The history of the circus as a history of cruelty and mercy
The history of the circus can be viewed from different angles. For example, as a story of the gradual rejection of cruelty-from the bloodthirsty antiquity to our time, when the question arises whether to use intimidated animals in the arena. But the path to humanity still seems to be incomplete.
In itself, the ancient word “circus “or, more precisely,” circus “literally meant” circle”, and what happened in this circle with the visual spaces radiating from it, very little resembled modern performances. There were races for survival, in which chariots tried not only to overtake, but also to turn over each other; gladiatorial fights; public bloody executions and, finally, animal baiting.
The more familiar types of circus performances were also popular in the ancient world. These were performances with trained animals (especially popular were monkeys), and juggling, and simple acrobatics, and walking on a tightrope. However, these performances were held just not in the arenas, but right on the squares, in the courtyards of rich citizens, or just at drinking parties.
Later, for many years, the circus in its ancient meaning was banned by Christians, although traveling circuses continued to travel around Europe — including during the laws against nomads and traveling artists. It is believed that traveling circus performers, continuing to dabble in their art and closely converging on the basis of problems with the law and similar occupations with the Gypsies who came to Europe, formed a separate Gypsy-like ethnic group of German blood origin-the yenish. Until now, the yenish are mentioned in almost all documents on social policy together with the Roma. Naturally, the Gypsies also gave circus performances until very recently, and now there are activists among the Gypsies who are trying to revive this old genre.
The first circus as a round arena with circuses and circus performances in our understanding was connected at the end of the eighteenth century by an Englishman named Philip Astley. The highlight of his program was vaulting-spectacular riding on horses, but in order to make it more interesting for the audience, he added between riding performances of mimes, jesters, jugglers, acrobats and equilibrists. And, of course, trained animals again. All over Europe, circus buildings began to grow, and traveling booths were renamed-also circuses, only hats.
It is not necessary to think that if the bloody amusements of Ancient Rome were no longer related to the circus, the new circus became exclusively a genre of performing art. The circus program of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and sometimes twentieth century would have shocked many modern viewers.
Some trainers did not hide the fact that they intimidated animals, and ostentatiously whipped animal artists with whips, so that the audience enjoyed the victory of human will over the wild nature. Performances of clowns were based on scenes of humiliation and even beating of artists — and the audience willingly added pepper to the show, throwing garbage at the clown and shouting taunts.
There were always several pavilions around the dome of the traveling circus. In some of them sat fortune tellers or magicians showed their skills. And in others, they put people on display, praising them as” rare freaks ” who would then be sure to have nightmares or make them laugh very much. “Freaks “could be disabled (for example, legless people who have mastered a few simple gymnastic tricks, or hunchbacks, or people with excessive growth of bones), could be” exhibits ” with hypertrichosis (extra hair on the body and face), albinos, representatives of colonized peoples (and in this case they were often undressed like animals, and could be forced to eat raw meat for fun), people with Hyper-mobility of joints, and so on. Not every customer viewed the “freaks” with minimal politeness. Sometimes the audience was rude, made obscene remarks, and sometimes directly harmed the health of the artist, for example, without asking pulling the hair on the jaw or the hand of a person with Hyper-mobility of the joints. Some circus owners, promising artists good contracts and a comfortable future, in fact not only released them as “freaks” or participants in shows in the arena, but also prostituted them.
In the circus, you could see another fun: all sorts of fights and wrestling. Usually it was dog or rooster fights, and both women and men could fight. In self-respecting circuses, the wrestlers were well prepared and performed the fight in beautiful and concise ways, but some circuses provoked the indignation of cultured people by releasing untrained women whose function was to make the crowd laugh by messing around in front of the audience in tights somehow. Even vaulting was a torment for artists: they had to demonstrate the wonders of controlling a horse, sitting sideways in a tight corset, with a huge hat on their head. In the fall, both the corset and hatpins were injured far more seriously than any detail of the costume of a male artist. And this is not to mention the inability to group in such clothes.
The twentieth century is cruel and … humane
As the twentieth century progressed, the circus began to change its presentation. People wanted to see less cruelty and not feel like they were being treated like fools. Animal fights gradually disappeared from the arenas, the strongman show became much more popular than wrestling and replaced it. Trainers began either to hide their cruelty, or to develop other methods of training — not completely humane, but much milder than the previous ones, and animals in General began to be better kept — at least in stationary circuses, they began to live longer. The clown numbers became more complex and gradually completely moved away from the scenes of humiliation.
“Freaks” was now presented as a scientific show that allows you to understand how capricious nature can be, and the artists were described in a respectful way. So, about a girl with four legs, two of which were underdeveloped, and one worked poorly, in the announcements wrote that, despite her disability, she is one of the lightest creatures on earth, and “giants” and “hairy people” were presented as actors, not an exhibit. Gradually stopped showing dwarfs (except those who owned any circus art, of course), hunchbacks, legless, with a curved spine, microcephals. Finally, the circus community decided that showing people even as a science show was not a good idea.
By the way, at the same time when people in circuses turned from “freaks” to artists, magicians began to gradually stop posing as magicians — people were much more interested in science, and magicians announced that they would show the wonders of illusion, including purely physical properties, because physics is a miracle.
In our time, the question of using animals in the circus is raised-except, perhaps, the most sociable, such as some specially bred circus dogs or chimpanzees, who are no worse than people can be artists and are able to do something for a treat and a kind word, and not punches. I am concerned about the cruelty of not only training, but also keeping animals-circus menageries are not spacious enough, especially during tours. Will it be possible to turn every circus into something like the Cirque du Soleil? Who knows? But so far, the trajectory of the circus has only pleased humanists.