AskDefine | Define spectacle

Dictionary Definition



1 something or someone seen (especially a notable or unusual sight); "the tragic spectacle of cripples trying to escape"
2 an elaborate and remarkable display on a lavish scale
3 a blunder that makes you look ridiculous; used in the phrase `make a spectacle of' yourself

User Contributed Dictionary



From spectacle.


  1. Something exhibited to view; usually, something presented to view as extraordinary, or as unusual and worthy of special notice; a remarkable or noteworthy sight; a show; a pageant; a gazingstock.
  2. A spy-glass; a looking-glass.
  3. usually in plural An optical instrument consisting of two lenses set in a light frame, and worn to assist sight, to obviate some defect in the organs of vision, or to shield the eyes from bright light.
  4. An aid to the intellectual sight.


Translations to be checked

Derived terms



From spectaculum, from spectare "to look".



fr-noun m

Extensive Definition

If looking for spectacles, please go to glasses
In general spectacle refers to an event that is memorable for the appearance it creates. The term "spectacle" has also been a term of art in theater dating from the 17th century in English drama.

Low and high culture

"Spectacle" operates in two contexts simultaneously. On the one hand, it refers to high culture (drama, movies) performances where the draw for an audience is the impressive visual accomplishment. On the other hand, it refers to low cultural shows operating in a folk environment. These can range from the freak show to folk drama to tablieau and beast-plays. The two worlds have always interacted to a lesser or greater degree, with the folks spectacle often being rewritten into a literary spectacle, whether for humor (e.g. The Mechanicals with their performance of Pyramus and Thisbe in William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream) or not (e.g. the serious treatment of the folk Everyman).
Low and high culture mingled in the spectacle as long as folk productions of spectacle were possible. In the 17th century in England, popular spectacles of the playhouse would be adapted into spectacles for the fair, and in the 18th century fair shows and pantomimes would be adapted to the playhouse stage. In the 19th century, theaters moved farther from folk cultural spectacles and began to develop stand-alone seasonal plays that were centered on a spectacular piece. However, in the 20th century, with the invention of movie theaters, folk festivals were unable to create or recreate the spectacles on film, and the theaters themselves were soon unable to replicate the spectaculars of films. Although film adaptation would occasionally begin with the old, folk mythological narrative material, the movie that resulted would be distributed out to all audiences, thus destroying the audience and source of folk spectacle. Spectacle comes from the word spectator, which could be someone who watches the performance.

The Masque and Spectacle

Court masques and masques of the nobility were most popular in the Jacobean and Caroline era. Such masques, as their name implies, relied heavily upon a non-verbal theater. The character lists for masques would be quite small, in keeping with the ability of a small family of patrons to act, but the costumes and theatrical effects would be lavish. Reading the text of masques, such as The Masque at Ludlow (most often referred to as Comus), the writing is spare, philosophical, and grandiose, with very few marks of traditional dramatic structure. This is partially due to the purpose of the masque being family entertainment and spectacle. Unlike The Masque at Ludlow, most masques were recreations of well-known mythological or religious scenes. Some masques would derive from tableau. For example, Edmund Spenser (Fairie Queene I, iv) describes a masque of The Seven Deadly Sins.
Masques were multimedia, for they almost always involved costuming and music as a method of conveying the story or narrative. Ben Jonson, for example, wrote masques with the architect Inigo Jones. William Davenant, who would become one of the major impressarios of the English Restoration, also wrote pre-Revolutionary masques with Inigo Jones. The role of the architect was that of designer of the staging, which would be elaborate and often culminate in a fireworks show.

The Hollywood Spectacular

When the zoetrope and nickelodeon technology first appeared, the earliest films were spectacles. Thomas Edison advertised his productions as things that people had never seen before. The actual Eiffel Tower, actual American Indians in a simulated attack, and even celebrated beauty queens were the subjects and reasons for film. Louis Lumière's film of a train pulling into a station in 1895 was a sensation because it gave an object of gaze, of spectacle that audiences would never have experienced otherwise (for the camera was in front of the train, and the train appeared to be coming directly at the viewer).


spectacle in German: Spektakel
spectacle in Portuguese: Espetáculo
spectacle in Romanian: Spectacol

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Grand Guignol, Passion play, Tom show, amazement, antimasque, astonishing thing, astonishment, audience success, ballet, blazon, bomb, bravura, brilliancy, broadcast drama, burlesque show, charade, cliff hanger, closet drama, comedy drama, cosmorama, critical success, curiosity, cyclorama, daring, dash, daytime serial, demonstration, dialogue, diorama, display, documentary drama, drama, dramalogue, dramatic play, dramatic series, dramatics, duodrama, duologue, eclat, epic theater, etalage, event, exception, exhibit, exhibition, exhibitionism, experimental theater, exposition, extravaganza, eyeglasses, failure, false front, fanfaronade, figure, flair, flaunt, flaunting, flop, flourish, fool, gasser, gazingstock, georama, giveaway, glasses, happening, histrionics, hit, hit show, improvisational drama, legitimate drama, light show, manifestation, marvel, marvelment, masque, melodrama, minstrel show, miracle, miracle play, monodrama, monologue, morality, morality play, music drama, musical revue, myriorama, mystery, mystery play, nonesuch, opera, pageant, pageantry, panel show, panorama, pantomime, parade, pastoral, pastoral drama, performance, phantasmagoria, phenomenon, piece, play, playlet, pomp, presentation, problem play, prodigy, psychedelic show, psychodrama, quite a thing, quiz show, radio drama, rarity, representation, review, revue, sensation, sensational play, serial, sham, shifting scene, show, showing-off, sight, sitcom, situation comedy, sketch, skit, soap, soap opera, sociodrama, something else, specs, spectacles, splash, splurge, stage play, stage show, staginess, straight drama, stunner, success, suspense drama, tableau, tableau vivant, talk show, teleplay, television drama, television play, theater of cruelty, theatrics, total theater, variety show, vaudeville, vaudeville show, vaunt, vehicle, wonder, wonderful thing, wonderment, word-of-mouth success, work
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