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PUNCH AND JUDY


Since earliest times people have used puppets or marionettes to deliver the wisdom or insults we are afraid to say ourselves. Imagine the Thai shadow puppets, the Muppets, or even Edgar Bergen’s wooden son, Charlie McCarthy, whose sole purpose is to entertain while delivering a punch to the gut.

To the continuing delight of children and adults alike, the Punch and Judy show remains popular and mostly unchanged since it was introduced in 1662, in Covent Garden, London. It has always seemed a fearsome play to me, but children being children, roar with laughter when Judy gets her licks in.

Played in a small wooden theatre by a single puppeteer, the story is traditional and mostly violent. After capturing the attention of Charles 11, the show was performed on a 20 x 18 foot stage after which the King gave the Italian puppeteer a gold chain and medal worth $3,000 today. Today the show is a popular boardwalk seaside attraction in England. As a child I watched the shows on the boardwalk in Long Beach, California, alongside the merry-go-round, pony rides, games of chance, and other seaside attractions.

The story revolves around Pulcinella (Mr. Punch) and his wife Judy who have an eternal noisy quarrel resulting in one or the other being whacked over the head with some sort of mallet. There are several stories which can be played, with a changing cast, all in the confines of the small theatre. The puppeteer keeps something in his mouth to give the main chracter the weird raspy voice and cackle of Mr. Punch when it’s his turn to speak. He often screams out “That’s the way to do it!” after hitting someone.

The original characters were marionettes, operated by wires attached their limbs and to a bar from overhead. Today they are mostly glove puppets operated by one person.

Another facet of the ancient Art of Theatre.

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12 comments on “PUNCH AND JUDY

  1. There’s an expression here in Texas (and perhaps elsewhere) that echoes, “That’s the way to do it!” The Texas variation is, “How ’bout them apples?”

    I don’t remember ever seeing a live Punch and Judy show, but your description reminded me of the old television show, The Honeymooners. Now that I think of it, there were a lot of similarities, including the combative relationship between Ralph and Alice, and Ralph’s favorite expression: “One of these days, Alice — POW!!! right in the kisser!”

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    • When I was a girl there was a radio show called “The Battle of the Sexes”. It was a quiz show and at eleven years I loved trying to answer the questions. I guess there has always been a battle between sexes. Maybe that’s what women’s lib was all about. In the Punch and Judy show, Judy often gets her licks in, showing that sometimes brawn isn’t enough to win the battle.

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  2. Unfortunately, most Punch and Judy shows have disappeared from our beaches and promenades. Those that have survived are stripped of all violence for fear it might influence attitudes towards women. I suppose there might be a smidgeon of truth in this.

    In August we took one of our grandchildren to a show in a garden centre. All the children were transfixed, despite the watered-down version. Perhaps it’s something about the stage, high above their heads, the grotesque puppets coming to “life”, the beautiful portable stage high up, the rudimentary plot and simple language that provide the undeniable magic. The string of sausages and the crocodile were there but the policeman had disappeared. Toddlers’ television is nothing new!

    I had a good time. Horror movies don’t worry me. Glenys not so. She always hides her eyes in me at the worst bits and grips me tight for comfort (nice). She doesn’t seem to detach the horror from reality and has nightmares. Bad dreams don’t generally affect me, maybe because of the unimaginable atrocities of the real world.

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    • There again, as a child in South Africa Glenys witnessed some dreadful realities.

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    • It’s good to hear that the violence has been removed from the play. I think the elevation is part of the charm. It really is a forerunner of the children’s TV shows today. Children learn by example, and unfortunately many of the movies being made are so filled with noise and violence they can’t help but create stress. We saw Dunkirk, which was well done, but all the coming attractions made me feel I never want to go to the movies again. I would rather purchase them and view them at home.

      Punch and Judy always created a party atmosphere and I relate my experience with warm summer days at the beach.

      Midsomer Murders are as mysterious as I like. I call them ‘gentle murders’, but perhaps it’s the lovely scenery and music which attract me. There is far too much horror in the world so I can understand how difficult it must be for someone with a bad childhood memory.

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  3. Like the Three Stooges, always someone to knock around. Interesting how we find other’s misfortunes humorous. Watch out for the banana peel, Kate! 🙂 –Curt

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    • I can’t tell you how much I hated those guys. Every kid in school emulated them. One of my daughters and my husband loved them so much they traded the same large photo of the three of them back and forth for years as a Christmas gift.
      The banana example is right on. Think too of the Christians and the lions. Why is that?

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  4. This is so interesting to me, Kayti. I’ve seen bits and pieces of Punch and Judy in movies and TV shows, but never an actual performance; and I’ve always been interested in the history, the stories, and is pummeling always a part of it. You have answered my questions nicely. Thank you.

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    • Well there isn’t much of a plot, and I’m happy to hear they have stripped the violence from the play. But I still remember urging my grandmother to hurry so we wouldn’t miss any of it.You could hear the barker calling out the time it would begin. I probably is the forerunner of all the children’s shows of today. I remember a group of us put on little shows in the backyard, hiding inside boxes with a hole cut out. It was frequently a variation of Flash Gordon.

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  5. Ah, my siblings, cousins, friends and I frequently performed little dramas of our contriving, but ours usually concerned princesses because the boys in our circle preferred running about bashing each other to play-acting.

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