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Send in the Clowns - clarification

Posted by Ward on March 16, 2005

In Reply to: Send in the Clowns posted by Dougan on March 16, 2005

: : Send in the Clowns:
: : Version I: As sung by Barabara Streisand
: : Isn't it rich, are we a pair?
: : Me here at last on the ground,
: : You in mid-air.
: : Send in the clowns.

: : Isn't it bliss, don't you approve?
: : One who keeps tearing around
: : One who can't move
: : Where are the clowns?
: : Send in the clowns.

: : Just when I'd stopped opening doors,
: : Finally knowing the one that I wanted was yours.
: : Making my entrance again with my usual flair,
: : Sure of my lines;
: : No one is there.

: : Don't you love farce?
: : My fault I fear,
: : I thought that you'd want what I want,
: : Sorry my dear
: : But where are the clowns
: : There ought to be clowns
: : Quick send in the clowns

: : What a surprise!
: : Who could foresee
: : I'd come to feel about you
: : What you felt about me?
: : Why only now when I see
: : That you've drifted away?
: : What a surprise...
: : What a cliche'...

: : Isn't it rich, isn't it queer
: : Losing my timing this late in my career
: : And where are the clowns
: : Quick send in the clowns
: : Don't bother, they're here.
: :

: Hey ward

: I really dont know what your question is or what you want to discuss, but if you wish to write back and tell me I may be able to help you.

My question was lost in cyberspace! This phrase, memorialized in the famous Steven Sondheim song, is supposed to be of carnival or circus origin. It relates in some way to the practice of sending in the clowns to divert the attention of the audience when some tragedy or mishap occurs.
Can anyone shed some light on the origin of the phrase, and the detail of its meaning?