In the aftermath of the collapse of the Spanish, Portuguese, Roman, Chinese and Mughal empires, the 19th Century was typified by the growth in the influence of Britain and the United States on the world stage. Not least of all was their influence on entertainment.
Perhaps the biggest, and longest lasting influence is the massive impact of British writers on the literature world. The 19th Century was a hot bed for classics. Charles Dickens lived and worked throughout the middle period of the 19th Century on classic fiction like Oliver Twist (1937-1939), A Tale of Two Cities (1851) and Great Expectations (1861).
It wasn’t just Dickens that was active during the century; Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about Sherlock Holmes for the first time, the Bronte’s brought us Jayne Eyre, Agnes Grey and Wuthering Heights and Rudyard Kipling gave us Young Mowgli. There were also sinister twists in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (1818), Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey (1891) and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886).
In music, it was the European composers that let the way in the wake of the might of Beethoven and Back from the previous century. Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) and Claude Debussy (1862-1918) were prolific composers throughout the latter half of the century. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky produced Swan Lake (1876), The Nutcracker (1892) and the 1812 Overture (1880). Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) developed his operatic masterpieces La Traviata (1853) and Rigoletto (1851). Frediric Francois Chopin (1810-1849) and Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) were also big proponents in establishing the credentials of classical music in the 19th Century.
Famous plays that hit the entertainment news of the time include Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest (1895) and George Bernard Shaw’s Candita (1894). Anton Checkov’s The Seagull was also written in the 19th Century. It originally led to him renouncing theatre due to the bad reception it provoked in 1896, however, it’s revival in 1898 was met with critical acclaim. It’s no great surprise that a lot of the great works of theatre originated in the latter years of the 19th Century, as this was the formative years of the Belle poque.
The era also saw the initial development of moving pictures as a form of entertainment. Although, they did not gain real prominence until the early 20th Century, so it’s fair to say that the 19th Century was largely untouched by film as a medium for entertainment.
However, what was big throughout the 19th Century was the show. Figures like Buffalo Bill established successful shows that travelled throughout the United States and Europe.
The 19th Century also gave the world an abundance of artists, although, some of them were not recognised until the 20th Century. Vincent Van Gogh, for example, died in relative obscurity, only to be considered one of history’s greatest painters posthumously. A similar story can be seen in the works of William Blake. However, there were a great many artists that rose to prominence in the 19th Century, including Paul Czanne, John Constable, Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet, Edvard Munch, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Auguste Rodin, Joseph Turner and Whistler.
The 19th Century was forged under the might of the British Empire and the industrial revolution, giving rise to a wealth of artistic creativity in the arts and entertainment world. With the abolition of slavery and the rise in socialism as an intellectual paradigm, the masses were starting to be considered more highly, however, the reality is that entertainment in terms of popular music, theatre, art and literature were predominantly the domains of the rich during the 19th Century. Although, the technological and economical advances that began in the late 19th Century, retrospectively called the Belle Epoch, paved the way for the arts and entertainment to have more of a mass audience in the 20th Century.