Throughout the 19th century, animals were integrated into staged scenarios of confrontation, ranging from lion acts in small cages to large-scale re-enactments of war. Initially presenting a handful of exotic animals, travelling menageries grew to contain multiple species in their thousands. These 19th-century menageries entrenched beliefs about the human right to exploit nature through war-like practices against other animal species. Animal shows became a stimulus for antisocial behaviour as locals taunted animals, caused fights, and even turned into violent mobs. Human societal problems were difficult to separate from issues of cruelty to animals.
Apart from reflecting human capacity for fighting and aggression, and the belief in human dominance over nature, these animal performances also echoed cultural fascination with conflict, war and colonial expansion, as the grand spectacles of imperial power reinforced state authority and enhanced public displays of nationhood and nationalistic evocations of colonial empires.
Fighting Nature is an insightful analysis of the historical legacy of 19th-century colonialism, war, animal acquisition and transportation. This legacy of entrenched beliefs about the human right to exploit other animal species is yet to be defeated.
1. Ferocious lion acts
2. War with animals
3. Imperial hunting show legends
4. Mobs and hooligans, crowds and fans
5. Head in the colonial lion’s mouth
6. War arts about elephantine military empires
7. Nature’s beauties and scientific specimen contests
Peta Tait is a professor of theatre and drama at La Trobe University.
"When does fighting end and theatre begin? In this fascinating study, Peta Tait – one of the most prominent authors in the Performance/Animal Studies intersection – explores animal acts with a particular focus on confrontation. The sites of the human–animal encounter range from theatres, circus, and war re-enactments investigating how the development of certain human fighting practices run in parallel with certain types of public exhibits of wild animals. Tait's account is historical, looking at animal acts – from touring menageries to theatrical performances – from the 1820s to the 1910s."
– Lourdes Orozco, Lecturer in Theatre Studies, University of Leeds
"Valuable both for its finely read analysis of the many ways that living animals were integrated into staged shows and its elucidation of the social, political and philosophical contexts, Fighting Nature also provides insight into the immensely detrimental legacy of the nineteenth-century fascination for animal shows."
– Gillian Arrighi, Australasian Drama Studies
"Peta Tait brings to the book an impressive scholarly command of the documentary material, from which she draws a range of vivid examples and revealing analyses of human–animal confrontation in popular entertainments [...] The book is written with verve and clarity, and will be of interest to a wide readership in performance studies and cultural history."
– Jane R. Goodall, Animail
"The book is an enlightening read that provides a wealth of information about especially nineteenth-century animal performances. [...] the overall interpretive frame, which also allows for a deeper understanding of the behaviours of the audience, is quite compelling. The book is an important and timely contribution, especially as we watch the waning days of the 146-year-old tradition behind the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus."
– Nigel Rothfels, Animal Studies Journal
"The author provides a wealth of well researched information and argument that equips readers to reflect for themselves on the devastating effect of humans on animals both wild and domesticated that have been slaughtered, captured, confined, trained, and maddened on an almost inconceivable scale for entertainment, commerce, and politics. [...] This impressive and fully sourced work illuminates little-studied aspects of human–nonhuman animal relations, those of particular abuses involving all social classes of westernized society in the industrial age."
– David A. H. Wilson, Anthrozoos