The Victorian Marionette Theatre

By Bell, John | Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film, June 2007 | Go to article overview

The Victorian Marionette Theatre


Bell, John, Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film


John McCormick, The Victorian Marionette Theatre. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2004. 272 pp. $24.95.

The variety of performance techniques invented, developed, discarded, or advanced in the nineteenth century is truly fascinating, and clearly an antecedent to the performance innovations that characterized the following century's 'modernity'. The modernity of nineteenth-century performance, like that of the twentieth, seems to lie in its combined interest in new technologies, rediscovered traditional forms, increased consciousness of non-western performance cultures (brought about by colonialism and global awareness), and an unabashed fascination with popular culture. On the actors' stage these interests flourished in the vivid spectacle of melodrama's special effects; the kinetic stage platforms of Steele MacKaye's Madison Theatre or the eastern European Asphaleia System; pantomime and harlequinade; the shockingly stunning race spectacle of minstrelsy; and the class-conscious performance of ethnicity in Music Hall, Variety, Cabaret, and Vaudeville performance. These florid mixtures of technology and spectacle, performing the essence of nineteenth-century modernity, were also reflected in performances without actors: through the image-projection technology of magic lantern shows and other pre-film experiments; in the hyper-real and mechanically complex environments of panorama performance; in the miniature spectacle of toy theatre, and in the flourishing popular theatre of puppetry.

Nineteenth-century puppet theatre in Europe and North America looked much different from the kind of puppetry that characterized the puppet revival that began in the 1960s and persists in the twenty-first century. While the most notable aspects of late twentieth-century puppet theatre are its obvious debts to Asian techniques and aesthetics (the visible, blackclad performers of Japanese bunraku, the utter cultural gravity of Javanese wayang kulit and Chinese shadow theatre), popular nineteenth-century puppet shows centered on the proscenium-bound theatrics of handpuppet and marionette theatre, and the medievalrooted spectacle of colossal carnival figures (Spanish gigantes, French and Belgian géantes, English 'giants'). Across western Europe handpuppet heroes such as Punch, Guignol, and Kasperl flourished, and in marionette theatres in big cities and small industrial towns local and national marionette protagonists performed not only variety entertainment, but epic dramas, such as the Christian-Muslim conflict of the Orlando Furioso cycles in Italy and Belgium.

The recent increased interest in puppet theatre as global tradition has led to the appearance of many new puppet histories, as well as reprints of nineteenth-century studies that reflect that period's growing interest in popular culture. The recent facsimile editions of Payne Collier and George Cruikshank's 1828 Punch and Judy,1 and F. W. Fairholt's 1859 Gog and Magog,2 offer valuable evidence of nineteenth-century England's own sense of puppetry. Puppet historian George Speaight has long devoted himself to these performance traditions, and his History of the English Puppet Theatre3 limned a three-century account of the tradition. What makes John McCormick's The Victorian Marionette Theatre a notably welcome addition to puppet history, where expansive, multi-century accounts such as Eileen Blumenthal's Puppetry: A World History4 are the norm, is the way it focuses on the specific form of marionette theatre in a particular century and place.

As an historian, McCormick has examined a range of nineteenth-century performance forms, including French fairground theatre, vaudeville and melodrama, and the life and work of Dion Boucicault. And with Bennie Pratasak, McCormick has written a general survey of nineteenth-century European puppet theatre as whole.5 McCormick's sense of the rich variety of nineteenth-century theatre gives The Victorian Marionette a refreshingly full contextual framework, and helps the reader understand how Victorian marionette theatre was not only an essential link in the chain of performance forms, but also in many ways a miniature simulacrum of the images, characters, and dramaturgy of the actors' stage.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Victorian Marionette Theatre
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.