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Topics often tackled in many shadow puppetry performances are about folk tales and legends of the past. These were the areas being concentrated on by most shadow puppeteers in China, especially during the early years of this ancient art.

Meanwhile, in Indonesia, the themes were mostly religious with many of the stories coming from two Indian religious epic poems.

Turkey and Greece, on the other hand, gave accounts of everyday life with many shadow puppetry shows containing much physical comedy.

The concept of shadow puppetry having comedic or humorous features is not really entirely new. Even in Indonesia, the wayang kulit, the Indonesian term for shadow puppetry, though largely religious, also has touches of comedy. This comes especially true when the subject being depicted in the wayang kulit is about a local event or issue that happened or is happening in the village. The approach that most shadow puppeteers use is usually the satirical comedy type wherein well-known figures or personalities in a certain village or even in the country are ridiculed in the show.

In European countries, the treatment of shadow puppetry performances took a more or less similar approach. Initially seen as providing fun and entertainment, church authorities frowned upon the puppets, saying they are typical devices of the devil with the puppets being observed to resemble idol figures. Later, however, during the Catholic-Protestant tension, the church changed its stand and made extensive use of puppets to advance its cause. Yet, it is also during this time that puppeteers made farces of the religious leaders as well as the religious conflicts pervading then. They also produced during this time, satirical dramas tackling the same issue.

Other accounts point to the possibility of slapstick comedy already being present in many shadow puppetry performances during the same period. One account was given in a shadow puppetry presentation known as "Li Romans du hon roi d' Alixandre" where a male and a female puppet were seen conversing as three girls watch their performance. The male puppet was recorded as being dressed up in a typical court jester's costume. Court jesters, of course, during that time were known to provide comedy relief in any presentation.

Turkey is also another country where shadow puppetry was also considered as a form of humorous entertainment. The country also became popular in doing satirical comedies in many of their shadow puppetry presentations.

Earlier accounts, meanwhile, indicate that shadow puppetry in Europe, notably in Greece, was also comedic in nature. Its plays include numerous characters, but in general, focuses only on one main character, a poor man named Karagiozi, who always gets into trouble because he engages in petty crimes like stealing.

There is no doubt based on the preceding narrations that the chief purpose of shadow puppetry is to provide entertainment.

This is especially true even during the earlier times in China, where shadow puppetry was thought to have originated, utilized the art to please the Chinese emperor.

Such concept has endured through the ages and is expected to remain so in another hundred years.


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.