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Copyright Office, What We're Reading

Claire Tatro is an intern this summer with the Copyright Office here at Michigan Publishing. Claire is a student at the University of Michigan School of Information (M.A. 2014). She is working on a series of highlights about books in the public domain in HathiTrust.

Punch and Judy, with twenty-four illustrations designed and engraved by George Cruikshank. And other plates accompanied by the dialogue of the puppet-show, and account of its origin, and of puppet plays in England.  (

Have you ever wondered about the origin of Punch and Judy? This book published by George Bell in 1890 offers an amazing background of how Punch was created and remade over time.  We often associate Punch with England, but he actually originated in Italy during the 17th century as Pulcinella, a role played by a human rather than a puppet.  Around that time, improv was becoming a trend in Europe allowing actors free reign to make jokes about politics and society.  Many of the original skits about Punch and Judy were not written down, however, of the skits that survived you can read the most famous one, The Tragical Comedy, or Comical Tragedy, of Punch and Judy accredited to John Payne Collier, in an appendix of this book.

When Punch’s skits expanded to England there were notable changes, morphing Punch from a buffoon into a cruel and sly character.  English puppeteers such as Martin Powell made Punch notoriously famous with crude and inappropriate jokes. Unsurprisingly, the sexton of St. Paul’s Church disapproved of the immoral content of the show.  There was a running joke that the church bells announced the start of the show rather than mass, stemming from the fact that a Punch show had set up location outside of his church.

Today, components of Punch and Judy are still seen in many television shows and cartoons.  The slapstick humor of characters like Tom and Jerry and the Coyote and the Roadrunner remind us of the bickering Punch and Judy.  Some critics are concerned about the immoral jokes and violent behavior that Punch and Judy symbolize.  A recent Smithsonian article questions if this type of humor is finally outdated.  According to George Bell, Punch and Judy have always been a topic of debate leading religious people, comedians, and psychologists to question the positive and negative effects of the show.  Bell’s book is a great way to begin forming your own opinion about this topic.

 The copyright status of this book was reviewed for the Copyright Review Management System (CRMS) project, a collaborative effort of 14 universities made possible with the support of a National Leadership grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

Works Referenced

An Essay, Spectator, 14 (1711: Mar. 16)  Richard Steele.

The British Press.   No. III “Punch Reviewer” Thursday, March 8, 1810, London, Middlesex.

PAYNE COLLIER, JOHN, The Tragical Comedy, or Comical Tragedy, of Punch and Judy , New England Review, 21:4 (2000:Fall) p.191

PUNCH AND JUDY, Spectator, 4:180 (1831:Dec. 10) p.1198

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