Puppets and "Popular" Culture

By Scott Cutler Shershow | Go to book overview

Introduction

To Southworke Fair, very dirty, and there saw the Puppet-show of Whittington, which was pretty to see; and how that idle thing doth work upon people that see it, and even myself too.

— Samuel Pepys, Diary, September 21, 1668

An extensive body of literature, beginning in the nineteenth century, documents the astonishing geographic and ethnographic variety of puppet theater and attempts to recreate the actual puppet performances of various times and places, such as the one seen by Pepys on a particular day in the mid-seventeenth century. 1 I am more interested, however, in Pepys's reaction to the show, a reaction that surprises him and that he carefully records.To Pepys the show is at once trivial and powerful (an "idle thing" that "works"); and what strikes him most is the incongruity between its conditions ("very dirty") and its effect ("pretty to see"). In this book I argue that perceptions such as Pepys's are neither personal nor idiosyncratic but culturally constructed. I

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1
Nineteenth- and early twentieth-century discussions of puppet theater, some of which I cite later in other contexts, include John Payne Collier, ed., Punch and Judy, with illustrations by George Cruikshank ( London, 1828); and T. C. H. Hedderwick, The Old German Puppet Play of Doctor Faust ( London, 1887), each of which includes lengthy prefaces about the history of European puppetry; Charles Magnin, Histoire des marionettes en Europe: depuis l'antiquité jusqu'à nos jours ( 1861; rpt. Paris: Slatkin, 1981); Richard Pischel , The Home of the Puppet-Play, trans. Mildred C. Tawney ( London: Luzac, 1902); and Max von Boehn , Dolls and Puppets, trans. Josephine Nicoll ( New York: Cooper Square, 1966).

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