Colorful hair, a big red mouth, cherry red nose and a white face… where have we seen such a man? In circus or birthday parties or even in films and television shows entertaining young kids. Yes! It’s a Clown!
Did you know that the clowns that we see today are an extremely modified version of what they used to be during ancient times? But the purpose of clowns for centuries till date remains the same- to entertain us all, especially children.
The History of Clowns
The first ever clown sightings can be recorded as the court jesters in the courts of kings and royal families. The court jesters entertained the Pharaohs of Egypt and the Emperors of China. The Egyptian clowns came around 2500 B.C and were known as Pygmies.
They were playful and could comment on any policies made by the king, without facing any consequences. Their comments were taken as jokes. The clowns or court jesters used to turn serious matters into funny situations.
Ancient Greek comics show bald headed and larger than normal figures playing the role of court jesters. They also appeared in the plays of the great playwright Shakespeare and often had an important role. They were famous in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.
It was not until 1768 that clowns became famous in the circus. Court jesters were now turned into comic fools who provided entertainment to travelers and guests. Clowns in the circus started working on their slapstick comedy skills which would include playing tricks on their counterpart, carrying a bat and hitting with it- missing the target often, throwing pies at each other, juggling and other hilarious acts. Clowns usually do not speak but act out their stories in the form of skits.
The oldest and the classic type of clown is the whiteface clown who, as the name suggests, uses white makeup to cover his face. They were famous in the Greek theatres during the middle ages. This type of clown used to wear extremely bright and strange costumes because they helped him get attention from the crowd.
They performed tasks and actions which were loud, such as jumping and tumbling in a comic manner or playing tricks on their partners. Everything that a whiteface clown did or wore was exaggerated. His pants, shoes, ears, nose was larger than normal.
During the 1860s came the Auguste clowns who were supposed to be the least intelligent of all. Their makeup was limited to their eyes and mouth while they wore a colorful wig on their head. They wore oversized, balloon shaped costumes and behaved in a very clumsy manner. They performed more physical comedy acts such as slapping their partners or throwing pies at each other.
The Tramp or the Hobo clown came during the 19th century when the Auguste and Whiteface clowns started working very well together. These are also known as character clowns who behave as their characters.
They use their facial features like beard, hair, eyebrows, head, and nose in order to create humor about themselves. They use dark makeup and impersonate characters like policemen, tramps, cowboys or firemen. They either appear very happy or very sad but in any situation their main purpose is to make everyone laugh.
Even though clowns have entertained and made everyone laugh, from many centuries, some people hate them and also develop a fear of clowns. This is known as caulrophobia. Sometimes theatre plays and movies have shown the dark side of clowns, instigating the fear of clowns in people.
- In the early 1970s, Patch Adams, a doctor, started the culture of clowning for patients in hospitals. This helps patients recover faster and brighten the gloomy hospital mood.
- In the German language the word clown means ‘don’t leave the kids alone with that one’!
- Around 300 B.C the Emperor of China wanted to paint the entire Wall of China white, but he was stopped by his court jester; thus saving the lives of many slaves.
- Clowns have their own set of rules to follow- namely, the Clown Code of Ethics.
- The National Clown Week, started in 1971 by Richard Nixon, is celebrated in America in the first week of August every year.
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