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July 23, 2013 at 8:00 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

History and the Endless Pursuit of Entertainment

By Anne Christen More Blogs by This Author

Through the ages, people have sought to entertain themselves with everything from alcohol and food to books and music. Not even times of war or economic recessions have derailed quests for pleasure. What has changed is the way in which people seek entertainment. Each period in history has awakened interest in something new. Today people entertain themselves with almost anything they touch.

When in Rome...

In Ancient Rome, people craved brutal competitions from which heroic victors emerged. Chariot races, sporting events, and gladiator battles proved enormously popular. Patrons watched from tiered seats that surrounded a U-shaped arena. Another trendy past time was the theater, where slave men dressed in full regalia – they even played the parts of women – and performed comedies and tragedies. Public baths houses served as social gatherings and enticed crowds with cold pools and steamy baths. The wealthy also found entertainment at home, where elaborate dinner parties usually preceded professional singing and dancing.


Eat Up!

The Early Middle Ages, which characterized the first 500 years after the fall of the Roman Empire, ushered in an era of almost constant battle in Europe. When people of this time were not engaged in war, they played Chess and other board games. Horseback racing, riddles, and feasting were also popular. During feasts, additional entertainment was provided by juggling and harp playing.

Traveling Entertainers

From the 14th to the 16th century, status determined a person’s entertainment pursuits. Village peasants participated in church festivals or joined crowds surrounding travelling musicians, poets, and acrobats. Troupes accompanied by performing animals also passed through villages and gathered interested audiences. Christmas and summer festivals celebrated the respective seasons and afforded villagers the opportunity to sing, play games, and decorate homes. 

Ol' Hank the Decapitator

Henry VIII

Members of England’s royal court in the 16th century had one crucial responsibility: To entertain the monarchy. This era required female courtiers to be proficient in singing, dancing, composing, sewing, and conversation. Men were expected to be successful hunters, gamblers, dancers, and horseback riders. Those who excelled in these areas earned the king’s favor, which, in and of itself, bestowed pleasure and honor.

More than just your average beheader, King Henry VIII (1509-1547) was noted for the number of masques held at his court in which male and female courtiers dressed in disguise and sang and danced. These performances were much more opulent than those given in public theaters and held not for the masses but only for members of the royal court. Courtiers also planned jousts, feasts, and plays for King Henry’s entertainment. In between these pursuits were processions, card games, archery, bowls, and tennis.

Theatre of the Absurd

Elizabethan England ignited a renewed interest in bear-baiting, for Queen Elizabeth I favored this past time above all others. She so enjoyed the fights between dogs and bears that she forbade theater plays from showing on Thursdays, when bear baiting practices were generally held. Not only does this demonstrate the importance of entertainment at this time, but also that the Queen’s pleasure came first and foremost.

Seventeenth century Ireland is described as a bleak place where men and women drank excessively. Meanwhile, theater continued to thrive throughout Europe. The toy theater was introduced for children in the early 1800s and reflected the great popularity of this past time. The elaborate designs of these theaters allowed children to free their imaginations and inspired families to stage their own plays.

Read on for a more modern look at our entertainment interests...

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