Puppets and "Popular" Culture

By Scott Cutler Shershow | Go to book overview

Three
The Violence of Appropriation:
From the Interregnum
to the Nineteenth Century

In the two centuries following the closing of the London theaters by Parliament in 1642, English puppetry would thrive, as perhaps never before or since, on both sides of the division between popular and elite culture. 1 The terms of such an opposition, drawn in the previous age, condition the social history of the puppet in this extended period.Immediately after 1642 the literal and figural diminution of puppetry and the relative simplicity of its practical requirements usually allowed it to evade the general Puritan supression of theater.By the early years of the eighteenth century, however, the same cultural lowness would be reinterpreted as an appealing preciosity for a bourgeois audience at once hungry for amusement and occasionally jaded by the conventions of the legitimate drama. "Never before or since," writes George Speaight of this period, "have the puppets played quite so effective and so well publicized a part in fashionable Society." 2 Toward the end of the eighteenth century, the process of cultural definition comes, as it were, full circle as a relatively more popular form of puppetry emerges whose apparent

____________________
1
A thriving tradition of puppetry in London and in English provincial towns and fairs during the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is documented in Peter Burke, " Popular Culture in Seventeenth‐ Century London," in Popular Culture in Seventeenth-Century England, ed. Barry Reay ( New York: St. Martin's, 1985), 40; R. W. Malcolmson, Popular Recreations in English Society, 1700-1850 ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), 20-21; Sybil Rosenfeld, The Theatre of the London Fairs in the Eighteenth Century ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960), 52, 63, 97, 153, and passim; and George Speaight . The History of the English Puppet Theatre, zd ed. ( London: Robert Hale, 1990), 73-175.
2
Speaight, History of the English Puppet Theatre, 92.

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