Mark Twain At the Circus: Circus Culture and the Literary Ringmaster

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Thomas Richardson

Advisor Department



Throughout his life, Mark Twain held an affinity for the American circus. He attended the circus both as a child and as an adult, was intrigued with circus posters, became friends with circus personalities such as P. T. Barnum and Robert Edmund Sherwood, and wrote about the circus throughout his career. The cultural interplay between Twain and the circus appears not only in overt passages which deal with circus related events, characters, and paraphernalia but also in more subtle passages of his canon. The interplay between Twain and circus culture reveals Twain as a literary ringmaster, manipulating his audiences throughout his career. This study specifically focuses on three elements of circus culture--clowning, advertising, and hoaxing--in a variety of Twain's work representing both early and late materials, major and minor texts, and published and unpublished works.