Where Did Mr. Punch Come From?
Mr. Punch, one of the world's most famous puppet characters, got his start in the rollicking Commedia Dell'Arte of Italy in the early 17th century .His original name, Pulchinella, was translated variously as Pollicinella, Punchanello, Polchinello, Polichinelli, and was finally boiled down to "Punch" by the English. Mr. Punch's clever, rebellious and physically violent humor was popular with the common man, reflecting topical issues of the day in much the same way as today's situation comedies on television. The traveling Punch man, or "Professor," toured the countryside entertaining adults and children alike. This tradition of touring spread to the United States and is the basis for most puppetry here. As technology grows, the audience for puppetry grows, moving from small live shows to established puppet companies to television and motion picture puppetry .
The Eminent Victorian, Mr. Punch
JUSTICE has never been done to the Victorian capacity for enjoyment. Uncomely places of worship and the legend of a dismal and repressive domesticity are, after all, not the only legacy of the Victorians; they also built nearly all our theatres and a great many commodious public houses. Nor must the widow's weeds obscure the very human qualities of the great Queen herself, who shared her age's love of entertainment. At the beginning of her reign we find her back-stage at Drury Lane Theatre, standing firm while Mr. Van Amburgh's lions roared at her, and towards the end of it she conferred a knighthood upon Sir Henry Irving, the first actor to be so honored. In the course of it, which is more to our present purpose, she also honored Mr. Punch with her presence at a performance of his mystery in Hyde Park on the occasion of her First Jubilee. The showman was Henry James Hayes, who was also to exhibit Punch before Queen Alexandra and Queen Mary before his death at Folkestone, aged 69, in 1931.
Yet the first years of the reign brought something of a setback to the showmen who visited Bartholomew Fair. In 1840 the City Fathers at last succeeded in prohibiting all dramatic performances there. Even Punch was not able to repeat his success in the French fairground, where he had saved the theatrical tradition. For once, it was regarded as partaking of the nature of drama to give puppet shows. A wag of the period, deeply dyed with Punch's vice of punning, appropriately put his elegy of the Fair into Punch's mouth:
The glory of Bartlemy's fled,
And Smithfield's a mere Drury-lane;
The actors are gone, and instead
The beasts and old Wombwell remain...
Jim Brown on the salt-box who played
Waked strains that could soften a stone;
But ah ! in the churchyard he's laid,
And old "Muster Richardson's" gone...
For, myself, you need scarcely be told,
I've cause for pathetic complaints;
I fought with the Devil of old,
And thus have displeased all the Saints.
My dog, when my nose he assailed,
The laughter of hundreds could stir!
Of his wonted amusement curtailed,
He now hangs his tail like a cur.
Where now shall I hide my big hunch,
Or show my proboscis--0h! where?
Since poor Billy Shakespeare and Punch
Punch need not have been apprehensive. The streets and squares of London were wide open for him, and if the Londoner still wanted to see Punch in the fair-ground, he could go down by boat or train to Greenwich in June, where the holiday crowds swarmed in the sunshine. There amid the fortune-tellers, brandy-snap vendors, sellers of "Waterloo Crackers", cold fried fish, eels and fizzing drinks, Punch's title to public affection was secure. The years after the drama was driven from Smithfield his name was used at the christening of a new magazine, and the cover design of the first number of Punch is valuable for its lively impression of a Victorian show. The percent cover was designed by Richard Doyle and has been used continuously since 1849. Punch gave his name to the paper, and his image, but his spirit was not to be confined within its pages. Erring and extravagant, he belongs to the rain and shine of the streets; one does not have to be able to read to appreciate Punch.