- A form of entertainment in which animals are tormented andkilled for the pleasure of the spectators. It has existed in manycountries. In ancient Rome gladiators known as venationes andbestiarii fought herds of exotic animals in the arenas. Inthe Middle Ages bulls were baited for supposedly hygienic reasons beforetheir slaughter. The sports of bear-baiting and bull-baiting, in whichthese animals were chained to a stake and harassed by dogs, were introducedto England in about the 13th century as an aristocratic pleasure.Henry VIII licensed public animal fights and Elizabeth I was an avidsupporter of bear-baiting. Although the Puritans outlawed baiting,three bear-gardens are known to have existed in Restoration London,and it was not until 1835 that Parliament legally abolished the unsavourypractice.
The Elizabethan theater had close connections with baiting.When playhouses closed on Sundays, the Bear Garden, situated nextto Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, provided the only entertainmentin town.
In 1583 an overflowing crowd caused the Bear Garden to collapse.It was rebuilt in grand style in 1598 and subsequently managed byPhilip Henslowe, the owner of the Fortune, Hope, and Roseplayhouses. He provided such 'entertainment' as the baiting of bearsand bulls by dogs and even the whipping of a blind bear. In 1604 theactor Edward Alleyn became Royal Keeper of Bulls and Mastiffs.
Scholars have suggested that Shakespeare used bears from theadjacent amphitheatre in The Winter's Tale, which includesthe famous stage direction "exit pursued by a bear". TheBard and his fellow actors were also familiar with the names of individualbears: in The Merry Wives of Windsor, the character Slenderspeaks of seeing 'Sanderson' loose 20 times. see also Paris-Garden.