Sunday, 13 March 2011

Thats the way to do it!!!!!!!

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I thought that I would include a potted history of Punch and Judy puppet theatre as my early experiences of puppetry were sitting on a beach watching Punch and Judy or Andy Pandy on the television.  Making my puppet has evoked fond memories of childhood and at the time there seemed nothing wrong with Punch beating his wife, it seemed fitting and a bit naughty and he always got his comeuppance!

George Speaight describes this fascination in his book 'Punch and Judy A history'
"The puppet theatre has not always been a childrens theatre, but it has always been the theatre of the people.  The wealthy and the sophisticated too have loved the puppets, but as a light diversion or a passing fancy; their elemental appeal has always found an enduring response from the simple and the pure in heart, from peasants and labourers, from artists to poets, from the child-like spirit in man."  

The show has its roots as far back as 500BC with Greek and Roman puppet shows, continuing into minstrel puppet shows based on European folk traditions until the 1500's.  As far back as the Roman Atellan Farce plays there have been defined characters that everyone could recognise.  Bucco, the comic slave; Maccus, the country bumpkin; Pappus, the old dotard; Dossennus, the sharp tongued hunchback; Manducus, grinding his teeth to frighten the children; Cicirrus, the 'cock man' a boastful fighter.

In England puppet shows were based around a the religious theme of Church Mystery plays however buffoonery very soon crept into these plays, the shepherds were shown as country bumpkins, Noah's wife as a shrew and Herod raging as in a melodrama. The ecclesiastical authorities, finding themselves unable to curb it, finally expelled the entire drama from the churches. 

Will Kemp - Elizabethan Clown

1550 - 1650 in England saw the rise of the clown in Elizabethan theatre, these were not scripted parts but were there to amuse the lower classes.  The character loved food and drink but hated hard work; sometimes dishonest, fond of practical jokes, a coward and a braggart, speaking either crudely or absurdly extravagantly; when married he had a shrewish wife; he was an acrobat and a mime and would often sing between the acts and dance a jig to end the program.  Pictured is Willaim Kemp an Elizabethan clown who gained fame by composing jigs and dancing a morris all the way from London to Norwich!

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The character of Punch was introduced into England in 1700 and came from the Italian Commedia dell' Arte puppet shows where Pulcinella and Polichinelle were heros of the puppet stage.  Initially known as Punchinello by 1800 his name had been shortened to Punch and he had become synonymous with the character of the clown.

 Although Punch's name has remained consistant his wife has changed her name from Joan in the 18th C to Judy in the 19th C.  An excerpt from The Authors Farce by Fielding has Punch singing "Joan you are the plague of my life, A rope would be welcomer than such a wife!".  Theories for this include a corruption through the use of swazzles (a contraption to make the voice squeaky) in Punch's voice of the name Joaney. However Joan was the most popular name for girls in the lower classes in the 16 -17thC and used as a synonym for a domestic and a 'Judy' in the 19thC was slang for a tramps woman which may have more bearing on why the name was changed.

The shows have not always been performed by glove puppets, early versions were marionettes in the Italian tradition with 'trailer' booth shows outside advertising their wares.  However marionette shows were expensive to run and difficult to transport and dwindling takings encouraged puppeteers to downsize and take their shows onto the streets.  This shift to a one man band also affected the characters, the cast varied from seven to seventeen characters depending on the wealth and skill of the puppeteer who was limited by the confines of the booth to a two handed operation.  Thus some of the characters that were familiar to an 18thC audience are lost to us today.

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The characters in a show are not fixed but vary like a soap opera does.  New characters may be added as the tradition evolves, and older ones dropped.  The gradual decline in popularity of Punch and Judy shows is discussed in an article Pack your bags Punch and Judy  by Hermione Buckland-Hoby (Tuesday 29 April 2008) in the Guardian and it seems that is it definately time that the old tradition is once again given new legs.

Cast of characters:
Main characters include:
Mr Punch
The Baby
The Constable
Joey the Clown
The Crocodile
The Ghost
The Doctor 

Characters once regular but now occasional:
Toby the Dog
Hector the Horse
Pretty Polly
The Hangman
The Devil

Characters only seen in historical reinactments:
The Beadle
Mr Scaramouche
The Servant
The Blind Man

Speaght, George : Punch and Judy A history (1970) Studio Vista Ltd, London

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