Skip to main content
Select Source:

puppet

puppet A figure, usually human or animal, moved by human agency, used in a theatrical show. Puppets are thus to be distinguished from dolls, clockwork automata, and other toys. They come in several varieties: glove or hand puppets are hollow bodies, usually made of cloth, into which the performer inserts a hand, with the fingers and thumb manipulating the usually wooden head and hands; marionettes are full-length figures moved from above by strings or wires; rod puppets are large, and manipulated by rods to the head and hands; shadow puppets, common in Java, Bali, and Thailand, are flat figures held between a light and a translucent screen. There are many other less familiar types, for instance living marionettes; bodies attached to the actual head of the performer, with either legs or arms manipulated by rods from behind; and ‘held’ puppets — figures carried about by one or several operators, like the characters in Japanese Bunraku theatre.

The origins of puppetry lie with ritual magic. Puppet theatre has featured in almost all civilizations. In Europe there are written records of it from the fifth century bc, and puppets certainly figured in the repertoire of medieval jongleurs. In sixteenth-century Italy they were closely linked with the characters of the commedia dell'arte, though in England they played mainly folk stories and popular Old Testament stories. The introduction of Punch into England in the seventeenth century united these two traditions. Puppet theatre has customarily been a form of folk theatre, often featuring a comic character, such as Petroushka in Russia or Pulcinella in Naples.

Occasionally, however, puppet theatre has become a fashionable, élite entertainment. In the eighteenth century, various operas were composed for puppets; Alessandro Scarlatti wrote works for Cardinal Ottoboni's theatre in Rome, as did Joseph Haydn for Count Esterhazy. The puppet theatre occasionally provided a fine vehicle for parody, as in early Hanoverian England, when Powell's Covent Garden theatre attained celebrity by sending up the vogue for Italian opera, and Henry Fielding, Samuel Foote, and other comic writers presented puppet shows to burlesque contemporary fashions.

In the nineteenth century, various artists and writers sought to turn the puppet theatre into a serious medium. In Germany, an essay by Heinrich von Kleist, written in 1810, was a forerunner of this move; in France, George and Maurice Sand directed a home puppet theatre in the 1860s that inspired many imitators; in Belgium in the 1890s, Maurice Maeterlinck wrote symbolist plays to be performed by marionettes; in England in 1907, Gordon Craig hailed the übermarionette as the ideal actor. Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi (1888), originally written for puppets, has been viewed as a precursor of the theatre of the absurd. In the 1920s the German Lotte Reiniger exploited film techniques to produce remarkable silhouette shows based on shadow figures. In Communist Eastern Europe, state subsidies led to work of great technical accomplishment and artistic sophistication. This highbrow interest, however, has been rather limited, and, for the public at large, puppets in modern culture have typically been regarded as children's entertainment — notably the Punch and Judy show.

Recent years have seen revived use of puppets for political satire, as in the British television show Spitting Image. Puppets have also served as an educational medium in the American TV programme Sesame Street and they are employed in child psychiatry as surrogate figures.

Roy Porter

Bibliography

Speaight, G. (1955). The history of the English puppet theatre. G. G. Harrap, London.
Baird, B. (1965). The art of the puppet. Macmillan, New York.


See also theatre.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"puppet." The Oxford Companion to the Body. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"puppet." The Oxford Companion to the Body. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/puppet

"puppet." The Oxford Companion to the Body. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/puppet

puppet

puppet, human or animal figure, generally of a small size and performing on a miniature stage, manipulated by an unseen operator who usually speaks the dialogue. A distinction is made between marionettes, moved by strings or wires from above, and hand puppets, in which the hand of the operator is concealed in the costume of the doll. Popular forms of the puppet show include the Punch and Judy shows of England and the Guignol in France. Puppet theaters have been established in the Americas; old epic dramas, often based on the Chanson de Roland and other medieval and modern pieces, have drawn crowded houses. The Greeks of the 5th cent. BC were familiar with it; in Java, China, and Japan it is almost immemorial; in the Europe of the Middle Ages it was the most popular form of entertainment for the masses; and it is a constituent in many folk cultures.

From the end of the 16th cent. to the end of the 18th, puppet or marionette shows, sometimes called motions, reached the summit of their vogue on the Continent and in England. During Puritan times in England they flourished after the theaters were prohibited. On the Continent great writers such as Goethe and major composers including Mozart and Haydn wrote for them. Avant-garde theater, such as Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi (1896), used puppets in reaction against naturalistic conventions; Manuel de Falla composed a puppet opera, El Retablo de Maese Pedro (1926). In 18th-century Japan the most celebrated dramatists wrote plays for the bunraku, or puppet theater. Nonetheless, puppets have primarily been used in popular entertainment.

Puppets have enjoyed something of a renaissance in late 20th-century America. For instance, during the 1950s in the United States, Burr Tilstrom's hand-puppet show Kukla, Fran, and Ollie was a popular television series. In the 1960s, Jim Henson created a group of madcap educational and entertaining puppets, known as Muppets, that appeared in the television series Sesame Street and their own feature films. During the Vietnam War and after, the Bread and Puppet Theatre utilized larger-than-life puppets in their political theater pieces. At the end of the 20th cent. and the beginning of the 21st a new generation of creative puppeteers, including Roman Paska, Julie Taymor, and Basil Twist, were producing a variety of innovative new works and updated classics.

The art of ventriloquism (making the voice appear to come from a source other than the speaker) has also been associated with the puppet. The manipulator, in full view, converses with the "dummy," a large doll usually held in the lap of the manipulator. The dummy's words appear to issue from its own mouth. Skillful ventriloquists are able to speak the doll's words without moving their lips and to "throw" their voices so that their dummies appears to speak.

See S. Bemegal, Puppet Theatre around the World (1961); P. Fraser, Puppets and Puppetry (1972); G. Speaight, The History of the Puppet Theatre (2d ed. 1990); E. Blumenthal, Puppetry: A World History (2005).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"puppet." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"puppet." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/puppet

"puppet." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/puppet

puppet

pup·pet / ˈpəpət/ • n. a movable model of a person or animal that is used in entertainment and is typically moved either by strings controlled from above or by a hand inside it. ∎ fig. a person, party, or state under the control of another person, group, or power: the new Shah began his reign as an Anglo-Soviet puppet. DERIVATIVES: pup·pet·ry / -trē/ n.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"puppet." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"puppet." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/puppet-0

"puppet." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/puppet-0

puppet

puppet † doll; (human) figure jointed and moving on strings or wires XVI; lathe-head XVII. Earlier in deriv. puppetry; var. of POPPET.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"puppet." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"puppet." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/puppet-1

"puppet." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/puppet-1

puppet

puppetdammit, Hammett, Mamet •emmet, semmit •helmet, pelmet •remit • limit • kismet • climate •comet, grommet, vomit •Goldschmidt •plummet, summit •Hindemith •hermit, Kermit, permit •gannet, granite, Janet, planet •magnet • Hamnett • pomegranate •Barnet, garnet •Bennett, genet, jennet, rennet, senate, sennet, sennit, tenet •innit, linnet, minute, sinnet •cygnet, signet •cabinet • definite • Plantagenetbonnet, sonnet •cornet, hornet •unit •punnet, whodunnit (US whodunit) •bayonet • dragonet • falconet •baronet • coronet •alternate, burnet •sandpit • carpet • armpit • decrepit •cesspit • bear pit • fleapit •pipit, sippet, skippet, snippet, tippet, Tippett, whippet •limpet • incipit • limepit •moppet, poppet •cockpit • cuckoo-spit • pulpit • puppet •crumpet, strumpet, trumpet •parapet • turnspit

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"puppet." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"puppet." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/puppet

"puppet." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/puppet