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Punch and Judy Shows

An interesting glimpse of 19th and early 20th century boys' clothes is available by viewing the many images of the ubiquitos Punch and Judy shows. In the days before movies, radio, and television they were a special treat for the children. They have not entirely disappeared, but are not nearly as important as in the past.

Punch and Judy shows were popular mobile puppet shows with a venerable history They originated in Italy during the 14th centuries and spread to France and other neighboring countries. The puppets are still dressed in the traditional garb of Renasiance Italy. The shows were imported from France to England where they received widespread popularity. The shows were given in city streets and public spaces by strolling puppet

Figure 1.--
players or puppeters, gradually they developed into popular entertainment for children. They became an accepted part of outings to the seaside for the children. No visit to the beach was complete without a seaside Punch and Judy show.

The chief characters of each play are Punch (Giignol in French), a short, thick set, hump-backed puppet with an enormous hook nose, a wide mouth, a long chin, and wearing a three-pointed cap. Punch is accompanied by his wife Judy and their dog Toby. The play is a broad farce consists chiefly of a series of violent quarrels between the squeaky-voiced, boastful, and simple minded Punch and his disobedient, willful wife. The puppets are moved by hand which is concealed by the puppets costume.

Songs and music accompanied the shows. One of the songs might begin like:
Come with me and I will
      take you back again.

The days of long ago
Where we used to gather round
     to see the merry
Punch and Judy Show

There was Punch, a jolly little
     fellow in his suit of calico

The curtains are open
What do we see? Goodness me!
Punch - with one blow
Knocks poor Judy on the head...

One English observer remembers hearing a Punch and Judy song as a child from watching Punch and Judy shows in our local park in SE London, so a song of some sort about Punch and Judy was definitely still being sung in the 1970s. A member of the Punch and Judy cast would start singing it before the show to get the children into the appropriate mood. Which always did the trick. A few Punch and Judy shows continue to this day.

Figure 2.--.

Christopher Wagner


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Last updated: June 10, 1998