Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday Fun: Punch and the Courtier

The Courtier
As recreated by Chris van der Craats
In the 1820’s artist George Cruikshank famously illustrated scenes from the Punch & Judy shows of the Professor known as Piccini. Many of the characters in Piccini’s puppet plat have fallen out of use. Among these was the “Courtier” who was a great source of irritation to Mr. Punch.

Piccini’s puppet play introduced the Courtier character who Piccini based on the traditional notion of the romantic Italian. The Courtier is notable for his long, extending neck—a trait he shares with the irascible Mr. Scaramouche. As Punch is courting “Pretty Polly,” just before his murderous spree gets truly underway, he encounters the Courtier and is, of course, wildly irritated by him. In some versions, Punch merely threatens the Courtier. In others, he knocks the man’s head off of his long neck. In most cases, the Courtier serves as a symbol of the threat of Punch’s demise by hanging.

The reality of the puppet, however, was that Piccini wished to show off his skills as a puppeteer. The Courtier is unique to Piccini’s version of the play and served to showcase Piccini’s talents. The Courtier performs a rather difficult trick of arranging and removing his hat—not an easy task with wooden hands that are incapable of grasping. Skilled puppeteers have been known to recreate this unique scene which, according to Piccini’s original script plays as follows.

Cruikshank's drawing of
Piccini's Courtier, 1829
From Punch and Judy:
A Short History with the 
Original Dialogue
[Enter a figure dressed as a courtier who sings a slow air, and moves to it with great gravity and solemnity. He first takes off his hat on the right of the theatre, and then on the left, and then carries it in his hand. He stops in the centre, the music ceases; and suddenly, his throat begins to elongate, and his head gradually rises until his neck is taller than all the rest of his body. After pausing for some time, the head sinks again; and as soon as it returns to its natural place, the figure exits.]

ENTER Punch from behind the curtain, where he has been watching the maneuvers of the figure.

PUNCH: Who the Devil are you? Me should like to know, with your long neck? You may get it stretched for you, one of these days, by someone else. It’s a very fine day [Peeping out and looking to the sky]. I’ll go fetch my horse and take a ride to visit my Pretty Poll’.


Of all the girls that are so smart,
There’s none like Pretty Polly:
She is the darling of my heart,
She is so plump and jolly.

Here, we see this original scene as performed by Australia’s Professor Whatsit, otherwise known as Chris van der Craats who has brilliantly recreated this figure based on the drawings of Cruikshank.

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