Symbols - What does heaven look like
Punch and Judy
The following has been mostly derived from the Wikipedia entry, which is a very comprehensive and well written description. The symbolism explanation, however, is not from Wikipedia, we have added it in.
Punch and Judy is a traditional, popular puppet show featuring Mr. Punch and his wife, Judy. The performance consists of a sequence of short scenes, each depicting an interaction between two characters, most typically Mr Punch and one other character.
It is often associated with traditional British seaside culture.
Originally intended for adults, the show has evolved into primarily children's entertainment. Ancient members of the show's cast, like the Devil and Punch's mistress "Pretty Polly," ceased to be included when they came to be seen as 'inappropriate for young audiences' – which, incidentally, is a shame as the symbolic value was much reduced as a result. The term "pleased as Punch" is derived from Punch and Judy.
Today, the audience is also encouraged to participate, calling out to the characters on the stage to warn them of danger, or clue them into what is going on behind their backs.
Beware of the crocodiles
The Punch and Judy show has roots in the 16th-century Italian commedia dell'arte. The figure who later became Mr. Punch made his first recorded appearance in England on 9 May 1662. The diarist Samuel Pepys observed a marionette show featuring an early version of the Punch character in Covent Garden in London.
The figure of Punch derives from the Neapolitan stock character of Pulcinella, which was anglicized to Punchinello. Please read the description of Pulcinello as it provides important background detail. Punch's wife was originally called "Joan."
The Punch and Judy show, like the Circus, was yet another means of preserving spiritual methods and symbolism in a time of repression by the institutionalised Christian church. In the Late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, the Inquisition was significantly expanded in response to the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Its geographic scope was expanded to other European countries, besides just Italy, resulting in the Spanish Inquisition and Portuguese Inquisition. Thus those who were spiritually inclined and who followed the mystic’s path could be persecuted by both the Catholic Church and later the Protestant church under the guise of Puritanism.
Punch and Judy is an attempt to preserve details of the sexual methods, strange though this may sound. Its apparent violence is just that - pseudo violence, and it is all a front. Every aspect is symbolic, characters and props. The explanation for each character and its symbolic meaning is provided below. The story matters less, but it too has symbolic meaning in its essence.
—Charles Dickens, Letter to Mary Tyler, 6 November 1849, from The Letters of Charles Dickens Vol V, 1847–1849
It is possible, I think, that one secret source of pleasure very generally derived from this performance… is the satisfaction the spectator feels in the circumstance that likenesses of men and women can be so knocked about, without any pain or suffering.
In the early 18th century, the marionette theatre starring Punch was at its height, with showman Martin Powell attracting sizable crowds at both his Punch's Theatre at Covent Garden and earlier in provincial Bath, Somerset. In 1721, a puppet theatre that would run for decades opened in Dublin.
Punch was extremely popular in Paris, and, by the end of the 18th century, he was also playing in Britain's American colonies, where ‘even George Washington bought tickets for a show’. On the other hand given George Washington’s freemasonry and his visions, he would seem an obvious spectator.
In the latter half of the 18th century, marionette companies began to give way to glove-puppet shows, performed from within a narrow, lightweight booth by one puppeteer inside the booth, known since Victorian times as a "Professor" or "Punchman," and assisted sometimes by a "Bottler", who corraled the audience outside the booth, introduced the performance and collected the money ("the bottle"). The Bottler might also play accompanying music or sound effects and engage in back chat with the puppets, sometimes repeating the same or the copied lines that may have been difficult for the audience to understand.
In Victorian times the drum and pan pipes were the instruments of choice.
The mobile puppet booth of the late 18th- and early 19th-century Punch and Judy glove-puppet show was originally covered in checked bed ticking or whatever inexpensive cloth might come to hand. Later Victorian booths, particularly those used for Christmas parties and other indoor performances, were gaudier affairs. In the 20th century, however, red-and-white-striped puppet booths became iconic features on the beaches of many English seaside and summer holiday resorts. Such striped cloth is the most common covering today, wherever the show might be performed.
While censorious political correctness threatened Punch and Judy performances in the UK and other English speaking countries for a time, the show is having one of its cyclical recurrences but with the danger that political correctness may have stamped out all its previous symbolism.
Once we start to delve into the story, we also start to enter symbolism. The story changes, but some phrases remain the same for decades or even centuries: for example, Punch, after dispatching his foes each in turn, still squeaks his famous catchphrase: "That's the way to do it!" Key scenes:
- The Hanged Man - a hangman should arrive appearing to want to punish Mr. Punch. But the Hanged Man is a symbol – it is there in the Tarot and is a vital role in spiritualism. The change from marionette to glove puppet must have made this concept very difficult to reproduce, as the hanged Man hangs by his feet not his neck and glove puppets have no feet. As such one suspects, the scene was retained but its meaning somewhat muddied.
- Punch mishandles the baby - When one is on the spiritual path, the baby has a very special significance, it is the new you in the making. If you see the baby juxtaposed with an old man, then you are seeing the transition from the old you to the new you, or as Cirlot put it ‘the stage of life when the old man, transformed, acquires a new simplicity….. hence the conception of the child as the mystic centre’. As such Punch mishandling the baby can symbolically mean that he is making a mess of the transformation, or if Punch represents the person in charge of his own transformation, he is giving the new you a ‘real going over’ to try to help the transformation.
The crocodile is a symbol of the ‘reptilean brain’ – the deep subconscious. At this level of our subconscious, the instincts are paramount and all the mammalian emotions absent. Only the basic functions are present – procreation, food and survival. To a large extent one has sunk to the level of the Will and autonomic systems. Thus Punch is symbolically trying to grapple with his basic instincts here and control them – a key part of the early spiritual path
- The Doctor - As a consequence of his fight with the crocodile Punch appears to be in need of a Doctor. At the time these shows were devised doctors were mostly regarded as quacks, and afforded very little respect. In spiritual circles, healers [not doctors] were key – a healer treats the cause of illness, a doctor treats only symptoms. Even as long ago as the 16th century this idea of the doctor who charges the earth but never cures you was well developed and it is made into a comic tableau as the doctor attempts to treat Punch by walloping him with a stick until Punch turns the tables on him.
- Expunging demons -The finale of the show is key as it should end with the Devil arriving for Mr. Punch (and possibly to threaten his audience as well). Punch — “in his final gleefully triumphant moment”— will win his fight with the Devil and bring the show to a rousing conclusion and earn a round of applause. The end of the show is thus representative of the last stage of the spiritual path where during ‘purification’, Punch must fight his own demons. The Devil is the devil in him.
Other scenes and their symbolism are best looked at in the context of the characters themselves.
The characters in Punch and Judy mirror the Major Arcana in the Tarot. The Major Arcana covers what are called the greater secrets, and consist of 22 cards without suits. Some cards show roles or stages in evolution, the rest are cards that have a symbolic meaning related to what you need to know or go through. All these relate to advanced stages of the spiritual path. The parts are thus simply an animated version of the Tarot cards. The cast of characters and their Tarot equivalents [if they exist] includes:
- Mr. Punch - The Hermit. Punch wears a brightly coloured jester's motley; and a sugarloaf hat with a tassel. He is a hunchback whose hooked nose almost meets his curved, jutting chin – just like a crescent moon. He carries a stick (called a slapstick) as large as himself, which he freely uses upon most of the other characters in the show. He speaks in a distinctive squawking voice, produced by a contrivance known as a swazzle or swatchel which the professor holds in his mouth, transmitting his gleeful cackle. This gives Punch a vocal quality as though he were speaking through a kazoo. So important is Punch's signature sound that it is a matter of some controversy within Punch and Judy circles as to whether a "non-swazzled" show can be considered a true Punch and Judy Show. Other characters do not use the swazzle, so the Punchman has to switch back and forth while still holding the device in his mouth.
- The Baby – see above
- The Constable - Justice or possibly , Judgement
- Joey the Clown - The Magician
- The Crocodile - Strength
- The Skeleton - Death [annihilation].
- The Doctor – see above – the only character who appears to be unrelated to the tarot
Characters once regular but now occasional include:
- Mr. Scaramouche and Toby the Dog - The Fool. The Tarot card for the Fool includes a dog, which has its own symbolism. During performances, Punch frequently strikes Scaramouche, causing his head to come off his shoulders. The symbol of beheading. It is not clear why Scaramouche has been relegated to second league as he is the most important card in the Tarot pack.
- Hector the Horse - The Chariot [a chariot might have been asking too much of any puppeteer! As such another Means of Transport is used]
- The Hangman - The Hanged Man [mystic or saint].
- The Devil - The Devil [the dive to your subconscious]
- The Beadle - The Hierophant
- Jim Crow ('The black man') – The symbol of the Crow is being used here, a shaman, a very clever hierophant, probably a later addition
- The Servant (or 'The Minstrel') – music is very key to spiritual experience and the minstrel may have been at one time a Troubador, indicative of both the role of music and the role that sexual methods had in the whole process
- The Blind Man - Wheel of Fortune
The Tarot pack contains a card known as The Tower, these days the actual booth that the show is held in appears to be the equivalent of the Tower.
The Tarot cards and roles which appear to be missing these days are:
- Temperance - A card which has the same symbolic significance as the scales. It is used as a symbol of the function of trying to achieve balance.
- The Star,
- The Moon and the Sun and
- The World
Open your eyes,
Look up to the skies and see,
I'm just a poor boy, I need no sympathy,
Because I'm easy come, easy go,
Little high, little low,
Any way the wind blows doesn't really matter to me, to me.
.....Too late, my time has come,
Sends shivers down my spine,
Body's aching all the time.
Goodbye, everybody, I've got to go,
Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth.
Mama, ooh (any way the wind blows),
I don't wanna die,
I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all.
I see a little silhouetto of a man,
Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?
For iPad/iPhone users: tap letter twice to get list of items.