Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Everyone Should Know Punch

"Punch" from Scribner's Monthly, 1876
“Mr. Punch,” as he is known, figures prominently in my online novel, Punch’s Cousin, though just how Punch is involved remains to be seen. Punch, of course, is known to all of us because of his antics with his put-upon wife, Judy, and their equally long-suffering baby (named appropriately enough, “Baby”). Together, they are the stars of the much-beloved traditional English puppet shows.

The original Punch puppets were actually English adaptations of the Italian Sixteenth-Century Commedia dell’Arte character, Pulcinella. The name was anglicized to Punchinello, and, later, simply Punch. In early performances, Mr. Punch’s wife was known as “Joan.” The first written notation of a performance of a Punch show in England is recorded as May 9, 1662—a date which is considered the birthday of “Mr. Punch.” In his famous diary, English statesman Samuel Pepys noted that he had seen in Covent Garden, “an Italian puppet play, that is within the rails there, which is very pretty."

"Mr. Punch," Museum of Liverpool
The Punch figures themselves have changed drastically over the centuries—adapting from stick-operated puppets to marionettes and, then, to the traditional glove puppet we know today. Since Victorian times, the puppeteer in a Punch show is known as “Professor.” While each Professor’s Punch will differ slightly, his appearance always has a characteristically bulbous, ruddy nose which curves to meet his jutting chin. His lips are always pulled back into a red smile which nestles into his rosy cheeks. Though inspired by Punch, his French cousin, Guignol, has less-severe features. Often portrayed as a hunchback, Punch stoops under the weight of the enormous stick or club which he uses to beat his wife and child.

However, despite the beatings, Punch is not entirely a malicious character. While Punch’s story varies from puppeteer to puppeteer, the gist of it remains that though Punch struggles with his wife and baby, he also must fight a greater force—often law and order (as a form of social commentary), and very often, something more sinister and supernatural. Most Punch plays end with Punch’s triumphant cry, “Huzzah, huzzah! I killed the Devil!”

Originally performed for adults, the Punch shows invariably attracted children. They were performed in portable and permanent outside venues in places such as Covent Garden and other public venues. These puppet shows were a staple of sea-side resorts as well and proved ever-popular.

Punch has inspired songs, films, books, magazines and a host of other art forms. In his role as struggling every man—at once comic and tragic—Punch continues to be as popular a figure today as he was almost four hundred years ago. The puppets may change, but the spirit of Punch remains the same.


Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be nice if we still could have parks where there were carousels and Punch and Judy shows? And bandstands. As a boy, I remember a band visiting our local park and the leader had been trained by Sousa. It really is time for a revival of the Belle Epoque spirit. It has been asleep for two generations.

Joseph Crisalli said...

I agree! Hear! Hear!

Kathy L said...

Oh, the thought of Puppet Shows and carousels in the parks are so intriguing. I agree. A revival is needed.

Also, I was surprised that my daughter didn't know who Punch and Judy are. (I fear I am somewhat slacking in my educational duties as a mother.) We did an image search and found many versions of Punch. I have enjoyed sharing the interesting things on this site with my children.

On My Soapbox said...

I couldn't agree more with Anonymous! :)

Joseph Crisalli said...

I'm all for that revival, too. Kathy, I was surprised to see as many pictures of Punch online. It made me happy to know that there are people out there like us who are interested in these things.

Anonymous said...

In 1993 I was lucky enough to visit London. Out side Covent Garden there was a small puppet theater where street performers were putting on a Punch and Judy show, both adults and children seemed to enjoy it. I hope its still being done in 2010.

Joseph Crisalli said...

I haven't been to London in many years (too many), but I suspect that Punch and Judy will always have a place in Covent Garden. "There will always be an England." And, as long as there is, there'll always be "Punch."