THE HISTORY OF MAGIC AS ENTERTAINMENT (part 1)

In the ancient times, magicians, performers and entertainers were a necessary part of any court. These performers used dexterity of hands, conjuration, and several other tricks to entertain the masses. Then came the era when magic was associated with the supernatural and was considered as evil in many societies. In the seventeen hundreds, modern magic gained much popularity as a form of entertainment. In this article, we will discuss the history of magic in detail.

The Ancient Era

In ancient Egypt, magic was used not only as entertainment but as a demonstration of the pharaoh’s superiority over others. Accounts of magical trickery playing an important role during that era are found in many historical accounts. Magicians used to perform all kinds of tricks for the entertainment of the masses, and to show their prowess. The tricks ranged from metal links, and cups and balls, to extravagant illusions such as turning inanimate objects alive.

The Dark Ages

During this era, magic was considered as pure evil. People associated with magic, or rumored to be associated with magic were hunted down. Alleged witches were burnt at the stake. This also has a lot to do with the common perception at that time, that magic was necessarily the same as sorcery, and magicians were involved in vile rituals.

The Sixteenth Century

In the late fifteenth century, Reginald Scott wrote and published a book called, “The Discovery of Witchcraft.” This book was a bold attempt to clear the common misconceptions about entertainment magic. The author clearly differentiated between entertainment magic and sorcery, provided a detailed account on sleight of hand, and explained several common tricks.

While the author wanted to spread awareness about entertainment magic, and wished for persecution of entertainers to be stopped, the book did not have the desired effect. Most of the copies of the book were burned, and the people kept persecuting entertainers. However, this book was the first of many to come, and paved the way for magic to be separated from sorcery and accepted as a form of entertainment by the society.

The Seventeenth Century

Street magicians were a common sighting in the seventeenth century. These magicians travelled from place to place, and performed on the streets, on public squares, on festivals, and on several special occasions. It became a common practice among the nobility to invite these entertainers to their homes for private performances, where they would perform card tricks, cups and balls, juggling, flame spitting and sword swallowing.

The Eighteenth Century

Magicians moved from the streets to the stage and large magical theatres came into being. These theatres were specially constructed to help in extraordinary illusions, and had trap doors and similar instruments to assist the magician in performing extravagant tricks. Magic became a respectable entertainment form, and magical theatres became one of the most important sources of public entertainment.

This article is part 1 of 2 on the history of magic as entertainment. In the second article, we will discuss the nineteenth and twentieth century in detail.

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