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Student Showcase Archive

Alexander Clayton

MA work

MA work

'Wisdom Grunts at Charing Cross': Performing Animal Intelligence in London, 1750-1850

When animals took to the stage in eighteenth and nineteenth century London, they embodied the design and intentions of numerous makers and influencers. Physically, this design could take the form of breeding, training, and staging, whilst rhetorically, their acts could be crafted through showmanship, promotion, and a range of extraneous print products. This dissertation addresses how the characteristic of intelligence, otherwise known as sagacity, was enhanced and endued onto animals between 1750 and 1850.

These heightened representations reacted to the changing leisure demands of Londoners, and specifically responded to the attitudes and enthusiasms of the capital’s middle class. In their performances of education and morality, acts were crafted to appeal to a middle-class audience that were knowledge hungry, politically active, and culturally self-conscious. Through analysing sagacious animal acts within Jürgen Habermas’ theory of the bourgeois public sphere, this dissertation illustrates how performances influenced — and were influenced by — these rational discussions taking place amongst the bourgeois public.

In proposing this argument, this study explores the design of performances within the contexts of London’s cultural fashions, human-animal relations, and print culture. In understanding these themes, change over time will be observed, with performances rising, adapting, and ultimately declining alongside developments in Enlightenment taxonomy, Romanticism, and middle-class manners. 



  • MA Degree


    School of Arts & Humanities


    MA History of Design, 2018

  • Alexander Clayton is a design historian with a background in museum curating, having previously worked as Assistant Curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Alexander's research focuses on animal entertainment in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. His dissertation addresses the middle-class enthusiasm for learned animals in Georgian London, assessing how displays of intelligence intersected with scientific understandings, cultural fashions, and political attitudes.

    In 2018, Alexander will begin his Ph.D at the University of Michigan, expanding his research to address the global touring, sale, and reception of animal performances.

  • Degrees

  • MA (Honours) History, University of St Andrews, 2016
  • Experience

  • Assistant Curator, Victoria and Albert Museum, Department of Theatre and Performance, London, 2015-2018
  • Awards

  • Clive Wainwright Memorial Prize, 2017
  • Conferences

  • ‘Sapient Pigs and Rascal Tigers: Animal Entertainment on the Streets and Stages of London’, Pastimes in Times Past: Entertainment in London, London and Middlesex Archaeological Society Conference, Museum of London, November 18 2017; 'Curating Animality: From Menagerie to Museum, 1700 - Present', Victoria and Albert Museum, Lunchtime Lecture Series, November 14 2017.; '‘Its a Kind of Magick’: Dr. Faustus and the History of Stage Magic', ShedTalks Lecture Series, Chickenshed Theatre, London, October 14 2017.
  • Publications

  • 'Sapient Pigs and Rascal Tigers: Animal Entertainment on the Streets and Stages of London', LAMAS Transactions, Vol. 68, 2018