March 17, 2008


Yesterday we went to a park in Paris and saw a French puppet show, starring, of course, Guignol. Guignol is a puppet who has been around, and all over France, since circa 1800. The character was devised by a dentist who wanted to discourage people from being frightened of him (since every time he came around he generally inspired screams of pain). So he would bring this little puppet he made and act out scenes of delight rather than fear for his patients, and then he would rip out of their teeth.

All French kids know Guignol; every puppet show features this guy. He is the guy who pops up in the middle of the really scary scene (yesterday, during the scene where we think the beast, in Beauty and the Beast, is a mean guy) to explain to the kids that the menacing character was really just mistreated as a child, and that in his heart he is a kind and gentle soul. Something like that. No matter the story, Guignol is there to sort things out - a timeless character for the little Frenchies.

One of the most charming aspects of these puppet shows is how they are interactive. The kids literally scream at the puppets to warn them about the bad guy behind them, or to praise them for their actions. It is highly amusing to hear the things they come up with while they watch. (At the beginning of the show yesterday, the stage was mostly dark, with the background of woods. The narrator's voice came out of nowhere. A little girl with big glasses and wide eyes whispered, "C'est le loup qui parle!" (It's the wolf who is speaking). This particular production featured no wolf).

During the intermission, popcorn is handed out (or as one petit bonhomme put it, "pop-de-corn"). I suppose this treat for French children does not quite qualify as being middle class; you can be sure that not one of the parents would be caught stealing kernels from their kids.

There is always physical humor. Guignol is usually armed with a bundle of sticks for hitting the other puppets. These were the scenes (showcased below) at which the kids laughed the hardest. Marguerite, Jules and Louise were delighted - purely.

1 comment:

Julie said...

I would love to speak French and be able to go to those puppet shows for a class on intertextuality that I am taking. It would be so interesting to see how that character has developed over the centuries. I am really sorry I missed your call mainly. I can NOT wait for you to come and visit

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