A circus is a company of performers that may include acrobats, clowns, trained animals, and other novelty acts, that gives shows usually in a circular tent. The term 'circus' also describes the performance which has followed various formats through its 150 year modern history. It also denotes a round open space in a town or city where multiple streets meet. In the historical perspective, in the ancient Roman Empire, it was a building for chariot racing. During World War II it was a code name for bomber attacks with fighter escorts in the day time. The attacks were against short-range targets with the intention of occupying enemy fighters and keeping their fighter units in the area concerned. Usage as circuit, space, and enclosure, is now obsolete.
- Quotes are arranged alphabetically by author
A - F
- If we wanted applause, we would have joined the circus.
- Remark about CIA agents, in the film Argo (2012 film)
- The American circus has a unique and often overlooked importance in American history. The first American circuses began shortly after the country was founded, and as the country’s population grew, moved West, went through the Industrial Revolution, and opened its gates to the world, the circus followed. Indeed, in many cases the circus provided people’s first view of new inventions, exotic animals and peoples, and popular entertainments. The history of the circus is in many ways a microcosm of the history of America.
- Circus in America in: The Circus in America: 1793 – 1940, Circus in America
- A parasitic society which, like the urban proletariat in the Rome Empire lives for bread and circuses and turns savage if it is not given to them. Bread and circuses—to some observers, welfare and television seemed modern equivalents, pacifiers protectors of power and privilege.
- Erik Barnouw in: The Sponsor: Notes on a Modern Potentate, Transaction Publishers, 1978
- Clowns are the pegs on which the circus is hung.
- P. T. Barnum in: Tampa Bay Magazine, Vol. 5, No. 1, Tampa Bay Publications, Inc, Jan-Feb 1990
- The way to go to the circus, however, is with someone who has seen perhaps one theatrical performance before in his life and that in the High School hall...The scales of sophistication are struck from your eyes and you see in the circus a gathering of men and women who are able to do things as a matter of course which you couldn’t do if your life depended on it.
- Robert Benchley in: John Ames Mitchell Life, Volume 77, Life, 1921, p. 536
- I remember in the circus learning that the clown was the prince, the high prince. I always thought that the high prince was the lion or the magician, but the clown is the most important.
- Roberto Benigni in: The Crisis of Crowding: Quant Copycats, Ugly Models, and the New Crash Normal, John Wiley & Sons, 7 September 2012, p. 121
- Circus, n. A place where horses,ponies and elephants are permitted to see men, women and children acting the fool.
- Ambrose Bierce, The Cynic's Dictionary (1906); republished as The Devil's Dictionary (1911).
- Philip Astley was a horseman with a British dragoon regiment from about 1759 and at first was the sole performer in the Amphitheatre, specializing in riding with one foot on the saddle and one on the horse’s head while brandishing a sword. He gradually included other equestrians, acrobats, rope dancers, aerialists, clowns, and the first recorded circus freak show.
- The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica in: Philip Astley, Encyclopædia Britannica, 18 October 2013
- Take a look at those clowns
And the tricks that they play
In the circus of life
Life is bitter and gay:There are clowns in the night
See how they run
Run from despair
- Kate Bush in: The Magician (of Lublin), a song written for the soundtrack of The Magician of Lublin (1979), based on the 1960 novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer
- America's first circus building was opened here at 12th and Market Streets, April 3, 1793. On that day the English equestrian John Bill Ricketts gave America's first complete circus performance. President Washington attended this show later that season.
- Ricketts' Circus in: Title Search for Historical Markers, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
- Damn everything but the circus!...The average 'painter' 'sculptor' 'poet' 'composer' 'playwright' is a person who cannot leap through a hoop from the back of a galloping horse, make people laugh with a clown's mouth, orchestrate twenty lions.
- E.E. Cummings in: Staging Modern American Life: Popular Culture in the Experimental Theatre of Millay, Cummings, and Dos Passos, Palgrave Macmillan, 25 October 2011, p. 60
- What's this? he inquired, none too pleasantly. A circus?
No, Julius. It's the end of the circus.
I see. And these are the clowns?
Foaly's head poked through the doorway.
Pardon me for interrupting your extended circus metaphor, but what the hell is that?
- Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl on:Artemis Fowl:, Books 5-8, Penguin UK, 26 June 2014, p. 206
- I’ve been through everything. I always said I was like those round-bottomed circus dolls — you know, those dolls you could push down and they’d come back up? I’ve always been like that. I’ve always said, "No matter what happens, if I get pushed down, I’m going to come right back up.
- Doris Day in: Cameron Woo and Nellie McKay People Who Matter: An Interview with Doris Day, The Bark, Issue 34, (January - February 2006)
- The attraction of the virtuoso for the public is very like that of the circus for the crowd. There is always a hope that something dangerous may happen: Mr. X may play the violin with Mr. Y on his shoulders; or Mr. Z may conclude his piece by lifting the piano with his teeth.
- Claude Debussy, in: E. Robert Schmitz The Piano Works of Claude Debussy, Courier Dover Publications, 5 May 2014, p. 37
- Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free,
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands,
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves,
Let me forget about today until tomorrow.
- Bob Dylan in: Bob Dylan Songbook for Easy Piano, Hal Leonard Corporation, 1 November 2012, p. 1967
- Cinema is neither new nor an art," he muttered, then looked up. Cinema is an old whore, like circus and variety, who knows how to give many kinds of pleasure. Oh, they've been trying to wash her face and make her respectable, but it can't .
- Federico Fellini in: Films and Filming, Volume 12, Issue 3, Hansom Books, 1966, p. 26
G - L
- Netherlands is the third European country to ban the use of wild animals in circuses, after Austria and Greece which have already made the move. Greece even put an end to the use of all animals in circuses.
- Dutch government in: Dutch government announces ban on the use of wild animals in circuses, eTurboNews.com, Nov 01, 2012
- How many of these children would one day be queer? How many would be felled by the acronym? How many by something else? How many would forget the circus? How many would never see it at all? How many would join?”
- Trebor Healey in: A Horse Named Sorrow, University of Wisconsin Pres, 23 October 2012, p. 38
- Time is a circus, always packing up and moving away.
- Ben Hecht in: Wilbur M. Yegge A Basic Guide for Buying and Selling a Company, John Wiley & Sons, 24 October 1996, p. 156
- Well she's walking through the clouds
With a circus mind, that's running round.
Butterflies and Zebras, and moonbeams, and fairy tales-
That's all she ever thinks about.
Riding with the wind.
- Jimi Hendrix in: Axis: Bold as Love (1967) Little Wing Lyrics, metrolyrics.com
- Next to a circus there ain't nothing that packs up and tears out any quicker than the Christmas spirit.
- Kin Hubbard in: The Mammoth Book of Comic Quotes, Constable & Robinson, 1 March 2012, p. 145
- Every country gets the circus it deserves. Spain gets bullfights. Italy the Church. America Hollywood.
- Erica Jong in: Gyles Brandreth Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations, Oxford University Press, 17 October 2013, p. 151
- The internet is like a big circus tent full of scary, boring creatures and pornography.
- Richard "Lowtax" Kyanka in: Michael Seese Scrappy Information Security, Happy About, 2009, p. 43
- The circus collects the outsiders like a flame tempts moths.
- Laura Lam in: Laura Lam Ya Author, dddmagazine
- The whole world is a circus if you look at it the right way... Every time you pick up a handful of dust and see not the dust but a mystery, a marvel there in your hand. Every time you stop to think “I'm alive! and being alive is fantastic!” Every time such a thing happens, you're a part of the circus of Dr. Lao.
- 7 Faces of Dr. Lao in: James Christian Philosophy: An Introduction to the Art of Wondering, Cengage Learning, 26 January 2011, p. 652
- The circus had been unlike anything I could ever imagine and I could not walk away. I wanted to be a part of the magic, create it and wield it with such skill that it looked effortless. I wanted to fly.
- Laura Lam in: The Lost Magic, writerbabu.com, 23 January 2014
- Circus Maximus, and more freq. κατ̓ ἐξοχήν Circus, the oval circus built by Tarquinius Priscus between the Palatine and Aventine hills, which could contain more than one hundred thousand spectators. It was surrounded by galleries three stories high, and a canal called Euripus. Through its whole length, in the middle, a wall four feet high and about twelve broad was built, called spina, at the ends of which there were three columns upon one base (meta), around which the combatants were required to pass seven times before the prize was awarded. In the middle of the spina, Cæsar erected the obelisk, 132 feet high, brought from Egypt.
- Charlton T. Lewis, Charles Short in: A Latin Dictionary, Perseus Digital Library
- What a circus act we women perform every day of our lives. Look at us. We run a tightrope daily, balancing a pile of books on the head. Baby-carriage, parasol, kitchen chair, still under control. Steady now! This is not the life of simplicity but the life of multiplicity that the wise men warn us of.
- Anne Morrow Lindbergh in: Lisa Leghorn The New York Times Biographical Service, Volume 32, Woman's Center, 1975, New York Times & Arno Press, 2001, p. 224
- Painted and smiling, I balance on my trapeze. Luka is poised ten metres away, his muscles shining under the lights. The wooden circles in his earlobes twitch as his jaw clenches, unclenches, clenches.
- Kirsty Logan in: The Man From The Circus, Sigriddaughter
- Public entertainment was a very important aspect in Roman life, both in the city and provinces. Juvenal went as far to say that all the Roman public was interested in was panem et circenses (bread and circuses).
- Ludi in: History of the Ludi, novaroma.org
- The three main types of entertainment venues at the ludi were the circuses, the amphitheaters, and the theater performances. All performances were completely spectacular for their t ime and would still be greatly impressive today.
- Ludi In: "History of the Ludi"
- Chariot racing was the oldest entertainment in Rome. It was also the most popular venue by far. Chariot racing dated all the way back to the monarchy and founding of Rome. The Greeks also held chariot races and had a large influence on the Roman tradition. Chariot racing was not the only event held in the circuses. Wrestling and gladiator combats were also held in some cases, but chariot racing was the most common.
- Ludi In: "History of the Ludi"
- The circus building itself was based on the Greek hippodrome. The circus had seats for spectators around a "u" shaped arena. The racing took place in the arena around a barrier (spina) in the middle, with turning posts (metae) around each end. At one end of the arena were the starting gates. The first circus built in Rome was the Circus Maximus that was constructed during the monarchy. It was built completely from wood. Later it was rebuilt at various times. The final version could seat 250,000 people, it was built of stone and measured 400 m in length and 90 m in width.
- Ludi In: "History of the Ludi"
M - R
- They are enthusiast, devotees, Addicts. Something about the circus stirs their souls, and they ache for it when it is absent.
- Erin Morgenstern in: The Night Circus, Random House, 15 September 2011 p. 143
- In the mid 19th century there were hundreds of circuses operating in Britain. Trick riding continued to be the main attraction, but a variety of other acts developed. There was even an aquatic circus where the circus ring was flooded with water... One of the factors that made circus so popular was that fairground entertainers traveled to their audiences. From the late 18th century circuses toured to even the smallest towns and in the 19th century the development of the railways enabled circuses to travel further. By the 1870s huge circuses were touring across Europe and America with two or three trainloads of equipment.
- Victoria and Albert Museum in: Victorian Circus, V&A International
- The circus is a jealous wench. Indeed that is an understatement. She is a ravening hag who sucks your vitality as a vampire drinks blood – who kills the brightest stars in her crown and will allow no private life for those who serve her; wrecking their homes, ruining their bodies, and destroying the happiness of their loved ones by her insatiable demands. She is all of these things, and yet, I love her as I love nothing else on earth.
- Henry Ringling North in: Bruce Feiler Under the Big Top , Harper Collins, 13 October 2009, p. 9
- Just as people can watch spellbound a circus artist tumbling through the air in a phosphorized costume, so they can listen to a preacher who uses the Word of God to draw attention to himself. But a sensational preacher stimulates the senses and leaves the spirit untouched. Instead of being the way to God, his 'being different' gets in the way.
- Henri Nouwen in: The Search For Applause, Leadership Journal, 1984
- Animals aren’t actors, spectacles to imprison and gawk at, or circus clowns. Yet thousands of these animals are forced to perform silly, confusing tricks under the threat of physical punishment; are carted across the country in cramped and stuffy boxcars or semi-truck trailers; are kept chained or caged in barren, boring, and filthy enclosures; and are separated from their families and friends—all for the sake of human “entertainment.” Many of these animals even pay with their lives.
- PeTA in: Animals Used for Entertainment, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
- They were brought out of Africa and into chains in America. Or they were born into slavery here. Yes, I am talking about the first African-Americans to reach these shores, but I am also describing the animals now enslaved in circuses. The species and continents are different, but the stories are tragically similar. The animals in circuses are held against their will by chains and domination. They are forced to perform a series of acts by coercion and violence because they would never normally do these things on their own. They can never choose their own partners, their own homes, their own food or have control over any aspect of their lives. I don't care how this is dressed up by promoters with music and lights, it is still slavery.
- The circus business is an unlawful calling, one that cannot be defended on scriptural ground. The performances are calculated to amuse the giddy and thoughtless and to excite the laughter of fools. There is no tendency to administer useful instruction, to regulate affections or restrain the inordinate passions of this audience. In addition, it does not yield a rational amusement to men of understanding and reflection. Our country,...is infested with dishonest, unprincipled men of various descriptions such as swindlers, counterfeiters, stage players and showmen. He [the editor] urges the friends of Christian morality to remember that they were bound by sacred ties to discourage every species of amusement calculated to corrupt the principles of the rising generation.
- Chillicothe Weekly Recorder’s editorial in: Circus in America TimeLine 1801 – 1824, Circus in America
- In 1924, J.W. Bancker's was the first American to use the word "circus" in the title of his troupe, J.W.Bancker's New York Circus.
- Chillicothe Weekly Recorder’s editorial in: "Circus in America TimeLine 1801 – 1824"
- Ricketts, an accomplished performer and horseman, set-up in Philadelphia “at very considerable expense” an outdoor riding ring he called a “circus” at the corner of Twelfth and Market Streets, which he opened on April 3, 1793. This was the first complete circus in America, because it incorporated the elements of clowning, music, acrobatics, and horsemanship...In his eight-year career, he built at least twenty circuses, located in every major eastern American city, including several amphitheaters in Philadelphia and New York...called “The Father of the American Circus” he sold his horses and set sail for England in 1800. He and all hands were lost at sea, a final twist to the pattern of ill luck that had plagued his last years.
- John Bill Ricketts in: Person : Ricketts, John Bill Ricketts, Circus in America
S - Z
- Life is a great big beautiful three-ring circus. There are those on the floor making their lives among the heads of lions and hoops of fire, and those in the stands, complacent and wowed, their mouths stuffed with popcorn.
- William Saroyan in: The New York Teacher, Volume 5, Teachers Union, Local 5, American Federation of Teachers, 1939, p. 75