarians of Europe adopted a
position paper in which it recommends the prohibition of the use of
wild animals in traveling circuses.
Paper postcard of the Old
Kharkov Wood Circus
In some towns, there are circus buildings where regular performances
are held. The best known are:
Blackpool Tower Circus
Circus Krone Building in Munich
Cirque d'hiver, Paris
Cirque Jules Verne in Amiens
Hippodrome Circus, Great Yarmouth
La Tohu in Montreal
Moscow Circus on Tsvetnoy Boulevard
Moscow Circus on Tsvetnoy Boulevard in Moscow
Shanghai Circus World in Shanghai
Turkmen State Circus
Turkmen State Circus in Ashgabat
Circus in Riga
Circus in Bucharest
In other countries, purpose-built circus buildings still exist which
are no longer used as circuses, or are used for circus only
occasionally among a wider programme of events; for example, the
Circus Building) in Copenhagen, Denmark, Cirkus
in Stockholm, Sweden, or Carré
Theatre in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
In art, music, films, plays and books
The Circus, by Georges Seurat, painted 1891. Original in Musée
The atmosphere of the circus has served as a dramatic setting for many
musicians. The most famous circus theme song is called "Entrance of
the Gladiators", and was composed in 1904 by Julius Fučík. Other
circus music includes "El Caballero", "Quality Plus", "Sunnyland
Waltzes", "The Storming of El Caney", "Pahjamah", "Bull Trombone",
"Big Time Boogie", "Royal Bridesmaid March", "The Baby
"Liberty Bell March", "Java", Strauss's "Radetsky March", and "Pageant
of Progress". A poster for Pablo Fanque's
Circus Royal, one of the
most popular circuses of Victorian England, inspired
John Lennon to
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! on The Beatles' album, Sgt.
Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The song title refers to William
Kite, a well-known circus performer in the 19th century. Producer
George Martin and
EMI engineers created the song's fairground
atmosphere by assembling a sound collage of collected recordings of
calliopes and fairground organs, which they cut into strips of various
lengths, threw into a box, and then mixed up and edited together
randomly, creating a long loop which was mixed into the final
production. Another traditional circus song is the John Philip
Sousa march "Stars and Stripes Forever", which is played only to alert
circus performers of an emergency.
Plays set in a circus include the 1896 musical The
Circus Girl by
Lionel Monckton, Polly of the
Circus written in 1907 by Margaret Mayo,
He Who Gets Slapped
He Who Gets Slapped written by Russian
Leonid Andreyev 1916 and later
adapted into one of the first circus films, Katharina Knie written in
Carl Zuckmayer and adapted for the English stage in 1932 as
Caravan by playwright Cecily Hamilton, the revue Big Top written by
Herbert Farjeon in 1942, Top of the Ladder written by Tyrone Guthrie
in 1950, Stop the World, I Want to Get Off written by Anthony Newley
in 1961, and Barnum with music by
Cy Coleman and lyrics and book by
Mark Bramble, Roustabout: The Great
Circus Train Wreck written by Jay
Torrence in 2006.
Following World War I, circus films became popular. In 1924 He Who
Gets Slapped was the first film released by MGM; in 1925 Sally of the
Sawdust (remade 1930), Variety, and Vaudeville were produced, followed
by The Devil's
Circus in 1926 and The
Circus starring Charlie Chaplin,
Circus Rookies, 4 Devils; and Laugh
Clown Laugh in 1928. German film
Salto Mortale about trapeze artists was released in 1930 and remade in
the United States and released as
Burt Lancaster in
1956; in 1932
Freaks was released; Charlie Chan at the Circus, Circus
(USSR) and The Three Maxiums were released in 1936 and At the Circus
Marx Brothers and You Can't Cheat an Honest Man in 1939.
Circus films continued to be popular during the Second World War;
films from this era included The Great Profile starring John Barrymore
(1940), the animated Disney film
Dumbo (1941), Road Show (1941), The
Wagons Roll at Night (1941) and Captive Wild Woman (1943).
Tromba, a film about a tiger trainer, was released in 1948. In 1952
Cecil B. de Mille's Oscar-winning film The Greatest Show on Earth was
first shown. Released in 1953 were Man on a Tightrope and Ingmar
Bergman's Gycklarnas afton (released as Sawdust and Tinsel in the
United States); these were followed by Life Is a Circus; Ring of Fear;
3 Ring Circus
3 Ring Circus (1954) and
La Strada (1954), an Oscar-winning film by
Federico Fellini about a girl who is sold to a circus strongman.
Fellini made a second film set in the circus called The Clowns in
1970. Films about the circus made since 1959 include Disney's Toby
Tyler (1960), the
Circus of Horrors
Circus of Horrors (also in 1960); the
musical film Billy Rose's Jumbo (1962); A Tiger Walks, a Disney film
about a tiger that escapes from the circus; and
Circus World (1964),
starring John Wayne.
Mera Naam Joker
Mera Naam Joker (1970) a Hindi drama film
Raj Kapoor which was about a clown who must make his
audience laugh at the cost of his own sorrows. In the film Jungle
Emperor Leo (1997), Leo's son Lune is captured and placed in a circus,
which burns down when a tiger knocks down a ring of fire while jumping
The TV series
Circus Humberto, based on the novel by Eduard Bass,
follows the history of the circus family Humberto between 1826 and
1924. The setting of the HBO television series Carnivàle, which ran
from 2003 to 2005, is also largely set in a travelling circus. The
circus has also inspired many writers. Numerous books, both
non-fiction and fiction, have been published about circus life.
Notable examples of circus-based fiction include
Circus Humberto by
Cirque du Freak
Cirque du Freak by Darren Shan, and Spangle by Gary
Jennings. The novel
Water for Elephants by
Sara Gruen tells the
fictional tale of a circus veterinarian and was made into a movie with
the same title, starring
Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon.
Circus is the central theme in comic books of Super Commando Dhruva,
an Indian comic book superhero. According to this series, Dhruva was
born and brought up in a fictional Indian circus called Jupiter
Circus. When a rival circus burnt down Jupiter Circus, killing
everyone in it, including Dhruva's parents, Dhruva vowed to become a
crime fighter. A circus-based television series called
Circus was also
telecast in India in 1989 on DD National, starring
Shahrukh Khan as
the lead actor.
Chautauqua, tent shows that preceded American circus
Cirque du Soleil
Dog and pony show
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mammals delivered their final performances last May — dancing,
spinning and standing on pedestals at the command of the ringmaster
— and then were retired to a reserve in central Florida. The move
exacerbated the show’s demise; the elephants’ departure ultimately
expedited what was a “difficult business decision.”
“Ringling Bros. ticket sales have been declining, but following the
transition of the elephants off the road, we saw an even more dramatic
Kenneth Feld said in a statement Saturday. “This, coupled
with high operating costs, made the circus an unsustainable business
for the company.”
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'greatest show on Earth' takes a final bow". The Washington Post.
Retrieved 2017-06-12. ... Ringling had become the target of animal
protection groups that claimed it mistreated its elephants, and the
two sides soon locked in a 14-year legal battle so cutthroat it
involved secret informants paid by animal groups and a former CIA
official who was paid by Ringling’s parent company, Feld
Entertainment, to spy on activists and a journalist. The litigation
ended with several animal groups paying a $16 million settlement to
While the animal activists never prevailed against Ringling in court,
they were victorious outside. The allegations of elephant abuse
prompted municipalities around the country to ban elephant bullhooks
— a sharp metal tool used by handlers — or to prohibit wild animal
performances altogether, as
Los Angeles recently moved to do. After
Ringling retired its last pachyderms to a company-owned elephant
conservation center in Florida, ticket sales declined much more than
Feld expected, and the company announced in January that Ringling
would close for good.
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New York City
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of the American
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circus from 1800 to 1940.
Speaight, George, "A History of the Circus" 1980, The Tantivy Press,
London ISBN 0-4980-2470-9
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This article incorporates text from a publication now in
the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Circus".
Encyclopædia Britannica. 6 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
Tertullian, Septimus Florens. De spectaculis:
Latin text with English
translation by Terrot Reaveley Glover. Loeb Classical Library 1931.
Adams, Katherine H. (2012). Women of the American Circus, 1880-1940.
McFarland and Company, Inc., Publishers.
Dfening, Fred D., III (November 2007). "The American
Circus in the
1870s: An Overview from Newspaper Sources". Bandwagon. Columbus, Ohio:
Circus Historical Society. 51 (6): 4–60.
ISSN 0005-4968. —provides an overview of "low-yield
research" into the history of the American
Circus as covered in
"ragcontent newspapers [and] magazines [such as] White Tops"
Brooke, Bob (October–November 2001). "Step Right Up: Bob Brooke
presents the history of the circus in America". History
Simon, Linda. The Greatest Shows on Earth: A History of the Circus
(Reaktion Books, distributed by University of Chicago Press; 2014);
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Circus.
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