When you're turning up your nose at the low-brow circus animals you see performing for peanuts, perhaps you should keep in mind the rather grandiose beginnings of our animal actors. It wasn't the circus that made a lot of animals "famous"; instead, the animals were already stars on stage, and the circus promoters took advantage of their popularity.
Even horses — the original circus animals — were actually gaining an audience in the 19th century through hippodrama. Hippodrama was a curious blend of theatre and horsemanship. Essentially, the play revolved around either a horse or horses performing as part of the action and they proved quite popular with folks wanting to see, say, the story of a bandit galloping about on horseback [source: Speaight]. Later on, other trainable animals — like lions — were used in productions, which whetted the public's appetite for exotic creatures. Queen Victoria saw a performance of "Charlemagne" seven times, where the showstopper featured a lion and panther performing together [source: Speaight].
But enough of these mysterious beasts that populate the circus in our own time. Let's take a look at some circus animals that never quite lived up to a fearsome reputation but were quite popular: the animals we might see in our own home or out on the farm.