The Punch & Judy Show, the original Slapstick
As it is a lovely day here in the City of Angels, a day of good cheer and optimism; I thought Punch and Judy with its domestic violence, unbridled brutality, corrupt law enforcement, rampaging reptiles, and Satan himself, a perfect topic.
I was reminded of my interest in Punch by my last post on the Incroyables ( see side bar); these Bright Young things minced about with a large bludgeon-like staff which they referred to as their “Executive Power”. Punch , another silly man with a big stick, seemed a natural progression.
Punch, derivative of the commedia dell’arte character Polchinello has always been a personal favorite.
Making his first appearance around 1662, he was wildly popular in London and Paris, he and Judy did cross the great ocean, gaining popularity in the Colony, George Washington is known to have laughed at his antics.
Punch and company initially were enacted on stage by marionettes, economics seems to have factored into the use of hand puppets. With light weight portable theatre and ingenious puppets, it was possible for one puppeteer to act as an itinerant troupe, perhaps a shill in the audience collecting appreciative change. From seaside attraction to seaside attraction, they entertained a vast array of folks.
It is a bit shocking to think that this shrill little hunchbacked fellow, beating on his wife, tossing Baby out the window, outwitting the police , even cavorting with Satan; was/is considered appropriate fare for wee ones. But of course he wasn’t the last fellow of dubious character to gain wild youthful popularity; the vicious antics of the Three Stooges, the stupidity of Homer Simpson, the cruelty of RoadRunner and Wily E Coyote of course come to mind.
By Victoria’s time, some of his antics were notched down a bit, precisely to address this issue; part of her agenda for wholesomeness and family values perhaps.
Of course the beatings still continued, domestic violence is always so amusing apparently.
Of course no discussion of Punch is complete without a mention of the wonderful magazine Punch. The cartoons have long been an inspiration to me, the dark wit, the attention to detail, the serious treatment of satire.
“That’s the way to do it!”
The talented dollmakers David Chapman and Paul Robbins have done wonders with the theme.
Their work captures the spirit of this vintage ensemble.
tempera and graphite on paper
In my modest way, I will attempt to continue the tradition.
Have a great day.
At the suggestion of the ever fabulous Chateau Thombeau , I include this clip from the Stranglers, “Punch & Judy”. I must confess i am unfamiliar with the Stranglers, but the clip includes a bare chested young fellow and is of course thematic. Thank you Chateau Thoimbeau.
Have a great evening.