Spring Thesis Festival – Session 2, Part 2

Following Elissa Dubinsky in the second session of today’s thesis project festival, Sarah Keyes presented Puppets on the Early Modern Stage. Puppet shows were a popular form of entertainment in early modern England, but we know little of how puppet shows were incorporated into the drama of the period. Most of the evidence surrounding these shows is from provincial records and the terms themselves are fluid: for instance, puppet shows were sometimes called “motions.” She points to The Blind Beggar of Bednall Green and Bartholemew Fair as a primary examples of plays that feature puppet shows, and cites multiple quotes from the latter play that make reference to puppet shows. Keyes points to Henslow’s diary, which lists dragons and dogs as properties, and dumb shows by Luprene that suggest that the actors used puppets rather than dressing up as animals to perform the dumb shows. The B text of Doctor Faustus, has a stage direction, enter a devil, Mephistophiles, in the shape of a dragon, and Keyes suggests that the dragon was a puppet. Keyes argues that the dragon/devil (synonymous terms in the early modern period) would have come through the trap in the floor, as the woodcuts and the cue in the promptbook suggest, and demonstrates her argument with a successful staging. In discussing the terms, “puppet”–which during the early modern period had derogratory connotations of frivolity, emptyheadedness, or religious idolotry–and “motion”–gestures, bodily movements, impulses of the mind and body–Keyes demonstrates that puppet shows deal with base humour, bodily functions, religious satire, or frivolity.