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Punch and Judy

Punch and Judy is a traditional, popular English puppet show featuring the characters of Punch and his wife Judy. The performance consists of a sequence of short scenes, each depicting an interaction between two characters, most typically the anarchic Punch and one other character. The show is traditionally performed by a single puppeteer, known in Victorian times as a Professor.


The Pie and Judy show can trace its roots to the 16th century to the Italian commedia dell'arte. The figure of Punch derives from the Neapolitan stock character of Pulcinella, which was Anglicized to Punchinello. He is a manifestation of the Lord of Misrule and Trickster figures of deep-rooted mythologies. Punch's wife was originally "Joan".

May 9th, 1662 - the date on which the figure who later became Mr. Punch made his first recorded appearance in England - is traditionally reckoned by 'Professors' as Punch's UK birthday. The diarist Samuel Pepys observed a marionette show featuring an early version of the Punch character in Covent Garden in London. It was performed by an Italian puppet showman, Pietro Gimonde (aka 'Signor Bologna'ribed the event in his diary as "an Italian puppet play, that is within the rails there, which is very pretty."

In the British "Punch and Judy" show Punch wears a jester's motley and is a hunchback whose hooked nose almost meets his curved jutting chin. He carries a stick, as large as himself, which he freely uses upon all the other characters in the show. He speaks in a distinctive squawking voice, produced by a contrivance known as a swazzle or swatchel which the Professor holds in his mouth, transmitting his gleeful cackle— "That's the way to do it". So important is Mr. Punch's signature sound that it is a matter of some controversy within Punch and Judy circles as to whether a 'non-swazzled' show can be considered a true Punch and Judy Show.

Many regional variants of Pulcinella were developed as the character spread across Europe, first as a marionette, then as a glove-puppet. In Germany, Punch is called "Kasperle" or Kaspar while Judy is "Grete". In the Netherlands he is Jan Klaassen (and Judy is Katrijn); in Denmark Mester Jackel; in Russia Petrushka; in Romania Vasilache; and in France he has been called Polichinelle since the mid-1600s. A specific version appeared in Lyon in the early 19th century under the name "Guignol"; it soon became a conservatory of Lyon popular language (

In the early 18th Century, the marionette theatre starring Punch was at its height, showman Martin Powell attracting sizeable crowds at both Covent Garden and Bath, Somerset. In 1721 a puppet theatre that would run for decades opened in Dublin. The cross-dressing actress Charlotte Charke ran the successful but short-lived Punch's Theatre in the Old Tennis Court at St. James's, Westminster, presenting adaptations of Shakespeare as well as plays by herself, her father Colley Cibber, and her friend Henry Fielding. Fielding eventually ran his own puppet theatre under the pseudonym Madame de la Nash to avoid the censorship concomitant with the theatre Licensing Act of 1737.

Punch was extremely popular in Paris, and, by the end of the 18th Century, he was also playing in the American colonies, where even George Washington bought tickets for a show. But marionette productions, presented in empty halls, the back rooms of taverns, or within large tents at England's yearly agricultural events at Bartholomew Fair and Mayfair, were expensive and cumbersome to mount and transport. In the last half of the 18th Century, marionette companies began to give way to glove-puppet shows, performed from within a narrow, lightweight booth by one puppeteer, usually with an assistant "bottler" to collect their earnings from a crowd the "bottler" had likewise been obliged to gather. These shows might travel through country towns or move from corner to corner along busy London streets, giving many performances in a single day. The character of Punch adapted to the new format, going from a stringed comedian who might say outrageous things to a more aggressive glove-puppet who could do outrageous, and often violent, things, to the other wooden-headed members of his cast. About this time Punch's wife went from "Joan" to "Judy."

The mobile booth of the late 18th and early 19th Century Punch and Judy hand puppet show was originally covered in checked bed ticking or whatever inexpensive cloth might come to hand. Later Victorian booths, particularly those used for Christmas parties and other indoor performances, were gaudier affairs. In the 20th century, however, red-and-white striped puppet booths became iconic features on the beaches of many English seaside resorts; such striped cloth is the most common covering today, wherever the show might be performed.

A more substantial change over time came to the show's naturally supposed audience. Originally intended for adults, then, when more public, for adults and children, the show evolved into primarily a children's entertainment under the late Victorians. Ancient members of the show's cast, like the devil and Punch's mistress Pretty Polly, began to fall off when they came to be seen as inappropriate for young audiences.

Modern British performances of Punch and Judy are no longer exclusively the traditional seaside children's entertainments they became, however, which were found mostly in holiday resorts during the summer months. They are today a popular public attraction that can be seen at carnivals, festivals, birthday parties, and all manner of celebratory occasions. Apart from Punch and Judy, the standard repertory company usually includes their baby, a hungry crocodile, Joey the Clown (a friend of Mr. Punch), an officious policeman, and a prop string of sausages. The devil and the generic hangman Jack Ketch may still make their appearances, but if so, Punch will always get the better of them. The story changes, but some phrases remain the same for decades or even centuries: for example, Punch, after dispatching his foes each in turn, still squeaks his famous catchphrase "That's the way to do it!"


The tale of Punch and Judy varies from puppeteer to puppeteer and has changed over time, but the outline of early 19th century shows is usually still recognizable. It typically involves Punch behaving outrageously, struggling with his wife Judy and the Baby, and then triumphing in a series of encounters with the forces of law and order (and often the supernatural). The classic ending of the show has him upending the Devil himself, exclaiming "Huzzah huzzah, I've killed the Devil!".

All is performed in the spirit of outrageous comedy and is intended to provoke shocked laughter. Whilst the Victorian version of the show drew on the morality of its day, The Punch & Judy College of Professors considers that the 20th and 21st Century versions of the tale have evolved into something more akin to a primitive version of The Simpsons in which a bizarre family is used as vehicle for grotesque visual comedy and a sideways look at contemporary society.

The stereotypical view of Punch casts him as a deformed, child-murdering, wife-beating psychopath who commits appalling acts of violence and cruelty upon all those around him and escapes with impunity; this is greatly enjoyed by small children. Terry Pratchett draws attention to this apparent paradox in his short story Theatre of Cruelty, the last line of which is "That's not the way to do it." Actually, Punch has long since reverted to his origins as a clown figure whose acts of violence are in the same tradition as those to be seen in all classic cartoons.

While censorious political correctness threatened Punch and Judy performances in the UK and other English speaking countries for a time, the show is having one of its cyclical recurrences and can now be seen not only in England, Wales, and Ireland, but also in Canada, the United States (including Puerto Rico) and even Australia and South Africa.

Published scripts

In 1828, the critic John Payne Collier published a Punch and Judy script under the title The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Punch and Judy The script was illustrated by the well-known caricaturist George Cruikshank. Collier said his script was based on the version performed by the "Professor" Giovanni Piccini in the early 19th century, and Piccini himself had begun performing in the streets of London in the late 18th century. The Collier/Cruickshank Punch has been republished in facsimile several times and is now available on the web in PDF form (see External Links). As Collier later went on to have a career as a literary forger, it throws some doubt on the authenticity of the script which is rather literary in style and may well have been tidied up from the rough and tumble street theatre original. Punch is primarily an oral tradition, handed down (or copied) from live performances more than from scripts. It is thus constantly in development from many participants in the same way that the Wikipedia concept operates. A transcript of a typical Punch and Judy show in London of the 1840s can be found in Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor.

Derived usage

  • Punch, a celebrated British humour magazine (now defunct) derived its name from Mr. Punch.
  • Riddley Walker, a 1980 novel by Russell Hoban, features as its main character a wanderer in a post-apocalyptic world where puppet shows put across the government's official message. Finding an old Punch puppet in the debris inspires Riddley to put together a puppet show opposing the government's tale and telling the true story of how civilization was destroyed.
  • The Punch and Judy Man was a 1961 movie, starring Tony Hancock as the title character.
  • Punch and Judy was the title of the 1967 opera by Harrison Birtwistle. Punch performers regard it as a humourless misreading of the traditional characters. <---citation needed
  • A Child Again, a collection of short shorties by Robert Coover, includes a story entitled "Punch" exploring in the first person the character of Mr. Punch.
  • The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch: A Romance, a 1995 graphic novel by writer Neil Gaiman and artist Dave McKean, features a boy whose memories are triggered by a Punch and Judy show.
  • Another instance in which a Punch and Judy show is used to trigger a character's memory: the Japanese film "Soundtrack" (2002), starring Sugizo and Kou Shibasaki.
  • Artistes as diverse as the Stranglers, Marillion, XTC and Gracie Fields have all recorded songs called "Punch and Judy". 'Rockney' duo Chas 'n' Dave recorded one called 'Punchinella' which encapsulated some historical information about the character.
  • American singer-songwriter Elliott Smith also released a song named "Punch and Judy" about a dysfunctional relationship.
  • The band Sherrysa-Whore used footage of a Punch and Judy show in the music video for their song "Art".
  • Jasper Fforde's The Fourth Bear has two characters called Punch and Judy who fight constantly and have threatened several times to throw their baby down the stairs. They are the puppets, but are also alive.
  • Punch and Judy are the names of the hosts of the show-within-a-show, Big Shot, that regularly appears in the anime series Cowboy Bebop.
  • "Punch and Judy" is also the title of a short film by Czech filmmaker Jan Švankmajer. The film features two male puppets who ultimately end up beating each other to death over a guinea pig. Punch 'Professors' consider it a humorless variant on the essentially comic Punch/Pulcinella tradition.
  • Punch and Judy are the names of two constructs (artificial persons) in the webcomic Girl Genius. However, they are portrayed as caring adoptive parents without the slapstick comedy of the puppet shows.
  • In the cartoon series The Batman, Punch and Judy are the names of The Joker's two jester-themed henchmen.
  • In the CGI animated series Reboot, in the 7th episode there is a computer version of Punch and Judy called "Punchcard and Qwerty"
  • An episode of the TV series Are You Being Served? is titled, "The Punch and Judy Affair", where the staff of the store perform a life-size Punch and Judy show for the other employees' children.
  • In the British sci-fi series Doctor Who, the story Snakedance portrays an alien variation on a Punch and Judy puppet show, in which Punch faces and is defeated by a giant snake.
  • The Magicians of Caprona, a book in the popular Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne Jones. Punch and Judy puppets figure prominently in the plot about two feuding families of magicians in a fictional Italy.
  • Dark cabaret band, The Tiger Lillies have an album as well as a song named "Punch and Judy" derived from their poorly reviewed stage show of the same name
  • In American Baseball a "Punch and Judy" batter is slang for a hitting style that is not overpowering.
  • The wife-beating mafioso character Don Punchinello in the video game Max Payne gains his name from the Anglicized version of Pulcinella, Mr. Punch's original name.
  • The 1987 film, Dolls has a character named Judy, who has a puppet named Punch.
  • The Lounge Lizards' "Big Heart: Live in Tokyo" from 1986 contains a song called "The Punch and Judy tango"
  • One boss in the video game Super Mario RPG goes by the name of Punchinello, again a reference to the Anglicized version of Punch's original name.
  • In Time Bandits Napoleon Bonaparte, in the midst of his invasion of Italy in 1796, amuses himself watching a Punch and Judy show while his inept generals attempt to keep things running without him.
  • Alfred Reed, the prolific American composer, wrote a wind band piece titled Punchinello, Overture to a Romantic Comedy. The piece was entitled after Punch's original name.
  • In Tim Powers' novel The Anubis Gates the evil clown Horrabin operates a twisted version of the Punch and Judy show.
  • The movie "Screamtime" involves a story about an evil Mr.Punch puppet going on a killing spree.
  • Lady Elaine of Mister Roger's Neighborhood looks similar in face to Mr.Punch.
  • In a Spongebob Squarepants comic, spongebob and patrick try to put on a puppet show, but when there first show doesn't go well they make a squidward puppet that hits the other puppets with his clarenet, much like punch and judy.
  • The Punch (cigar brand) was first registered in 1840 by German named Stockmann and named for the European puppet show character, Mr. Punch.

See also


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