Punch and Judy


Media Studies

  • noun a children’s comic puppet show featuring Punch and Judy, a quarrelsome couple, together with a number of other standard characters


  • The central tradition of the English puppet theater. The playis traditionally presented by a single puppeteer in a small boothof striped cloth. Originally, the puppets were marionettes but bythe early 19th century almost all Punch-and-Judy men used glove puppets.The name of Mr Punch, the antihero, probably derives ultimately fromthe Italian pulcinello, a diminutive of pulcino, a youngchicken (see also Pulcinella). The identificationof Punch with Pontius Pilate and of Judy with Judas is imaginary.

    The story roughly in its present form is attributed to a 17th-centuryItalian comedian, Silvio Fiorillo and appeared in England at aboutthe time of the Restoration. Punch, a crafty hunchbacked characterwith a hooked nose and a vile temper, strangles his infant child ina fit of jealousy, whereupon his wife Judy belabours him with a bludgeonuntil he retaliates and beats her to death. He flings both bodiesinto the street but is arrested and shut in prison, whence he escapesby means of a golden key. The rest is an allegory showing how Punchtriumphs over (1) Ennui, in the shape of a dog; (2) Disease, in thedisguise of a doctor; (3) Death, who is beaten to death; and (4) theDevil, who is outwitted. Other characters in the show include Tobythe dog, the Hangman (who instead of hanging Punch gets hanged himself),and the Crocodile.

    To be pleased as Punch is to be hugely delighted: Punch isalways squawking with satisfaction at the success of his evil acts.