Punch Scholar

The history and tradition of the Punch & Judy show

This is an onlne course of study on the history, development and performance of the Punch and Judy Show. It is designed both for people who intend to perform, to provide them with a sense of history; and for those who want to know more about this aspect of theatrical history.

I will not attempt to instruct anyone on how to do a show but rather simply provide them with the resources to assist them. While this information will give you knowledge you will need to practice and gain experience in front of an audience.

I am also believe that any art requires an knowledgeable audience. There needs to be people who know what a good show is and know something of the history and traditions that each individual show embodies. Even if you stand and watch a show you are still participating in this art form.

A study of Punch is not simply about a puppet show. Punch and Judy is a street performance and in order for it to be fully understood it is imperative to know something about the street and the people who would stop to watch the show. Punch is very much a timeless character, but also very much of his time. History and culture is made up of the details of what humans do; not just wars and politics, but how they amuse themselves as well.

1: The histories

These are the key texts that have been published on this subject. To gain some sort of overview of the show it is essential to read at least one of these books. Most of the information on this web pages is simply an elaboration of what is in these books. These works are the result of some excellent scholarship and hours spent in libraries or winding through microfiche. Here I am harnessing the convenience of the internet to provide much the same information, but let's first consider and acknowledge the work of the giants on whose shoulders we will attempt to stand.

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2: The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy

The English Punch tradition is defined and to an extent homogenous because of one extraordinary publication. For anyone wanting to know anything about this subject this is the place to start.

There are three elements to this topic:

  • The introduction written by John Payne Collier.
  • The script. Although it may not be exactly as it would have been performed, does give an indication of what this show may have been like.
  • And the undeniably brilliant illustrations by George Cruikshank. These depictions of the puppets have a proven accuracy that brings this show perpetually to life.

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3: Punch or May Day

This is a close look at the painting by Benjamin Robert Haydon and what it tells us a lot about the performance of Punch in the 1820's. This is a truly heroic depiction of a Punch and Judy show. It was painted at a time when this puppet show was being celebrated by royalty, intellectuals and the people of London. While most people will see this as just Georgian London street scene, the Punch scholar knows this to be a portrait of the renown showman Thomas Pike's puppet show.

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4: London Labour and the London Poor

When Henry Mayhew did a social survey for a series of articles in 1850 he interviewed a Punch showman. This anonymous person gave Mayhew a detailed account of the working life of a performer at that time. In doing so he gave the Punch scholar an invaluable source of information that needs to be read thoroughly.

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5: Videos of some shows

One of the truly advantageous resources the internet offers is that we can now study the show by watching it on demand. When you read the history books the authors struggle to evoke the performance and the scripts never quite succeed in giving an accurate record, but now it is different. Here is a selection of videos that show different aspects of the performance from 1901 to recent times. Watch these shows carefully.

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6: A case study

In this section I will analyses a performance recorded on video by the late Punch and Judy showman Rod Burnett. By examining this excellent example of a show we should be able to see what makes for a good performance.

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7: What is a Punch show?

A fundamental question that requires a good deal of consideration.
Punch and Judy is both historical and a tradition that evolves over time. Here we look at this question and what makes for an authentic show.

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8: Further reading

And here is a collection of resources that may further your knowledge on this subject.

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