There are many ways to incorporate circus into courses on 18th- and 19th-c topics. Here is a course outline for English 415 which I will be teaching in Spring, 2022:
“Songs, Spectacles and Circuses in the Long Eighteenth Century”
This course will take a closer look at popular entertainment in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Britain with a particular focus on performance and mediation. We will start by looking at songs and song culture of the eighteenth century as well as the curation of songs in printed works. After a brief foray into the royal theatres (Drury Lane and Covent Garden) and opera venues, we move to examining pleasure gardens (Vauxhall and Ranelagh) and so-called “illegitimate theatres.” We end the course with a focus on “circus,” the genre created by Philip Astley in 1768 to highlight his equestrian skills. The literary texts we examine include collections of songs, pantomime plays, melodramas, as well as novels such as Frances Burney’s Evelina (1778) (which portrays the young heroine’s perspectives on London theatrical entertainments) and Walter Scott’s Rob Roy (frequently adapted and performed for the circus). We will also spend quite a lot of time rooting around in old newspapers to see the kinds of other crazy entertainments that were popular at the time (“philosophical fireworks” or “trained bees” anyone?). Secondary critical materials will be drawn from media studies, performance studies, the new musicology studies, soundscape studies, and cultural memory studies. Students will be trained in and use the Omeka software and will work on an online exhibition of primary materials regarding early circus that they analyze in this course.
- 2 Seminar presentations and developed short papers (2 x 20%)
- Final project (a group digital exhibition and a paper): 15% + 25%
- Participation: 10%
- PDFs of primary material regarding eighteenth-century entertainments will be provided on Canvas site
- Frances Burney, Evelina
- Walter Scott, Rob Roy
- Material from Reconstructing Early Circus: Astley’s Amphitheatre
- Articles and advertisements from the Burney Collection of Eighteenth-Century Newspapers
- Melodramas and pantomimes from the Eighteenth-Century Collections Online
Secondary materials will be drawn from the following: Richard Altick, The Shows of London (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978); Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003); Katie Lavers and Petra Tait, The Routledge Circus Studies Reader (London: Routledge, 2016); George Speaight, A History of the Circus (London: Tantivy, 1980); Helen Stoddart, Rings of Desire: Circus History and Representation (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000); Jane Moody, Illegitimate Theatre in London, 1770-1840 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Daniel O’Quinn, Staging Governance: Theatrical Imperialism in London, 1770-1800 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005); Gillian Russell, The Theatres of War: Performance, Politics, and Society, 1793-1815 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995); David Worrall, Theatric Revolution: Drama, Censorship, and Romantic Period Subcultures 1773-1832 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), The Politics of Romantic Theatricality, 1787-1832(Houndmills: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007) and Harlequin Empire: Race, Ethnicity and the Drama of the Popular Enlightenment (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2007); Oskar Cox Jensen, Napoleon and British Song, 1797-1822 (Houndmills: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2015); Charles Dibdin and Late Georgian Culture, ed. Oskar Cox Jensen, David Kennerley, and Ian Newman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).