5. Stories and characters
A basic summary of what happens in the plots of Punch and Judy.
Have the stories changed gradually for different audiences and times?
What characters were there and what was their role? Were they used to represent anything in particular?
Punch is left on his own in charge of his baby. The baby gets hungry and tired and begins to cry. This strongly irritates Punch and so he picks the child up and beats its head violently against the stage. He thinks that this might send the child to sleep.
After hearing the noise, Judy arrives on the stage. She is furious with Punch and attacks him. Punch then becomes enraged and beats her with his stick to her death.
Punch picks up the two bodies and flings them outside the window towards the audience. As he is doing this he attracts the attention of a passing policeman.
The rest of the plot continues with Punch tricking his opponents that come in to contact with him, this is usually done with his stick.
Various characters enter the stage and interact with Punch with some sort of conflict arising at the end of each scene. For example the Clown may appear with a string of sausages for Punch to eat but then the Crocodile swoops in and eats them. Punch is then bitten on his big nose by the crocodile, which leads Punch in calling for a Doctor.
Whilst the Doctor is examining him, Punch gets much delight in kicking him in the face repeatedly.
Punch is put into prison but when he is about to be executed (for murdering Judy and the baby) he manages to persuade the Hangman to put his on head in the noose.
He is pleased at outwitting one of his fellow characters and calls out, “That’s the way to do it!”
This is only a loose framework for the story as it has altered through time. Also, the story is changed slightly each time a puppeteer does a performance. They do not have to stick to a script and have the freedom to make the story alter as go. Many puppeteers would have improvised the show as they went along. The performance may have been affected by the audiences’ response. The puppeteer may alter aspects to get a good reaction from the audience. Or he may have a small selection of puppets so would extend some of the scenes.
One part of the story was affected after the Hangman character was phased out. This may have been for a few reasons. Such as hangings were phased out also so it was less relevant to audiences of that time to have such a character.
The story was later adapted so that Punch escapes from prison and does not have to be hung at all.
The language of the play is coarse and often satirical.
(my drawings of the plot developing)
Punch is a very important character and maintains the leading role in all the ‘Punch and Judy’ shows. He always carries his weapon with him, a big stick.
He is clever and crafty. Punch can manage to get himself out of compromising situations over and over again.
His character is fierce and aggressive;
“He delights in paradoxes and expresses his opinion without respect to priority and good manners; “the word shame does not enter his vocabulary.” Punch (Harrap,George,p324)
Punch is the only one to have legs, which means that he has an advantage over the other characters, for example, having the ability to kick, as he does when he kicks the doctor in the face whilst he is having an examination. Somehow, though, he is seen as a lovable rogue.
The choice of the name 'Punch' has been chosen deliberately. One thinks about a hole punch, a device to cut through layers, sharp and damaging, like the real 'Punch'. Or a punch done by a hand, violent but at the same time has a comical quality, this is also reflected in the character of Punch.
The name Punch is also from the Anglicized version of Pulcinello to Puncinella. (see Section 1 )
Judy is Punch’s wife and is the mother of their child. Judy was introduced to the show at the end of the 18th century.
She is not a particularly attractive and feminine woman.
At one point in time, Judy actually meant 'the tramp's woman'.
Her main role in the show is to look after her baby and to start fights with Punch when he abuses the baby. She receives a lot of physical abuse from Punch. He does not respect her.
This is the son of Punch and Judy. He is very young and has not yet learnt to speak. His role is to cry to make Punch get violent. He is the cause of the argyments between Punch and Judy.
This character is included in every show. His main role is to do examinations on Punch much to his irritation. Punch is horrible to him and makes him feel stupid.
Jack Catch, the Hangman
This character was phased out later (please refer to ‘Story’ section for more detail) He is named after an actual hangman.
Joey the Clown
Joey the Clown is Punch’s one and only true friend. He is the only character in the show Punch does not hit, nor does Joey hit anyone.
He is kind to Punch by bringing him sausages. Joey cannot say sausages instead he says “squasages”. This makes his character very lovable, as he is so innocent and gentle.
The name Joey is derived from the famous Victorian clown Joey Grimaldi.
He is used for slapstick comedy effect, to get some extra laughs from the audience.
“A dangerous type, but deep down a fool” (Rene Simmen, p20). He is always red and black with a mischievous look on his face.
However, despite being this dark character Punch always “out-devils the devil” (Harrap, George, p324).
The Devil’s role is to hide behind Mr. Punch, who doesn't see him, to create tension in the show. The audience can see the Devil behind Punch and scream and shout to try to make him aware of the Devil. Eventually, Punch sees the Devil and he very frightened of him. Then the Devil disappears again after a while. This is an interlude in the show. Simply a device to stir the show up.
There was another end of the show years ago when Mr. Punch was carried off by the Devil.
Toby the dog/Crocodile
Joey the Clown bring sausages to Punch. He tells Punch to look after his sausages as Toby the dog is around. Toby is a very old character in the show and his aim is to try to get the sausages.
Eventually, he is replaced by the crocodile who does in fact get the sausages. The crocodile is the only character that really hurts Punch badly.
These plays a short but important role in the show.
Punch ridicules him and calls him 'the beetle in the porridge' (John Styles, www.icons.org.uk)
Mr Beadle is eventually replaced by the Policeman (see below).
This character is used to represent law and order. Sometimes he plays the alternative role of a gravedigger. (A versatile character!)
The officer’s role is to find Mr. Punch and arrest him although he keeps looking in al the wrong places and Punch keeps hiding from him. The children in the audience would shout out "he's behind you". This was a very comical and amusing moment for the audience.
This character is one of the first to be included as a supporting act in the show.
Some Italian characters of the puppet theatre inspire the creation of this character. He was originally used in performances as a surprise character.
The Court Clerk
Also, a surprise puppet. He was not used in many shows. He has a unusual feature, his extendable neck, which was used for special effect to excite and astonish the audience.
Hector is the hobby horse which Punch rides. Punch often falls off and and becomes injured. Punch then calls for the Doctor.
Punch’s “ bit on the side ” much to the annoyance of Judy. She is very attractive, slim and flirtacious. She was originally Punch's remorse after the death of Judy.
(Please note that for this section there will be a page for each character each with picture placed in over the text, which describes its character I will use ref number)
The Cast in General
One aspect I notice about the members of the cast is that it is predominantly male. The two females that are included play similar roles.
There are also many other charcater included which may be introduced at certain times of the year or whenever the puppeteer decides to change the show around a little bit.