puppetry


puppetry
/pup"i tree/, n., pl. puppetries.
1. the art of making puppets or presenting puppet shows.
2. the action of puppets.
3. mummery; mere show.
4. puppets collectively.
[1520-30; see PUPPET, -RY]

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Art of creating and manipulating puppets in a theatrical show.

Puppets are figures that are moved by human rather than mechanical aid. They may be controlled by one or several puppeteers, who are screened from the spectators. Varieties include glove (or hand) puppets, rod puppets, shadow puppets, and marionettes (or string puppets). Puppetry had its beginnings in tribal society and has been part of every civilization. By the 18th century it was so popular in Europe that permanent theatres were built for the usually itinerant puppeteers. Companies presented favourite stories of the French Guignol, the Italian Arlecchino, the German Kasperle, and the English Punch and Judy. By the mid 20th century puppetry had reached television with Jim Henson's Muppets. See also bunraku; Sergey Obraztsov.

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Introduction

      the making and manipulation of puppets for use in some kind of theatrical show. A puppet is a figure—human, animal, or abstract in form—that is moved by human, and not mechanical, aid.

      These definitions are wide enough to include an enormous variety of shows and an enormous variety of puppet types, but they do exclude certain related activities and figures. A doll, for instance, is not a puppet, and a girl playing with her doll as if it were a living baby is not giving a puppet show; but, if before an audience of her mother and father she makes the doll walk along the top of a table and act the part of a baby, she is then presenting a primitive puppet show. Similarly, automaton figures moved by clockwork that appear when a clock strikes are not puppets, and such elaborate displays of automatons as those that perform at the cathedral clock in Strasbourg, Fr., or the town hall clock in Munich, Ger., must be excluded from consideration.

      Puppet shows seem to have existed in almost all civilizations and in almost all periods. In Europe, written records of them go back to the 5th century BC (e.g., the Symposium of the Greek historian Xenophon). Written records in other civilizations are less ancient, but in China, India, Java, and elsewhere in Asia there are ancient traditions of puppet theatre, the origins of which cannot now be determined. Among the American Indians (Native American art), there are traditions of puppetlike figures used in ritual magic. In Africa, records of puppets are meagre, but the mask is an important feature in almost all African magical ceremonies, and the dividing line between the puppet and the masked actor, as will be seen, is not always easily drawn. It may certainly be said that puppet theatre has everywhere antedated written drama and, indeed, writing of any kind. It represents one of the most primitive instincts of the human race.

      This article discusses the various types of puppets as well as historical and contemporary styles of puppet theatre around the world. Some specific national styles of puppetry are treated in the articles arts, East Asian, and arts, Southeast Asian (Southeast Asian arts).

Character of puppet theatre
      It may well be asked why such an artificial and often complicated form of dramatic art should possess a universal appeal. The claim has, indeed, been made that puppet theatre is the most ancient form of theatre, the origin of the drama itself. Claims of this nature cannot be substantiated, nor can they be refuted; it is improbable that all human dramatic forms were directly inspired by puppets, but it seems certain that from a very early period in man's development puppet theatre and human theatre grew side by side, each perhaps influencing the other. Both find their origins in sympathetic magic, in fertility rituals, in the human instinct to act out that which one wishes to take place in reality. As it has developed, these magical origins of the puppet theatre have been forgotten, to be replaced by a mere childlike sense of wonder or by more sophisticated theories of art and drama, but the appeal of the puppet even for modern audiences lies nearer a primitive sense of magic than most spectators realize.

      Granted the common origin of human and puppet theatre, one may still wonder about the particular features of puppet theatre that have given it its special appeal and that have ensured its survival over so many centuries. It is not, for instance, simpler to perform than human theatre; it is more complicated, less direct, and more expensive in time and labour to create. Once a show has been created, however, it can provide the advantage of economy in personnel and of portability; one man can carry a whole theatre (of certain types of puppet) on his back, and a cast of puppet actors will survive almost indefinitely. These are clear advantages, but it would be a mistake to imagine that they can explain the whole popularity of puppet theatre. They do not apply to every kind of puppet—some puppets need two or even three manipulators for each figure, and many puppets need one manipulator for each figure. The company employed by a major puppet theatre, whether it be a traditional puppet theatre from Japan or a modern one from eastern Europe, will not be fewer than for an equivalent human theatre. The appeal of the puppet must be sought at a deeper level.

      The essence of a puppet is its impersonality. It is a type rather than a person. It shares this characteristic with masked (mask) actors or with actors whose makeup is so heavy that it constitutes a mask. Thus, the puppets have an affinity with the stock characters of ancient Greek and Roman drama, with the masked characters of the Renaissance commedia dell'arte, with the circus clown, with the ballerina, with the mummers, and with the witch doctor and the priest.

      In an impersonal theatre, where the projection of an actor's personality is lacking, the essential rapport between the player and his audience must be established by other means. The audience must work harder. The spectators must no longer be mere spectators; they must bring their sympathetic imagination to bear and project upon the impersonal mask of the player the emotions of the drama. Spectators at a puppet show will often swear that they saw the expression of a puppet change. They saw nothing of the kind; but they were so wrapped up in the passion of the piece that their imaginations lent to the puppets their own fears and laughter and tears. The union between the actor and the audience is the very heart and soul of the theatre, and this union is possible in a special way, indeed in a specially heightened way, when the actor is a puppet.

      The impersonality of the puppet carries other characteristics. There is the sense of unreality. In the traditional English Punch-and-Judy puppet shows, for instance, no one minds when Punch throws the Baby out of the window or beats Judy until she is dead; everyone knows that it is not real and laughs at things that would horrify if they were enacted by human actors. Psychologists agree that the effect is cathartic—one's innate aggressive instincts are released through the medium of these little inanimate figures.

      The puppet also carries a sense of universality. This, too, springs from its impersonality. A puppet Charlemagne in a Sicilian puppet theatre is not merely an 8th-century Frankish king but a symbol of royal nobility; and the leader of his rear guard dying on the pass of Roncesvalles is not merely a petty knight ambushed in a skirmish but a type representing heroism and chivalry. Similarly, in the Javanese puppet theatre, a grotesque giant is a personification of the destructive principle, while an elegantly elongated local deity is a personification of the constructive principle. Here the puppet theatre reveals its close relationship with the whole spirit of folklore and legend.

      The puppet achieves its elemental qualities of impersonality, unreality, and universality through the stylizations imposed upon it by its own limitations. It is a mistake to imagine that the more lifelike or natural a puppet can be, the more effective it is. Indeed, the opposite is often the case. A puppet that merely imitates nature inevitably fails to equal nature; the puppet only justifies itself when it adds something to nature—by selection, by elimination, or by caricature. Some of the most effective puppets are the crudest: at Liège, Belg., for instance, there is a tradition of puppets whose arm and leg movements are not controlled but purely accidental. The Rājasthānī puppets of India have no legs at all. Even less naturalistic are the hunchbacked grotesques of the European tradition, the birdlike profiles of the Indonesian shadow figures, and the intricately shaped leather cutouts of Thailand, but it is precisely among these most highly stylized types of puppets that the art reaches its highest manifestations.

 While these puppets that exist furthest from nature can be admired, it cannot be denied that there is a charm and a fascination in the miniaturization of life. Much of the appeal of the puppet theatre has come from the spectators' delight in watching a world in miniature. This can be appreciated best of all in a toy theatre, in which a tiny stage on a drawing room table can be filled with choruses of peasants, troops of banditti, or armies locked in combat, while the scenery behind them depicts far vistas of beetling cliffs or winding rivers.

      And to the appreciation, often instinctive, of these characteristics that mark the puppet theatre, there must be added admiration for the sheer human skill that has gone into the making and manipulation of the figures. The manipulator is usually unseen; his art lies in hiding his art, but the audience is aware of it, and this knowledge adds an element to the dramatic whole. In some kinds of presentation—for instance, in a type of cabaret floor show that became popular in the mid-20th century—the manipulator works in full view of the audience, who may, if they wish, study his methods of manipulation. This is a far cry from the philosophy of the traditional European puppet players of earlier generations, who guarded the secrets of their craft as if they were conjuring tricks. It is, indeed, fair to say that any presentation that deliberately draws attention to the mechanics of how it is done is distorting the art of puppetry, but the realization, nevertheless, of the expertise involved in a performance and some knowledge of the technical means by which it is achieved do add an extra dimension to the appreciation of this difficult and highly skilled art.

Types of puppets
      There are many different types of puppets. Each type has its own individual characteristics, and for each there are certain kinds of suitable dramatic material. Certain types have developed only under specific cultural or geographic conditions. The most important types may be classified as follows:

Hand or glove puppets
      These have a hollow cloth body that fits over the manipulator's hand; his fingers fit into the head and the arms and give them motion. The figure is seen from the waist upward, and there are normally no legs. The head is usually of wood, papier-mâché, or rubber material, the hands of wood or felt. One of the most common ways to fit the puppet on the hand is for the first finger to go into the head, and the thumb and second finger to go into the arms. There are, however, many variants of this. The “two-fingers-and-thumb” method is used for Punch-type figures; it allows the puppet to pick up and grasp small props very well and is obviously useful when wielding the stick that plays a big part in the show, but it tends to produce a lopsided effect, with one arm higher than the other. The performer normally holds his hands above his head and stands in a narrow booth with an opening just above head height. Most of the traditional puppet folk heroes of Europe are hand puppets; the booth is fairly easily portable, and the entire show can be presented by one person. This is the typical kind of puppet show presented in the open air all over Europe and also found in China. But it need not be limited to one manipulator; large booths with three or four manipulators provide excellent scope for the use of these figures. The virtue of the hand puppet is its agility and quickness; the limitation is small size and ineffective arm gestures.

Rod puppets
 These figures are also manipulated from below, but they are full-length, supported by a rod running inside the body to the head. Separate thin rods may move the hands and, if necessary, the legs. Figures of this type are traditional on the Indonesian islands of Java and Bali, where they are known as wayang golek. In Europe they were for a long time confined to the Rhineland; but in the early 20th century Richard Teschner (Teschner, Richard) in Vienna developed the artistic potentialities of this type of figure. In Moscow Nina Efimova carried out similar experimental productions, and these may have inspired the State Central Puppet Theatre in Moscow, directed by Sergey Obraztsov (Obraztsov, Sergey Vladimirovich), to develop this type of puppet during the 1930s. After World War II Obraztsov's theatre made many tours, especially in eastern Europe, and a number of puppet theatres using rod puppets were founded as a result. Today the rod puppet is the usual type of figure in the large state-supported puppet theatres of eastern Europe. In a similar movement in the United States, largely inspired by Marjorie Batchelder, the use of rod puppets was greatly developed in school and college theatres, and the hand-rod puppet was found to be of particular value. In this figure the hand passes inside the puppet's body to grasp a short rod to the head, the arms being manipulated by rods in the usual way. One great advantage of this technique is that it permits bending of the body, the manipulator's wrist corresponding to the puppet's waist. Although in general the rod puppet is suitable for slow and dignified types of drama, its potentialities are many and of great variety. It is, however, extravagant in its demands on manipulators, requiring always one person, and sometimes two or three, for each figure on stage.

Marionettes (marionette) or string puppets
 These are full-length figures controlled from above. Normally they are moved by strings or more often threads, leading from the limbs to a control or crutch held by the manipulator. Movement is imparted to a large extent by tilting or rocking the control, but individual strings are plucked when a decided movement is required. A simple marionette may have nine strings—one to each leg, one to each hand, one to each shoulder, one to each ear (for head movements), and one to the base of the spine (for bowing); but special effects will require special strings that may double or treble this number. The manipulation of a many-stringed marionette is a highly skilled operation. Controls are of two main types—horizontal (or aeroplane) and vertical—and the choice is largely a matter of personal preference.

      The string marionette does not seem to have been fully developed until the mid-19th century, when the English marionettist Thomas Holden created a sensation with his ingenious figures and was followed by many imitators. Before that time, the control of marionettes seems to have been by a stout wire to the crown of the head, with subsidiary strings to the hands and feet; even more primitive methods of control may still be observed in certain traditional folk theatres. In Sicily there is an iron rod to the head, another rod to the sword arm, and a string to the other arm; the legs hang free and a distinctive walking gait is imparted to the figures by a twisting and swinging of the main rod; in Antwerp, Belg., there are just rods to the head and to one arm; in Liège there are no hand rods at all, merely one rod to the head. Distinctive forms of marionette control are found in India: in Rajasthan (Rājasthānī puppet) a single string passes from the puppet's head over the manipulator's hand and down to the puppet's waist (a second loop of string is sometimes used to control the arms); in southern India there are marionettes whose weight is supported by strings attached to a ring on the manipulator's head, rods controlling the hands.

      In European history the marionette represents the most advanced type of puppet; it is capable of imitating almost every human or animal gesture. By the early 20th century, however, there was a danger that it had achieved a sterile naturalism that allowed no further artistic development; some puppeteers found that the control of the marionette figure through strings was too indirect and uncertain to give the firm dramatic effects that they required, and they turned to the rod puppet to achieve this drama. But, in the hands of a sensitive performer, the marionette remains the most delicate, if the most difficult, medium for the puppeteer's art.

Flat figures
      Hitherto, all the types of puppets that have been considered have been three-dimensional rounded figures. But there is a whole family of two-dimensional flat figures. Flat figures, worked from above like marionettes, with hinged flaps that could be raised or lowered, were sometimes used for trick transformations; flat jointed figures, operated by piston-type arms attached to revolving wheels below, were used in displays that featured processions. But the greatest use of flat figures was in toy theatres (toy theatre). These seem to have originated in England by a printseller in about 1811 as a kind of theatrical souvenir; one bought engraved sheets of characters and scenery for popular plays of the time, mounted them and cut them out, and performed the play at home. The sheets were sold, in a phrase that has entered the language, for “a penny plain or twopence coloured,” the colouring by hand in rapid, vivid strokes of the brush. During a period of about 50 years some 300 plays—all originally performed in the London theatres—were adapted and published for toy-theatre performance in what came to be called the “Juvenile Drama,” and a hundred small printsellers were engaged in publishing the plays and the theatrical portraits for tinseling that often went with them. It was always a home activity, never a professional entertainment, and provided one of the most popular and creative fireside activities for Regency and Victorian families. Although few new plays adapted for the toy theatre were issued after the middle of the 19th century, a handful of publishers kept the old stock in print until the 20th century. After World War II this peculiarly English toy was revived. Toy theatres also flourished in other European countries during the 19th century: Germany published many plays; Austria published some extremely impressive model-theatre scenery; in France toy-theatre sheets were issued; in Denmark a line of plays for the toy theatre remains in print. The interest of these toy-theatre plays is largely social, as a form of domestic amusement, and theatrical, as a record of scenery, costume, and even dramatic gesture in a particular period of stage history.

Shadow figures
      These are a special type of flat figure, in which the shadow is seen through a translucent screen. They may be cut from leather or some other opaque material, as in the traditional theatres of Java, Bali, and Thailand, in the so-called ombres chinoises (French: literally “Chinese shadows”) of 18th-century Europe, and in the art theatres of 19th-century Paris; or they may be cut from coloured fish skins or some other translucent material, as in the traditional theatres of China, India, Turkey, and Greece, and in the recent work of several European theatres. They may be operated by rods from below, as in the Javanese theatres; by rods held at right angles to the screen, as in the Chinese and Greek theatres; or by threads concealed behind the figures, as in the ombres chinoises and in its successor that came to be known as the English galanty show. Shadow figures need not be limited to two dimensions; rounded figures may also be used effectively. A particular type of shadow show that was conceived in terms of film (motion picture) is the silhouette films first made by the German filmmaker Lotte Reiniger in the 1920s; for these films, the screen was placed horizontally, like a tabletop, a light was placed beneath it, the camera was above it, looking downward, and the figures were moved by hand on the screen, being photographed by the stop-action technique. The shadow theatre is a medium of great delicacy, and the insubstantial character of shadow puppets exemplifies all the truest features of puppetry as an art form.

Other types
 These five types by no means exhaust every kind of figure or every method of manipulation. There are, for instance, the puppets carried by their manipulators in full view of the audience. The most interesting of these are the Japanese Bunraku puppets, which are named for a Japanese puppet master, Uemura Bunrakuken, of the 18th century. These figures, which are one-half to two-thirds life size, may be operated by as many as three manipulators: the chief manipulator controls head movements with one hand by means of strings inside the body, which may raise the eyebrows or swivel the eyes, while using the other hand to move the right arm of the puppet; the second manipulator moves the left arm of the puppet; and the third moves the legs; the coordination of movement between these three artists requires long and devoted training. The magnificent costumes and stylized carving of the bunraku puppets establish them as among the most striking figures of their kind in the world.

      Somewhat similar figures, though artistically altogether inferior, are the dummies used by ventriloquists; ventriloquism, as such, has no relation to puppetry, but the ventriloquists' figures, with their ingenious facial movements, are true puppets. The technique of the human actor carrying the puppet actor onto the stage and sometimes speaking for it is one that has been developed a great deal in some experimental puppet theatres in recent years. The human actor is sometimes invisible, through the lighting technique of “black theatre,” but is sometimes fully visible. This represents a total rejection of much of the traditional thinking about the nature of puppetry, but it has become increasingly accepted.

 Another minor form of puppet representation is provided by the jigging puppets, or marionnettes à la planchette, that were, during the 18th and 19th centuries, frequently performed at street corners throughout Europe. These small figures were made to dance, more or less accidentally, by the slight variations in the tension of a thread passing through their chests horizontally from the performer's knee to an upright post. Similar were puppets held by short rods projecting from the figures' backs, which were made to dance by bouncing them on a springy board on the end of which the performer sat. The unrehearsed movements of figures like these, when loosely jointed, have a spontaneous vitality that more sophisticated puppets often miss. Another interesting, if elemental, type of puppet, the “scarecrow puppets,” or lileki, of Slovenia, is constructed from two crossed sticks draped with old clothes; two of these figures are held up on either side of a bench draped with a cloth, under which the manipulator lies. The puppets talk with each other and with a human musician who always joins in the proceedings. The playlets usually end with a fight between the two puppets.

 Still another minor puppet form is the finger puppet, in which the manipulator's two fingers constitute the limbs of a puppet, whose body is attached over the manipulator's hand. An even simpler finger puppet is a small, hollow figure that fits over a single finger.

      The giant figures that process through the streets of some European towns in traditional festivities are puppets of a kind, though they do not normally enact any plays. The same applies to the dragons that are a feature of street processions in China and are to be found in some places in Europe—as, for example, at Tarascon, Fr. Indeed, when a man hides himself within any external frame or mask, the result may be called a puppet. Many of the puppet theatres in Poland today also present plays acted by actors in masks; the Bread and Puppet Theatre in the United States is another example of the same tendency. The divisions between human actors and puppet actors are becoming increasingly blurred; if, in the past, many puppets tried to look and act like humans, today many human actors are trying to look and act like puppets. Clearly, puppetry is being recognized not merely as a particular form of dramatic craft but as one manifestation of total theatre.

Styles of puppet theatre
 Puppet theatre has been presented in many diverse styles and for many different kinds of audience. Throughout history, the chief of these has been the performance of folk or traditional plays to popular audiences. The most familiar examples are the puppet shows that have grown up around a number of national or regional comic (comedy) heroes who appear in a whole repertory of little plays. Pulcinella (Punch), for example, was a human character in the Italian commedia dell'arte who began to appear on the puppet stages early in the 17th century; he was carried around Europe by Italian puppet showmen and everywhere became adopted as a new character, hunchbacked and hook-nosed, in the native puppet plays. In France he became Polichinelle, in England Punch, in Russia Petrushka, and so on. In England alone did this wide repertory of plays based on popular legend become limited to the one basic pattern of the Punch-and-Judy show. At about the time of the French Revolution, at the end of the 18th century, a great many local puppet heroes displaced the descendants of Pulcinella throughout Europe: in France it was Guignol, in Germany Kasperl (Kasperle), in the Netherlands Jan Klaassen, in Spain Christovita, and so on. All these characters are glove puppets; many speak through a squeaker in the mouth of the performer that gives a piercing and unhuman timbre to their voices; and all indulge in the fights and other business typical of glove-puppet shows. It is a mistake, however, to regard them all as the same character; they are distinct national types. In Greece the comic puppet hero is Kararkiózis, a shadow puppet, who originally came from Turkey, where he is known as Karagöz.

      The dramatic material in which these popular puppets play is sometimes biblical, sometimes based on folk tales, and sometimes from heroic sagas. A play on the Passion of Christ, for instance, is still presented by the Théâtre Toone in Brussels; the Faust legend has provided the classic theme for the German puppet theatre, and the Temptation of St. Anthony for the French; and the poems of the Italian Renaissance poet Ariosto (Ariosto, Ludovico), handed on through many popular sources, provide the themes of crusading chivalry for the puppet theatres of Sicily and Liège. More specifically dramatic or literary sources were used by the traveling marionette theatres of England and the United States in the 19th century, when popular plays such as East Lynne and Uncle Tom's Cabin were played to village audiences almost everywhere.

 In Asia the same tradition of partly religious and partly legendary sources provides the repertory for the puppet theatres. The chief of these are the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, which provide the basic plots for the puppet theatres of southern India and of Indonesia.

      In distinction to these essentially popular shows, the puppet theatre has, at certain periods of history, provided a highly fashionable entertainment. In England, for instance, Punch's Theatre at Covent Garden, London, directed by Martin Powell from 1711 to 1713, was a popular attraction for high society and received many mentions in the letters and journalism of the day. From the 1770s to the 1790s several Italian companies attracted fashionable audiences and the commendation of Samuel Johnson. In Italy a magnificent puppet theatre was established in the Palace of the Chancellery in Rome in 1708, for which Alessandro Scarlatti (Scarlatti, Alessandro), with other eminent composers, composed operas. In Austria-Hungary Josef Haydn (Haydn, Joseph) was the resident composer of operas for a puppet theatre erected by Prince Esterházy about 1770. In France the ombres chinoises of François-Dominique Seraphin had been established at the Palais-Royal, in the heart of fashionable Paris, by 1781. The Italian scene designer Antonio Bibiena painted the scenery for a marionette theatre belonging to a young Bolognese prince, which performed in London in 1780. Exquisite Venetian marionette theatres preserved in the Bethnal Green Museum in London and the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York City indicate the elegance of these fashionable puppet theatres of the 18th century.

      During the 18th century English (England) writers began to turn to the puppet theatre as a medium, chiefly for satire. The novelist Henry Fielding (Fielding, Henry) presented a satiric puppet show, under the pseudonym of Madame de la Nash, in 1748. The caustic playwright and actor Samuel Foote (Foote, Samuel) used puppets to burlesque heroic tragedy in 1758 and sentimental comedy in 1773. In a similar vein, the dramatist Charles Dibdin (Dibdin, Charles) presented a satiric puppet revue in 1775, and a group of Irish wits ran the Patagonian Theatre in London from 1776 to 1781 with a program of ballad operas and literary burlesques. In France there was a great vogue for the puppet theatre among literary men during the second half of the 19th century. This seems to have begun with the theatre created in 1847 at Nohant by George Sand (Sand, George) and her son Maurice, who wrote the plays; well over a hundred plays were produced during a period of 30 years. These productions were purely for guests at the house; they are witty, graceful, and whimsical. Some years later another artistic dilettante conceived the idea of presenting a literary puppet show, but this time for the public; Louis Duranty opened his theatre in the Tuileries Gardens in Paris in 1861, but it lacked popular appeal and did not survive in its original form for very long. The next year Duranty's experiment inspired a group of literary and artistic friends to found the Theatron Erotikon, a tiny private puppet theatre, which only ran for two years, presenting seven plays to invited audiences. The moving spirit, however, was Lemercier de Neuville, who went on to create a personal puppet theatre that played in drawing rooms all over France until nearly the end of the century.

      All these literary puppet theatres in France had made use of hand puppets, while the English literary puppeteers of the previous century had used marionettes. In 1887 a French artist, Henri Rivière, created a shadow theatre that enjoyed considerable success for a decade at the Chat Noir café in Paris; Rivière was joined by Caran d'Ache and other artists, and the delicacy of the silhouettes was matched by especially composed music and a spoken commentary. Another type of puppet was introduced to Paris in 1888 when Henri Signoret founded the Little Theatre; this theatre used rod puppets mounted on a base that ran on rails below the stage, the movement of the limbs being controlled by strings attached to pedals. The plays presented were pieces by classic authors—Cervantes, Aristophanes, Shakespeare—and new plays by French poets. The Little Theatre, like all the 19th-century French literary puppet theatres, performed infrequently to small audiences in a bohemian milieu; as a movement, this literary enthusiasm for the puppet theatre had little popular influence, but it served as a witness to the potential qualities of puppet theatre.

      The puppet theatre in Japan entered literature with the plays of Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653–1725). This writer, known as the Shakespeare of Japan, took the form of the existing crude Japanese puppet dramas and developed it into a great art form with over a hundred pieces, many of which remain in the repertoire of the bunraku theatre today. In this form of theatre the text, or jōruri, is chanted by a tayū who is accompanied by a musician on a three-stringed instrument called a samisen.

      In Europe the art-puppet movement was continued into the 20th century by writers and artists associated with the Bauhaus, the highly influential German school of design, which advocated a “total” or “organic” theatre. One of its most illustrious teachers, the Swiss painter Paul Klee (Klee, Paul), created figures of great interest for a home puppet theatre, and others designed marionettes that reflected the ideas of Cubism. The eminent English man of the theatre Gordon Craig campaigned vigorously for the puppet as a medium for the thoughts of the artist. Between World Wars I and II and through the 1950s and '60s, a number of artists endeavoured in difficult economic conditions to demonstrate that puppets could present entertainment of high artistic quality for adult audiences. The marionettes of the Art Puppet Theatre in Munich, for instance, were striking exemplars of the German tradition in deeply cut wood carving. In Austria the Salzburg Marionette Theatre specializes in Mozart operas and has achieved a high degree of naturalism and technical expertise. In Czechoslovakia—a country with a fine puppet tradition—Josef Skupa's marionette theatre presented musical turns interspersed with witty satiric sketches introducing the two characters who gave their names to the theatre: Hurvínek, a precocious boy, and Špejbl, his slow-witted father. In France the prominent artists who designed for Les Comédiens de Bois included the painter Fernand Léger. Yves Joly stripped the art of the puppet to its bare essentials by performing hand puppet acts with his bare hands, without any puppets. The same effect was achieved by the Russian puppeteer Sergey Obraztsov (Obraztsov, Sergey Vladimirovich) with a performance of charm and wit that was quite different from those of the great rod-puppet theatre that he founded. In England the fine craftsman Waldo Lanchester played an important part in the marionette revival; his productions included the early madrigal opera L'Amfiparnaso. Jan Bussell, with the Hogarth Puppets, achieved an international reputation with his marionette ballets and light operas. In London a permanent marionette theatre, the Little Angel, was opened by John Wright in 1961. Other permanent puppet theatres have been established in Birmingham and Norwich and at Biggar near Edinburgh.

      In the United States the artistic puppet revival was largely inspired by Ellen Van Volkenburg at the Chicago Little Theatre with productions that included A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1916. She later directed plays for Tony Sarg, who became the most important influence in American puppetry, with such large-scale marionette plays as Rip Van Winkle, The Rose and the Ring, and Alice in Wonderland. A small group, the Yale Puppeteers, created a theatre in Hollywood, the Turnabout Theatre, that combined human and puppet stages at opposite ends of the auditorium and attracted fashionable audiences for its songs and sketches from 1941 to 1956. Bil Baird ran a puppet theatre in Greenwich Village, New York City, for some years from 1967 and made a great contribution to every aspect of puppetry. But the lack of the kind of state subsidy that is taken for granted in eastern Europe has made the development of large touring puppet theatres impossible in the United States. Professional puppetry there has developed in three main ways: in large, commercially supported productions for television (see below); in socially involved groups, such as the Bread and Puppet Theatre, which uses giant puppets to carry a political or idealistic message; and—at the other end of the scale—as a medium for intimate tabletop presentations by artists such as Bruce Schwartz, who makes no attempt to conceal himself as he handles a single figure with great delicacy.

      Meanwhile, the puppet theatre was continuing on a less exalted plane to demonstrate that it could still provide enjoyable entertainment for popular audiences. From the 1870s a number of English marionette companies had developed the technique of their art to an extraordinarily high level, and their influence was widely spread through Europe, Asia, and America by a series of world tours. Their performances made a great feature of trick effects: there was the dissecting skeleton, whose limbs came apart and then came together again; the Grand Turk, whose arms and legs dropped off to turn into a brood of children while his body turned into their mother; the crinolined lady, who turned into a balloon; the Scaramouch, with three heads; and a host of jugglers and acrobats. The last of the great touring marionette theatres in this tradition was the Theatre of the Little Ones of Vittorio Podrecca, which introduced the marionette pianist and the soprano with heaving bosom that have been widely copied ever since.

      During the 20th century there has been an increasing tendency to regard the puppet theatre as an entertainment for children (childhood). One of the first people to encourage this development was Count Franz Pocci, a Bavarian court official of the mid-19th century, who wrote a large number of children's plays for the traditional marionette theatre of Papa Schmid in Munich. Important also was Max Jacob, who developed the traditional folk repertoire of the German Kasperltheater, between the 1920s and '50s, into something more suited to modern ideas of what befits children's entertainment. Almost all contemporary puppeteers have created programs for audiences of children.

      In this survey of the various styles of puppet theatre in different countries and in different cultures, there are certain features that are common to many otherwise differing forms. In many forms of puppet theatre, for instance, the dialogue is not conducted as if through the mouths of the puppets, but instead the story is recited or explained by a person who stands outside the puppet stage to serve as a link with the audience. This technique was certainly in use in England in Elizabethan times, when the “interpreter” of the puppets is frequently referred to; this character is well illustrated in Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair, in which one of the puppets leans out of the booth (they were hand puppets) and hits the interpreter on the head because it does not like the way he is telling the story. The same technique of the reciter is found in the Japanese Bunraku theatre, in which the chanter contributes enormously to the full effect and is, indeed, regarded as one of the stars of the company. The technique is also found in the French shadow theatre at the Chat Noir, and its imitators and successors, which depended to a great extent upon the chansonnier. Many recent puppet productions utilize this technique as well. Elsewhere, such as in traditional puppet theatres of Java, Greece, and Sicily, all the speaking is done by the manipulator. The plays consist of a mixture of narration and dialogue, and, though the performer's voice will certainly vary for the different characters, the whole inevitably acquires a certain unity that is one of the most precious attributes of the puppet theatre.

      Musical (musical performance) accompaniment is an important feature of many puppet shows. The gamelan gong and cymbal orchestra that accompanies a Javanese wayang performance is an essential part of the show; it establishes the mood, provides the cadence of the puppets' movements, and gives respite between major actions. Similarly, the Japanese samisen supports and complements the chanter. In the operatic puppet theatre of 18th-century Rome, the refined musical scores of Scarlatti and the stilted conventions and long-held gestures of the opera of that time must have been admirably matched by the slow, contrived but strangely impressive movements of the rod puppets. When in 1662 Samuel Pepys visited the first theatre to present Punch in England, he noted in his famous diary that “here among the fiddlers I first saw a dulcimer played on with sticks knocking of the strings, and it is very pretty.” Even an old-fashioned Punch-and-Judy show had a drum and panpipes as an overture. Puppets without music can seem rather bald. At one time the gramophone was used extensively by puppeteers, and more recently the tape recorder has provided a more adaptable means of accompanying a puppet performance with music and other sound effects.

 Lighting effects can also play an important part in a puppet production. The flickering oil lamp of the Javanese wayang enhances the shadows of the figures on the screen; as long ago as 1781, the scene painter Philip James de Loutherbourg (Loutherbourg, Philip James de) used a large model theatre called the Eidophusikon to demonstrate the range of lighting effects that could be achieved with lamps. Modern methods using ultraviolet lighting have enabled directors of puppet productions to achieve astonishing and spectacular effects.

Puppetry in the contemporary world
      The puppet theatre in the contemporary world faces great difficulties and great opportunities. The audiences for the traditional folk theatres have almost disappeared. Punch and Judy on the English beaches and Guignol in the parks of Paris still draw a crowd, but the indoor theatres that once attracted humble audiences survive with difficulty, usually with the aid of a sympathetic town council or a local museum. Puppets are increasingly regarded as an entertainment only for children. They certainly do provide a kind of theatre to which children respond with enthusiasm, and, in the general development of children's theatre, the puppet theatre has a part to play. Some puppeteers are happy to play only for children. But others are eager to play also on an adult level; and, for these, audiences are few. No professional puppet theatre can exist in the West on a purely adult repertoire. Even those theatres that do play for children face great economic difficulties from the small size of audience to which puppets can play and from the modest admission fees that can be charged to children. If a few companies do continue to present performances of quality, this is a tribute to their dedication to their art.

 There are some possible means of performance beyond the children's theatre. There are cruise ships and nightclubs, which provide an opportunity for short turns but obviously no scope for serious drama. And there is television. At first sight, television would seem an ideal medium for puppetry, and many puppet shows have in fact appeared on it, but initially the great possibilities that it seemed to offer were not fully realized. A straight transference of a puppet production to the television screen proved not to be effective, and puppet acts on television were often limited to short presentations on variety shows. Several programs designed for television, sometimes combining puppets with human performers, did, however, gain great success. In England, for instance, Muffin the Mule and his animal friends, manipulated by Ann Hogarth, appeared from 1946 on the top of a piano at which Annette Mills played and sang. In the United States a series featuring the Kuklapolitans, created by Burr Tillstrom, began airing in 1947; Kukla, a small boy, had a host of friends, including Ollie the Dragon, who exchanged repartee with Fran Allison, a human actress standing outside the booth. In 1969, puppets were introduced on the educational program “Sesame Street” (Sesame Street); these were created by Jim Henson (Henson, Jim) and represented a type of figure that reached its full potential in “The Muppet Show,” which attracted enormous audiences in more than a hundred countries between 1976 and 1981. Henson went on to create puppet films in which fantastic puppet characters were manipulated by radio-controlled mechanisms of extraordinary ingenuity. Another type of television puppetry could be seen in “Spitting Image,” a program introduced in 1984 with caricatured puppets designed by Roger Law and Peter Fluck. It consisted of satiric sketches, originally of English politicians and personalities, and represented a revival of the 18th-century tradition of adult satiric puppet theatre.

      The economic difficulties facing puppet companies in western Europe and the United States have been lifted in eastern Europe and China, where the state provides generous subsidies for puppet theatres. Whereas in the West a puppet theatre is lucky if it can afford to pay a company of 5 or 6 performers, it is not unusual for a puppet theatre in the East to employ 50 or 60 performers, artists, and technicians. Interest in the puppet theatre has surged in eastern Europe since World War II, and, while the state supports these theatres, there is very little sign of any direct political propaganda in their programs. The results of all this aid have often been impressive in the sheer weight of numbers and scenic effects, and the productions have often been experimental and imaginative. Mere size, however, does not necessarily guarantee artistic success, and some of the best of these theatres would seem to feel a lack of confidence in their medium by their restless searching for new methods of presentation through “black theatre,” mask theatre, and other techniques.

      A great feature of education (pedagogy) during the 20th century was the introduction of puppet making into schools as a craft (decorative art) activity. The difficulties facing professional puppet theatre are entirely absent here, and a puppet performance can synthesize many of the arts and skills of a group of children in making, costuming, and manipulating puppets, in writing plays for them, and in acting them. When this activity was first introduced, undue importance was often placed upon the mere construction of figures according to certain set methods and upon the painstaking preparation of a showing, so that the creative release of the performance was long delayed and sometimes never reached. Today the tendency is to create puppets quickly from scrap materials or from natural objects and to perform them impromptu, without rehearsal, as a form of dramatic self-expression. It is from such activities that the therapeutic potentialities of puppets have been utilized by psychiatrists working with disturbed children.

      The future of the puppet theatre will certainly be greatly influenced by the cross-fertilization between different traditions in puppetry that will result from puppeteers meeting each other and seeing each other's performances at international festivals of the puppet theatre. These festivals now take place almost every year and are usually sponsored by UNIMA, the Union Internationale de la Marionnette, an international society of puppeteers. Originally founded in 1929 and reconstituted in 1957, UNIMA has members in some 65 countries and provides a common meeting ground for professional and amateur performers, critics, and enthusiasts. In the meantime traditional styles of puppetry will not be neglected. Many countries now boast national organizations—the Puppeteers of America in the United States and Canada or The Puppet Centre in Great Britain, for example—which promote the differing local traditions of this minor but fascinating art.

Additional Reading
A.R. Philpott, Dictionary of Puppetry (1969), a brief but comprehensive guide to every aspect of the subject; Charles Magnin, Histoire des marionnettes en Europe: depuis l'antiquité jusqu'à nos jours, rev. ed. (1862, reprinted 1981), the classic history, not yet superseded; Bil Baird, The Art of the Puppet (1965, reprinted 1973), a magnificently illustrated general survey; Margareta Niculescu (ed.), The Puppet Theatre of the Modern World (1967; originally published in German, 1965), an international presentation sponsored by UNIMA; George Speaight, The History of the English Puppet Theatre, rev. ed. (1990), an exploration of European puppets up to the 17th century, and The History of the English Toy Theatre, rev. ed. (1969); Paul McPharlin, The Puppet Theatre in America: A History, 1524–1948, rev. ed. (1969), with a supplement covering developments since 1948 by Marjorie Batchelder McPharlin, including a selected bibliography; John Wright, Rod, Shadow, and Glove: Puppets from the Little Angel Theatre (1986), a practical guide on puppet making; David Currell, The Complete Book of Puppet Theatre, rev. ed. (1985), with special emphasis on educational uses of puppetry; and Ann Hogarth and Jan Bussell, Fanfare for the Puppets (1985), an account of a lifetime of experience as performers.George Speaight

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Universalium. 2010.

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