Puppetry in Scotland
The use of puppet figures for entertainment and theatrical purposes certainly goes back many centuries, and evidence of puppet figures can be found in most countries and cultures around the world. Scotland is no exception, although it is probably not till the 16th and 17th centuries that we begin to find clear evidence of puppets in written records – it seems highly likely that there would have been puppets in use much earlier.
Italian performers travelled fairly extensively in Scotland at this time, and there are many suggestions also of gypsy performers: both may have used puppets. It was a fairly common practice for a stage doctor to present an exhibition of puppets in addition to his “doctoring,” and these show-people would travel fairly widely, certainly not exclusively in the large towns and cities. Market places, fairs, trysts and races were all places where puppet shows could be encountered. In the second half of the 18th century Italian performers travelled throughout the UK with their fantoccini acts – these were marionettes, which were used generally to perform trick marionette acts, but many of the companies also offered dramas.
Many of these trick routines became very firmly established in the repertoire of puppet showmen and women over the following two hundred years. Routines such as the dissecting skeleton, various jugglers and balancers, stretching figures and transformation figures, became the expected fare at many puppet shows, although some performers continued to offer dramas.
As the nineteenth century progressed, Punch became very popular in his glove puppet form, and marionettes continued to be very widely used. Puppets, as with ventriloquism, were (and still are) a very popular form of entertainment and amusement. Anyone with an interest in the historical aspects are directed towards the undernoted books, where a great more detail will be found than could possibly be included here. As with all interests, it is important to read widely.
There have been quite a number of books published in the English language which cover puppetry and ventriloquism history. Here is a selection.
Beeby, Joe, with Felix, Geoff (ed). 1993. My Life with Punch . London: Geoff Felix.
Burns, Stanley. 2000. Other Voices: Ventriloquism from B.C to T.V.
Byrom, Michael. 1979. Punch & Judy: its origin and evolution. Marsham: DaSilva Puppet Books.
Byrom, Michael. 2007. Punch, Polichinelle and Pulcinella . Gillingham: Millbrook Press.
Byrom, Michael. 1983. Punch in the Italian Puppet Theatre. Fontwell: Centaur Press.
Felix, Geoff (ed). 1994. Conversations with Punch. London: Geoff Felix.
Jurkowski, Henryk. 1996. A History of European Puppetry Volume One. Lampeter: Edwin
Jurkowski, Henryk. 1996. A History of European Puppetry Volume Two . Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press.
Kelly, Catriona. 2009. Petrushka: the Russian carnival puppet theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Leach, Robert. 1985. The Punch & Judy Show: History, Tradition and Meaning. London: Batsford.
McCormick, John and Pratasik, Bennie. 1998. Popular Puppet Theatre in Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
McCormick, John, et al. 2004. The Victorian Marionette Theatre. Iowa: University of Iowa Press.
McCormick, John, et al. 2010. The Italian Puppet Theater. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc.
McPharlin, Paul. 1949. The Puppet Theatre in America 1524 to 1948. Boston: Plays Inc.
Phillips, John. 1998. The Ghost! The Ghost!! The Ghost!!! Southchurch: Arcady Press.
Speaight, George. 1990. The History of the English Puppet Theatre. Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press.
Speaight, George. 1970. Punch & Judy, a history . London: Studio Vista.
Speaight, George. 1946. Juvenile Drama: The History of the English Toy Theatre. London: MacDonald & Co.
Stead, Philip John. 1950. Mr Punch . London: Evans Brothers Ltd.
Stinton, Judith. 2008. Weymouth & Mr Punch. Tiverton: Harlequin Press.
Vox, Valentine. 1993. I Can See Your Lips Moving. California: Plato Publishing.