There is evidence that puppets have existed in England for the past 600 years! During the Medieval Period, travelling minstrels used hand puppets. Early puppet shows were probably based on Bible stories, and Greek or Roman legends. In London, the earliest recorded puppet plays took place at around 1600.
From the 17th Century, marionette puppets became popular, which you operate from above using strings or rods. The strings could vary in number, from 3 to almost 30! This period included the closure of the theatres, but puppet plays still carried on. Shadow puppets also emerged at around this time. In the traditional theatres of Java, Bali and Thailand, artists made shadow puppets cut from materials like leather, fish skin and cardboard.
With the reign of Charles II in England, Italian puppeteers introduced a string puppet character called Punchinello, later shortened to Punch. This inspired the Punch & Judy show, featuring in both professional theatres and portable booths on London streets. These shows declined in the early 20th Century, as other forms of entertainment like music hall, variety and cinema took over.
Puppets can be as tiny as finger puppets, or as massive as the East Asian Banraku figures, which are almost two thirds as big as life-size humans! 18th Century puppet master Bunrakunen Uemera created this tradition. It remains popular in East Asia today, requiring up to 3 assistants per puppet.
Puppets on Stage and Screen
You’re probably familiar with puppet shows on TV, such as The Muppets and Sesame Street. Jim Henson designed these universes, starting out as a teenager who created hand puppets from his mother’s coat to audition for a TV station.
Many theatres also use puppetry, from the majestic animal designs in The Lion King to the incredibly life-like creations in War Horse. Puppet shows haven’t lost their vibrant comedy, with shows like Avenue Q entertaining theatre-goers for decades. The cast had to stop performing due to coronavirus, but they reunited virtually to record this uplifting video, reminding us how important it is to stay strong ‘for now.’
Get Creative With Puppets!
World Puppetry Day is coming up next month on March the 21st, and we’re inviting you to celebrate with us! Take a look at our Everyday Creativity page to download three easy puppet tutorials made from everyday household materials! #ArtAtTheHeartCalendar #WorldPuppetryDay