Sunday, July 1, 2018

Puppets and Marionettes

       Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt knew the puppet-play with small images or puppets representing the dramatis personoe. Herodotus mentions them and later writers frequently speak of them, but according to Richard Pischel, it is to India, that old wonderland from which we have received so many blessings, that we must go to find the home of the puppet-play and perhaps the origin of the first doll.
       In an admirable address delivered by him on assuming the office of rector of the Konigliche Vereinigte Friedrichs University, Halle Wittenberg said: "The birthplace of fairy tales has long been recognized to be India. They wandered from India to Persia, and thence the Arabs brought them to Europe. But the origin of puppet-plays still remains quite obscure. The problem is also more difficult to solve because the sources flow but feebly. The art of the puppet-player has always been more or less of a mystery, receiving no substantial encouragement from the cultured class.
       "Xenophon in his 'Symposion' makes the puppet-player from Syracuse assert that he esteems fools above other men, they being the spectators of his puppet plays and consequently the means of his livelihood.
       "This is hardly borne out by facts; the puppet-player, Prothernos, was so much sought after in Athens that the Archons gave up to him the very stage on which the dramas of Euripides had excited the enthusiasm of the populace. France in the time of Moliere and Beaumarchais, England under Shakespeare and Sheridan, Germany in the days of Goethe and Schiller had numerously attended marionette shows, which at times proved formidable rivals to theatrical companies.
       "For the most part the puppet-play has been the favorite child of the mass of the people and only the step-child of the cultured classes because it appeals most strongly to the people to whom it owes its origin.
       "The words for puppet in Sanskrit are putrika, duhitrka, puttati, pullaliha, all of which mean little daughter. In ancient India puppets were made out of wool, wood, buffalo horn, and ivory, and these playthings were quite as popular long ago with the girls of that country as they are with our girls of the present day.
       "A broken doll was then the cause of as many tears as would be shed nowadays; indeed, it was proverbially said of any one who had caused his own misfortune and then lamented over it that he was 'crying after breaking his own doll.'
       "In India even grown-up people enjoyed playing with puppets. Vatsya-yana, in his 'Treatise on Love' advises not only boys but also young men to join the girls and young women in their games with puppets as means of gaining their affections.
       "In the Mahabharata, Princess Uttara and her friends entreat Arjuna to bring back with him from his campaign fine, gaily colored, delicate and soft garments for their dolls.
       "A legend runs that Parrati, wife of Siva, made herself such a beautiful doll that she thought it necessary to conceal it from the eyes of her husband. She carried it far away to the Malaya mountain, but visited it every day that she might adorn it.
       "Siva, rendered suspicious by her long absence, stole after her, saw the doll, fell in love with it and gave it life.
       There is also an early mention made of puppets worked by machinery. We read that Somaprabha, the daughter of a celebrated mechanician, brought as a present to her friend, Princess Kalingasena, a basket of mechanical wooden puppets, constructed by her father.
       "There was a wooden peg in each of the puppets  and when this was touched one of them flew through the air, fetched a wreath, and returned when ordered; another when desired, brought water in the same way; a third danced and a fourth carried on conversation.
       "Somadera was not born until the eleventh century of our era, but his work is an adaptation of the oldest collection of fairy tales, the Brhatkatha of Gunadhya.
       "Talking dolls must not, however, be considered a mere invention of story-tellers. Among the social amusements mentioned in the 'Treatise on Love,' there is mention made of a game called the mimicry of puppets. Mithila, the capital of Videka in eastern India, is mentioned as the place where this amusement is most in vogue. Talking puppets worked by internal mechanism, manipulated by a puppet-player, were introduced on the stage. Talking starlings were often introduced into the mouths of the puppets.
       "Present day puppets are moved by means of a thread, as were those of ancient times. "The teaching of parrots and starlings to speak belonged to the sixty-four arts necessary to the education of a girl in India. Some starlings imitated the human voice so perfectly that puppets were frequently mistaken for living beings."
       From India the puppet-play with all its glitter and mystery traveled to the Island of Java, became extraordinarily popular and continues its hold upon the people as their most fascinating amusement to the present day.
       The players are operated like the ordinary puppets of our Punch and Judy shows, and usually out of doors. The showman stands behind a fence with the audience in front. The sexes are separated, the men being comfortably in the front rows, while the women are relegated to the rear seats or to standing room only if there is not seating accommodations for all.
       The Javanese marionettes are quite different from any others, being flat, cut out of wood and leather, and elaborately painted and gilded to represent costly costumes. They are always extremely grotesque, with huge noses or humped backs, and their arms are moved by means of long, slender sticks suitably attached for the purpose.
       The marionette showman in Java carries his odd-looking dolls around with him in his chest, and being always accompanied by two or three musicians for an orchestra, he is able at any time to set up his little theater at a moment's notice.
       Unlike a Punch and Judy show, the play is not comic but highly serious. The performance, indeed, is invariably a religious drama and the actors of wood and leather represent divinities.
       There are fine collections of Javanese marionettes in several of our museums. They are constructed of wood and leather and they were used to represent the characters of an Oriental Passion play. They are for the most part hideous in shape and gaudily painted.
       M. Olliver Beauregard says that there are two chief theatrical dolls in Java, a Toping mute mask, and Wayang spectacle in shadow. In the latter a sort of bard rhapsodist operates the dolls and tells them their roles of love and war to a musical accompaniment.
       The dolls represent historical and mythological personages, and this is the best means of teaching history and enforcing its morals early. The spectators are often so interested that they watch them play all night. These Javan marionettes are of three kinds. Number one, very ancient gods and heroes. Number two, celebrants of special festivals. Number three, common dramatic figures. This is the most important of the native amusements, coming at the time of the New Year's Feast.
       "Sometimes the Javanese puppets are humpbacked," says another authority, "sometimes great of paunch; their skinny arms are as long as their entire bodies and at all times they bear little resemblance to a human figure.
       "These bizarre characteristics are really of advantage, for the forms are all conventional, and the respective characters are readily recognized by the spectators. Two feet is the usual stature of these manikins. They are made of thick buffalo hide, richly gilded and ornamented with Oriental profusion of color."
Cedar bark dolls from Vancouver Island. Ingenious devices that call for
imagination--which a child always has.
       In the eighteenth century we read that "Horton's show presented 5,000 of these puppets at work at various trades in the streets of London. At country fairs in Europe puppets were used to explain historic incidents to the people; these were all moved by clock work."
       Gypsies in all lands have always had a fondness for the puppet-play which was easily carried about and could be shown anywhere without accessories. The Persian gypsies undoubtedly carried the puppets to Turkey where the shadow-play is to-day extremely popular.
       The name Marionette is a modern one. It was said to have been given to these puppets by a man named Marion who divorced them from the Church plays and used them for small comedy plays, exhibiting them in Paris.
       Paris has always been fond of these puppets and there are to-day several theaters where only manikin plays are produced.
       The dolls have heads of papier mache, bodies of wood, and legs loaded with lead so that they stand upright without assistance; they are usually about three feet high and their jointed members are worked with strings.
       French marionettes are most artistically made, so as to resemble human beings as closely as possible, and those representing women are frequently attired in very fashionable and expensive costumes. It is the same with the Italian marionettes, which are famous for their dancing, imitating as they do the most elaborate and difficult movements of the ballet.
       Figures of wood and ivory dressed in fine stuffs were used to ornament the funeral of Hiphestion of Babylon, and they were also used at the time of Phillip of Macedonia.
       Punch and Judy shows in China have a legendary origin. According to N. B. Dennys in "The Folk Lore of China," we find that they are said to date back to nearly 300 b. c, when a general named Mao-tun was besieging the city of Pingin Shensi. The general had a jealous wife who kept the green-eyed monster with her all the time.
       Cham-ping, the defender of the beleaguered city, knew the weakness of his enemy's wife and through it worked her ruin and at the same time brought into existence the first Punch and Judy show.
       To arouse her jealousy, he invented a puppet, in the shape of a wooden woman, which was made by strings and springs to dance on the battlements of the beleaguered town. As he thought she would, the lady became alarmed at the idea of so fascinating a creature falling into her husband's hands and becoming an addition to his seraglio, and she managed to have the siege raised.
       In memory of this, similar, but smaller puppets were constructed whose antics have, for more than two thousand years, amused the Chinese people.
       The principal puppet used to be known as Kwoh, the bald, in memory, as it is averred, of a man of that name who, having lost his hair in sickness, began to jump and dance on his recovery.
       Ombres Chinoises, as the French call them, are shadows of pictures projected upon white sheets or gauze screens painted as transparencies by means of dolls. The cardboard flat figures are held behind the screen, illuminated from behind. The performer supports each figure by a long wire held in one hand, while wires from all the movable parts terminate in rings in which are inserted the fingers of the other hand.
       In the Chinese department at the Museum of Natural History in New York, there is a fine collection of these shadow pictures. They are covered with donkey skin and in some cases decorated with feathers. They are semi-transparent and mounted on painted rods and represent- fish, flesh and fowl.
       The men are arrayed in elaborate costumes correct in every detail as to character. All the birds, beasts and fish are wonderfully cut out, each one being mounted on the back of a man. They are marvelously clever and ingenious.
       Street scenes, occupations, decapitations and all other modes of punishment and death that are in vogue in the Dragon Empire are set forth by these tiny creatures, seven or eight inches high. The figures are fine specimens of art in themselves without regard to their use. When properly worked the shadows move with great precision, while the operator retails the story or explains the panorama of daily life that his figures portray.
       In the collection of Chinese marionettes at the same Museum there are two or three heads of European dolls that look funny enough rising up out of the wealth of Chinese garments.
       The bodies of the dolls in this collection are made of bamboo, are upright, eight or ten inches long, with a head attached and two shorter pieces for the arms, by means of which they are worked. Many of the heads are masks, grotesque and weird in the extreme; others have heads of papier Toache like dolls.
Russian ancient court costumes. These dolls came into the author's
possession by way of the wife of a Russian Diplomat at Rome. The
costumes would have become obsolete, had it not been for the
present Czarina, who insists on their use for special occasions.
       Each one is dressed in costume according to the character it represents. They are used in presenting pantomime plays taken from books or old manuscripts. The characters are moved about while some one reads the lines belonging to them.
       Francis J. Ziegler in Harper's Magazine writes of Italian puppets or Fantoccini as follows: "The Fantoccini have capered on the miniature stage for centuries without losing one iota of popularity. They amused the fashionable under the reigns of the Csesars, and they still draw appreciative spectators in all Italian cities, these little figures of wood and cloth, with their painted faces set in everlasting smiles, their wide-staring eyes and wabbling anatomies.
       "The Italians take them seriously enough. To them the Fantoccini are real personages, whose jerky motions are not ridiculous, but quite in keeping with the grave and grandiose roles which are found in the puppet repertoire. . . .
       "The wires which move the puppets are plainly in evidence, and each Fantoccini, when in motion, appears to be suffering from a severe attack of St. Vitus' Dance; but these peculiarities are naught to the spectators who bring to the puppet drama an appreciation often lacking at more pretentious performances."
       "In Germany puppet shows have existed since the twelfth century. Originally religious in character, they afterward became fantastic productions, in which mechanical appliances caused grewsome transformations.
       "In a puppet show representing 'The Prodigal Son,' for example, racks would be rent to disclose corpses hanging on the gallows; bread would turn to a skull in the prodigal's hands; water would be transformed to blood and similar horrors would be frequent throughout the drama.
       "During the seventeenth century German theatrical performers came under the ban of the Church, which denounced them as vagabonds and lawbreakers; as a consequence marionettes usurped their place on the histrionic boards and enjoyed great popularity in both high and low circles.
       "Puncinella came to London in 1666, when an Italian puppet player set up his booth at Charing Cross, and paid a small rental to the overseers of St. Martin's parish. His name was at once Englished into Punchinello which became completely Anglicized as Punch.
       "Robert Powel appeared as a puppet manager in 1703, exhibiting his show not only in London, but in Bath and Oxford as well. In these plays Punch acted the buffoon amid a strange gathering of characters, which included King Solomon, Doctor Faustus, the Duke of Lorraine, St. George and other personages from profane and religious history.
       "It was Punch who seated himself unceremoniously in the Queen of Sheba's lap, and Punch again who danced in the Ark and hailed Noah with 'a hazy weather, Mr. Noah,' when the patriarch was intent on navigating the flood."
       Puppets have never won much recognition in this country. Punch and Judy occasionally excites the merriment of the younger folk at a church fair or similar entertainment, and twenty years ago a troupe of realistic marionettes, as large as children acted in pantomime on the regular boards. But we are too busy a people to squander time on the puppet show and too practical a people to see anything heroic in the Fantoccini.
       One puppet play in India was called "The Man With Two Wives." Both figures were women; the husband apparently being cognizant of the fact that discretion is the better part of valor, wisely remained away and let the two carry out the play or fight by themselves.
       After the Scottish Lords and other leaders of the Stuart uprising of 1745 were executed on Tower Hill, the beheading of puppets made one of the exhibitions at May Fair and was a feature of the gathering for many years after.
       "Readers of Cervantes' immortal work will remember the zest with which the puppet show is described, and the reality with which Don Quixote invests the performance, and students of early English dramatic literature will be equally familiar with the amusing close of Ben Jonson's play, Bartholomew Fair, which takes place at the performance of a drama on the adventures of Hero and Leander, acted by puppets in one of the booths."

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