Thursday, April 26, 2007

'Stop this Punch and Judy politics!'

Puppet shows are part of worldwide folk drama tradition. They have often made young and old laugh by mocking society and conventions. In England the tradition started with the 'Punch and Judy show' when theatres reopened in the Restoration period under Charles II (1660). The figure of Punch (male chauvinist pig) discends from the Italian character Pulcinella in the Comedia Dell' Arte. Once in England, he took the name of Punch (a diminutive of Punchinello). Equivalents of Punch and Judy are, for instance, Kasper and Grete in Germany or Jan Klaassen and Katrijn in the Netherlands.

Punch embodies the Lord of Misrule and the Trickster figure found in all cultures. With his red curved nose, his hunchback he is a cunning clown who, in addition, acts like an anarchist. He traditionally takes pleasure in beating his wife, Judy, his child and the authorities (kills a lawyer, a policeman, etc.) without ever being punished. On the contrary, he would say: "That's the way to do it!" and even defeats the Devil himself at the end of the story saying: "Huzzah, huzzah, I've killed the Devil!"
Nowadays the 'Punch and Judy show' is mainly performed for children in shopping centres, at local festivities, schools, etc, whereas it used to be found in streets and later at seaside. However, Punch's outrageous and violent behaviour is still perceived by some critics as being immoral. Others would argue that, as an entertainment, the show has a cathartic effect on the audience. Even within the academic world, Punch's grotesque attitude leads drama scholars to ponder on the symbolical meaning of, for instance, his slapstick and other sexual interests the show can stimulate in adults.

This puppet tradition has led to a genre of its own namely the knockabout or slapstick comedy and Punch's expressions have also found their way into the English language. In fact, 'Stop this Punch and Judy politics' is used to express discontent towards politicians' everlasting quarrels which do not lead to any practical solutions. When we say 'Pleased as Punch' we mean to express our satisfaction or delight in the same way (or rather not!) as Punch experiences it when playing awful tricks and deeds.
Aline R. & Justine

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