What is there to say about Mr Punch? He is Everyman, his life is a short, but disingenuous full of sound and fury, signifying… well, that’s where the discussion starts.
Mr Punch commits the most heinous of acts and gets away with them. He throws the baby out the window, whacks his wife with a big stick, kills off the authorities that want to take him to jail, and chases the ghost away. His greatest triumph is to vanquish the devil himself. He does this all with a merry grin, pleased as Punch.
To the superficial his is just a violent little man, to the politically correct he is an anathema, and to the rest of the world he is a Clown. Most of the humourless arguments against him are based on a simplistic interpretation of Mr Punch and simulated violence in the show. Fortunately he has a keen nose for spotting flawed logic and his opinion of those po-faced do-gooders is as low as theirs is of him. Those people who argue that his behaviour promotes violence amongst children would do well to compare with other children’s stories – does Goldilocks promote breaking and entry? Do Tom and Jerry promote cruelty to animals? Shakespeare has Desdemona smothered to death by her husband Othello. Has the world’s greatest playwright been condemned for sparking copycat murders in marriage? Always remember, these are just puppets to retain a sense of perspective; “That’s the way to do it!”
Mr Punch’s character originates deep within the culture of Europe. In the mystery plays of mediaeval times he was Vice – an amoral buffoon who fights with the devil and is carried off to hell. This situation continued until the mid 18th century but later things changed. Mr Punch began to prevail over the devil carting him off in a wheelbarrow to the fiery furnace. This delighted audiences although more proper folk bewailed the situation. The Landlady in Tom Jones (1749) laments “I remember when puppet shows were made of good scripture and when wicked people were carried away by the devil”.
I believe that Mr Punch is an allegory of the sinners path through the world, a kind of Pilgrim’s Progress He conquers the temptations of the flesh in the form of his wife Judy and, when she is included in the show, Pretty Polly his mistress. He goes on to triumph against worldly wealth and position, the Beadle, the hangman, and in the end death and the power of the devil. It’s difficult to believe this was the original intent of the play, however one thing is certain; Mr Punch remains indifferent to castigation and he knows only too well that as long as we – young and old – delight in the sight of authoritative figures getting whacked over the head and seeing the rogue emerge triumphant, he, of the preposterous nose and squawky voice, will never disappear.
Mr Punch classically wears yellow and red, and a curved witch’s hat that has a tassel hanging from the tip. He also has a hump that is often decorated.
I made his coat with a skirt of red and a neck-ruff of yellow. His trousers are striped yellow and red, I used the same cloth cut into strips and sewn together. The clothes were decorated with rick-rack. He was also given a pair of yellow stockings and green elfin curved-tip shoes.
The hands match his clothes with yellow and red gloves. They have been difficult to use as they tend to slip off my thumb – in future I intend to make the arms of the black sleeve a little shorter on the thumb side – I found that a little piece of sand-paper stuck into the hand socket prevents it slipping and helps the thing to stay in place. This is important when trying to pick things up.
This is a picture of my workspace as I was building the puppets. I learned dressmaking techniques very quickly, not a lot of skill though. Perhaps that comes with time.
As of this date the character set is now complete, the whole gang is assembled and we are ready to go, just await the building of a home – The Booth! Watch this space!