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The Renaissance and Shadow Puppetry

While China and India are two countries which claim to have introduced the ancient art of shadow puppetry, evidence also point to the possibility of the art already being showcased in several areas of Europe although in slightly different types.

Greece particularly talked about puppets and dolls with movable limbs giving performances during the Hellenic era in public places and in large parties organized for the wealthy Greeks.

Such performances were said to have migrated to Greek colonies located in Italy, then spreaded further into the Roman empire.

After Rome fell from power and as Christianity slowly grew, church authorities also started to disapprove of puppetry performances, saying it was idolatry, a form of worship practiced only by evildoers. Nevertheless, the art survived in such hostile environment. And in the Middle Ages, it was taken advantage of by the church. Religious officials, by this time, realized that puppets can be useful in advancing church doctrines and were thus utilized in illustrated narrations of the various stories found in the Bible.

The Renaissance era proved to be quite a fruitful period for the art of shadow puppetry, which by this time, has slowly been replaced by a more modern form, the marionettes. During this particular period in time, religious plays involving live performers were not allowed because they tended to be obscene and rude. Another reason is that the plays tended to focus on the pervading atmosphere of tension between Catholics and the growing forces of Protestant believers. Performances by puppets thus became quite popular. Large audiences patronized their shows as they were often humorous and offer quick relief, albeit temporary.

Also, during this time, the more complicated form of shadow puppetry involving the use of metal wires was conceptualized. It most probably came about when Marco Polo, considered one of the greatest travelers in recorded history, re-established trade contacts with the East, particularly with Chinese traders. These contacts enabled Marco Polo and company to bring into the European world the puppets that were controlled using pieces of strings.

At about this time too, perhaps between the 17th and 18th century, puppet plays began sprouting.

From such plays was born "The Punch and Judy Show", perhaps the most famous puppet play in the Western world.

For hundreds of years, the play entertained large groups of people in London square, originally through a collapsible screen that fits through a man from head to toe.

It is much like a long box topped by a small theater stage. The play was actually based on the mischievous but peaceful Pucinello of the Italian commedia dell' arte, and at that time, no English square would be complete if the Punch man was not present. By the end of the 18th century, however, the play slowly withdrew to oblivion, personifying what typical puppets underwent as a result of the advent of new ideas and new forms of entertainment.

Nevertheless, puppets have proven themselves to be adaptable creatures. This is clearly seen today with its re-emergence in newer and better forms. In effect, it is undergoing its own version of a renaissance or rebirth, if you prefer.


Please enjoy these free hand shadow puppets and learn interesting facts on shadow puppets. Learn to make hand shadow puppets and the history of making shadow puppets and hand puppets.Shadow puppets have a long history and lots of interesting shadow puppet and hand puppet facts exist. These free hand puppet examples are for you to try your hand at creating shadow puppets and hand puppets, and hopefully put on your very own shadow puppet show!

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Images and portions of the text by Henry Bursill and were originally published by Griffith and Farran in 1859.