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Punch & Judy

The rise in popularity of the Punch & Judy show in the Georgian era

Are you a fan of the Punch & Judy Show? Or maybe you’ve not yet met Mr. Punch?


The Punch and Judy show is considered “a staple of the British seaside scene,” but you can encounter the puppet show anywhere, especially at village fêtes.


Our Georgian era heroes and heroines would have been very familiar with Punch and Judy—are you surprised? It was, after all, during the Georgian era when Mr. Punch took England by storm.


The origin is 17th century, but it was known as Pulcinella from its Italian origins. Judy was known as “Joan.” It did not take long for the show to find its way onto England’s shores. Mr. Punch’s UK birthday is May 9, 1662—yes, he has a birthday! Be sure to mark your calendar and celebrate. If you’re a reader of Samuel Pepys, you might already know he talks about seeing this puppet show performed in Covent Garden.


The Pulcinella version went through a great many changes to anglicize it for the British audience, such as name changes, crafting the distinctive voice by using a swazzle (similar to talking through a kazoo), and changing from a marionette show to a puppet show, all part of the Britification. Throughout the 18th century, Punch & Judy could be enjoyed across the British Isles and beyond, even crossing into Ireland and Paris, and by the end of the 18th century, briefly into the American colonies (when colonists still shared British humour).


It was during the Regency that the mobile booth and puppet styling standardised for easy recognition, transport, and cost. The show was for adults, not suitable for children or in any way intended for or targeted to children, only showing in theatres, pleasures gardens, and other adult-only locations. There were cast members, such as Punch’s mistress “Pretty Polly,” that were a well-known and much-loved aspect of the show—cast members that would eventually be removed for a change of audience.


The terms, names, and topics for this iconic show changed once again during the Victorian era to become how we’re most familiar with it today. The puppeteer being called the “professor,” for example, comes from the Victorian era. We also see a change in audience, as the show was adapted for children. To this day, it still maintains its dark humour, but all other aspects of the storylines and characters have become more “family friendly.”  


This exploration of the full history, characters, puppeteers, and more is not to be missed:

https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/thats-the-way-to-do-it-a-history-of-punch-and-judy

 


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