The Ultimate Circus History Quiz



9 Questions

Who is considered the father of the modern circus?

What is the traditional format of a circus?

What is the origin of the word circus?

Which of the following countries has a nationwide ban on using some or all animals in circuses?

Which of the following is NOT a common act in traditional circus?

Which circus company is the most successful contemporary circus company?

What is the International Circus Festival of Monte-Carlo?

What is contemporary circus?

Which of the following is NOT an example of circus-inspired art?


A Brief History of Circuses

  • A circus is a company of performers who put on diverse entertainment shows that may include clowns, acrobats, trained animals, trapeze acts, musicians, dancers, hoopers, tightrope walkers, jugglers, magicians, ventriloquists, and unicyclists.

  • The father of the modern circus is Philip Astley, who began performing exhibitions of trick horse riding in an open field called Ha'Penny Hatch on the south side of the Thames River, England in 1768.

  • The traditional format of a circus, in which a ringmaster introduces a variety of choreographed acts set to music, developed in the latter part of the 19th century and remained the dominant format until the 1970s.

  • 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 were built with various types of seating, a center 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 • The traditional large tents commonly known as "big tops" were introduced in the mid-19th century as touring circuses superseded static venues.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.

  • Contemporary circus has been credited with a revival of the circus tradition since the late 1970s, when a number of groups began to experiment with new circus formats and aesthetics, typically avoiding the use of animals to focus exclusively on human artistry.

  • The word circus derives from Latin circus, which is the romanization of the Greek κίρκος, meaning "circle" or "ring".

  • The modern circus has been attributed to Philip Astley, who was born in 1742 in Newcastle-under-Lyme, England.

  • The first circus building in the US opened on 3 April 1793 in Philadelphia, where John Bill Ricketts gave America's first complete circus performance.

  • The American circus was revolutionized by P. T. Barnum and William Cameron Coup, who launched the travelling P. T. Barnum's Museum, Menagerie & Circus, the first freak show, in the 1870s.

  • After World War II, the popularity of the circus declined as new forms of entertainment arrived, and the public's tastes changed.

  • Contemporary circus (originally known as cirque nouveau) is a performing arts movement that originated in the 1970s in Australia, Canada, France, the West Coast of the United States, and the United Kingdom.

  • Contemporary circus combines traditional circus skills and theatrical techniques to convey a story or theme.Circus: A Summary

  • Contemporary circus focuses on overall aesthetic impact, character and story development, and use of lighting design, original music, and costume design.

  • Contemporary circus productions may be staged in theatres rather than large outdoor tents.

  • Animal acts rarely appear in contemporary circus, in contrast to traditional circus.

  • Early pioneers of contemporary circus include Circus Oz, Pickle Family Circus, Ra-Ra Zoo, and Cirque du Soleil.

  • Cirque du Soleil is the most successful contemporary circus company with an estimated annual revenue exceeding US$810 million in 2009.

  • Traditional circus performances are led by a ringmaster, and the activity takes place within a ring.

  • Common acts include acrobatics, gymnastics, aerial acts, contortion, stilt-walking, juggling, daredevil stunt acts, freak shows, and sideshow acts.

  • A variety of animals have historically been used in acts, but animal rights groups have documented cases of animal cruelty in the training of performing circus animals.

  • Nationwide bans on using some or all animals in circuses exist in many countries, including Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, India, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey.

  • Circus buildings exist in some towns where regular performances are held, including the Circus Maximus in Rome, Italy, and the Big Top in Sydney, Australia.

  • The International Circus Festival of Monte-Carlo has been held in Monaco since 1974.

  • Circus has been featured in various forms of art, music, films, plays, and books, including Erich Kästner's book "The Flying Classroom."Circus in Popular Culture

  • The Little Man and the Little Miss, two children’s books, are set in a circus, where the young protagonist grows up as a ward of the magician.

  • The circus has inspired many musicians, including Julius Fučík, whose “Entrance of the Gladiators” is the most famous circus theme song.

  • Circus plays include The Circus Girl, Polly of the Circus, and Stop the World, I Want to Get Off.

  • Circus films became popular after World War I, with the first film released by MGM being He Who Gets Slapped in 1924.

  • The Greatest Show on Earth, Man on a Tightrope, and La Strada are some of the popular circus films of the 1950s.

  • Circus-inspired works of literature include Circus Humberto, Cirque du Freak, and Water for Elephants.

  • The Indian comic book superhero Super Commando Dhruva is born and brought up in a fictional Indian circus called Jupiter Circus.

  • Circus-based television series Circus was telecast in India in 1989, starring Shahrukh Khan.

  • The circus has been a dramatic setting for many artists, inspiring paintings, photographs, and sculptures.

  • Circus-themed video games include Circus Atari, Circus Charlie, and Circus.

  • Circus-inspired fashion has been seen on runways, with designers such as Christian Dior and John Galliano presenting circus-inspired collections.

  • Circus has been a popular theme in advertising, with brands such as Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, and Chanel using circus imagery in their advertising campaigns.


Test your knowledge of the fascinating history of circuses with our quiz! From the origins of the modern circus to the rise of contemporary circus, this quiz covers it all. Learn about famous circus performers, historical events, and the evolution of circus formats. With questions ranging from the traditional circus to circus in popular culture, this quiz is sure to challenge and entertain circus enthusiasts and history buffs alike.

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