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Title: Puppetry  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Performing arts, List of 2007 Macropædia articles, Big Bag (TV series), World Puppetry Day, Crash & Bernstein
Collection: Puppetry
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Punch and Judy puppetry performance to children in Thornton Hough, England
Ancestor arts Theatre
Originating era 3000 years BC

Puppetry is a form of theatre or performance that involves the manipulation of puppets. It is very ancient, and is believed to have originated 3000 years BC.[1] Puppetry takes many forms but they all share the process of animating inanimate performing objects. Puppetry is used in almost all human societies both as entertainment – in performance – and ceremonially in rituals and celebrations such as carnivals.[2]

Most puppetry involves storytelling.


  • History 1
    • Africa 1.1
    • Asia 1.2
      • East and South Asia 1.2.1
      • West Asia 1.2.2
    • Europe 1.3
      • Ancient Greece and Rome 1.3.1
      • Puppetry in Italy - Middle Ages and Renaissance 1.3.2
      • Italy - 18th and 19th centuries 1.3.3
      • France 1.3.4
      • Great Britain 1.3.5
      • Netherlands, Denmark, Romania, and Russia 1.3.6
      • Germany and Austria 1.3.7
      • Czech Republic 1.3.8
      • 19th century 1.3.9
    • North America 1.4
    • Oceania 1.5
  • Contemporary puppetry 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5
  • 6 Books and articles


Puppetry is a very ancient art form, thought to have originated about 3000 years ago.[1] Puppets have been used since the earliest times to animate and communicate the ideas and needs of human societies.[3] Some historians claim that they pre-date actors in theatre. There is evidence that they were used in Egypt as early as 2000 BC when string-operated figures of wood were manipulated to perform the action of kneading bread. Wire controlled, articulated puppets made of clay and ivory have also been found in Egyptian tombs. Hieroglyphs also describe "walking statues" being used in Ancient Egyptian religious dramas.[1] Puppetry was practiced in Ancient Greece and the oldest written records of puppetry can be found in the works of Herodotus and Xenophon, dating from the 5th century BC.[4][5][6]


Sub-Saharan Africa may have inherited some of the puppet traditions of Ancient Egypt.[1] Certainly, secret societies in many African ethnic groups still use puppets (and masks) in ritual dramas as well as in their healing and hunting ceremonies. Today, puppetry continues as a popular form, often within a ceremonial context, and as part of a wide range of folk forms including dance, storytelling, and masked performance.

Throughout rural Africa, puppetry still performs the function of transmitting cultural values and ideas that in large African cities is increasingly undertaken by formal education, books, cinema, and television.


East and South Asia

"A Children's Puppet Show" (傀儡婴戏图轴), a painting by Chinese artist Liu Songnian (刘松年 1174-1224 AD), Song Dynasty

There is slight evidence for puppetry in the Indus Valley Civilization. Archaeologists have unearthed one terracotta doll with a detachable head capable of manipulation by a string dating to 2500 BC.[7] Another figure is a terracotta monkey which could be manipulated up and down a stick, achieving minimum animation in both cases.[7] The epic Mahabharata, Tamil literature from the Sangam Era, and various literary works dating from the late centuries BC to the early centuries AD, including Ashokan edicts, describe puppets.[8] Works like the Natya Shastra and the Kamasutra elaborate on puppetry in some detail.[9] The Javanese Wayang theater was influenced by Indian traditions.[10] Some scholars trace the origin of puppets to India 4000 years ago, where the main character in Sanskrit plays was known as "Sutradhara", "the holder of strings".[11] China has a history of puppetry dating back 2000 years, originally in "pi-ying xi", the "theatre of the lantern shadows", or, as it is more commonly known today, Chinese shadow theatre. By the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD), puppets played to all social classes including the courts, yet puppeteers, as in Europe, were considered to be from a lower social stratum.[1] In Taiwan, budaixi puppet shows, somewhat similar to the Japanese Bunraku, occur with puppeteers working in the background or underground. Some very experienced puppeteers can manipulate their puppets to perform various stunts, for example, somersaults in the air.

Japan has many forms of puppetry, including the bunraku. Bunraku developed out of Shinto temple rites and gradually became a highly sophisticated form of puppetry. Chikamatsu Monzaemon, considered by many to be Japan's greatest playwright, gave up writing Kabuki plays and focused exclusively on the puppet-only Bunraku plays. Initially consisting of one puppeteer, by 1730 three puppeteers were used to operate each puppet in full view of the audience.[1] The puppeteers, who dressed all in black, would become invisible when standing against a black background, while the torches illuminated only the carved, painted and costumed wooden puppets.

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