A puppet is an object, often resembling a human, animal or mythical
figure, that is animated or manipulated by a person called a
puppeteer. The puppeteer uses movements of their hands, arms, or
control devices such as rods or strings to move the body, head, limbs,
and in some cases the mouth and eyes of the puppet. The puppeteer
often speaks in the voice of the character of the puppet, and then
synchronizes the movements of the puppet's mouth with this spoken
part. The actions, gestures and spoken parts acted out by the
puppeteer with the puppet are typically used in storytelling. Puppetry
is a very ancient form of theatre which dates back to the 5th century
BC in Ancient Greece. There are many different varieties of puppets,
and they are made from a wide range of materials, depending on their
form and intended use. They range from very simple in construction and
operation to very complex.
Two simple types of puppets are the finger puppet, which is a tiny
puppet that fits onto a single finger, and the sock puppet, which is
formed and operated by inserting one's hand inside a sock, with the
opening and closing of the hand simulating the movement of the
puppet's "mouth." The sock puppet is a type of hand puppet, which is
controlled using one hand that occupies the interior of the puppet and
moves the puppet around. A "live-hand puppet" is similar to a hand
puppet but is larger and requires two puppeteers for each puppet. A
Marionette is a much more complicated type of puppet that is suspended
and controlled by a number of strings connected to the head, back and
limbs, plus sometimes a central rod attached to a control bar held
from above by the puppeteer.
A rod puppet is constructed around a central rod secured to the head.
A shadow puppet is a cut-out figure held between a source of light and
a translucent screen.
Bunraku puppets are a type of Japanese
wood-carved puppet. A ventriloquist's dummy is a human-shaped puppet
operated by a ventriloquist performer's hand; the performer produces
the puppets voice with little or no movement of her mouth, which
creates the illusion that the puppet is alive. Carnival puppets are
large puppets, typically bigger than a human, designed to be part of a
large spectacle or parade.
2 Types of Puppets and Puppetry
2.1 Black light puppet
2.4 Carnival or body puppet
2.5 Finger puppet
Hand puppet or glove puppet
2.7 Human-arm puppet
2.8 Light curtain puppet
2.12 Object puppet
2.13 Pull string puppet
2.14 Push puppet
2.15 Rod puppet
2.16 Shadow puppet
2.17 Sock puppet
2.19 Table top puppet
2.21 Toy theatre
2.23 Water puppet
3 Idioms and cultural expressions
4 See also
6 Books and articles
Puppetry was practiced in
Ancient Greece and the oldest written
records of puppetry can be found in the works of
Xenophon, dating from the 5th century BC. The Greek word
translated as "puppet" is "νευρόσπαστος" (nevrospastos),
which literally means "drawn by strings, string-pulling", from
"νεῦρον" (nevron), meaning either "sinew, tendon, muscle,
string", or "wire", and "σπάω" (spaō), meaning "draw,
Aristotle (384–322 BC) discusses puppets in his work On the Motion
The movements of animals may be compared with those of automatic
puppets, which are set going on the occasion of a tiny movement; the
levers are released, and strike the twisted strings against one
In India, puppetry was practiced from ancient times and is known by
different names in different parts of the country. Excavation of clay
dolls from Indus valley sites serve as an indication. The art of
puppetry called Bommalattam is mentioned in Tamil literature
Silappadikaram, which is written around 2nd century B.C.
Types of Puppets and Puppetry
Puppetry by its nature is a flexible and inventive medium and many
puppet companies work with combinations of puppet forms and
incorporate real objects into their performances. They might, for
example, incorporate performing objects such as torn paper for snow,
or a sign board with words as narrative devices within a production.
The following are, alphabetically, the basic and conventional forms of
Black light puppet
A black light puppet
The black light puppet is a form of puppetry where the puppets are
operated on a stage lit only with ultraviolet lighting, which hides
the puppeteer and accentuates the colours of the puppets, which are
normally designed using colours that respond to UV light by glowing
brightly. The puppeteers perform dressed in black against a black
background, with the background and puppeteer's costume normally made
of black velvet. The puppeteers manipulate the puppets under the
light, while they position themselves unseen against the black unlit
background. Puppets of many sizes and types may be used. The original
concept of this form of puppetry can be traced to
Bunraku puppets are a type of wood-carved puppet originally made to
stand out through torch illumination. Developed in
Japan over a
thousand years ago and formalised and combined with shamisen music at
the end of the 16th century, the puppeteers dress to remain neutral
against a black background, although their presence as a kind of
'shadow' figure adds a mysterious power to the puppet. Bunraku
traditionally uses three puppeteers to operate a puppet that varies
from 1/3 to 1/2 life size.
Cantastoria is a form of visual storytelling in which a puppet,
illustration, painting, or other visual medium is accompanied by
rhythmical speech or song that describes or reenacts events to tell a
Carnival or body puppet
Carnival puppets (also known as body puppets) are usually designed to
be part of a large spectacle. These are often used in parades (such as
the Mayday parade in Minneapolis, United States and The Cape Town
Carnival in South Africa) and demonstrations, and are at least the
size of a human and often much larger. One or more performers are
required to move the body and limbs. In parades, the appearance and
personality of the person inside is not relevant to the spectator.
These puppets are particularly associated with large-scale
entertainment, such as the nightly parades at various
around the world. Similar puppets were designed by
Julie Taymor for
The Lion King.
The Jim Henson Company
The Jim Henson Company also has their version of these puppets called
Puppet featuring two puppeteers - Minneapolis, USA: May Day
Hugo Chávez - human carnival puppet
Man wearing body puppet of
George Burns at 1988 Academy Awards
The finger puppet is a simple puppet variant which fits onto a single
finger. Finger puppets normally have no moving parts, and consist
primarily of a hollow cylinder shape to cover the finger. Finger
puppets are often decorated with eyes and mouths made out of fabric or
other materials. This form of puppet has limited application, and is
used mainly in pre-schools or kindergartens for storytelling with
Hand puppet or glove puppet
A hand puppet (or glove puppet) is a puppet controlled by one hand,
which occupies the interior of the puppet. The
Punch and Judy
Punch and Judy puppets
are familiar examples of hand puppets. Larger varieties of hand
puppets place the puppeteer's hand in just the puppet's head,
controlling the mouth and head, and the puppet's body then hangs over
the entire arm. Other parts of the puppet (mainly arms) are usually
not much larger than the hand itself. Often the mouth can also open
and close, and special variants exist with eyelids that can be
manipulated. A sock puppet is a particularly simple type of hand
puppet made from a sock.
British traditional hand or glove puppets, Punch and Judy
Simple sock puppets
Hand or glove puppet dog
A bespoke hand puppet and
Also called a "two-man puppet" or a "live-hand puppet", the human-arm
puppet is similar to a hand puppet but is larger and requires two
puppeteers. One puppeteer places their dominant hand inside the
puppet's head and operates the puppet's head and mouth, while putting
their non-dominant arm into a glove and special sleeve attached to the
puppet. The second puppeteer puts their arm into a glove and special
sleeve attached to the puppet in order to operate the other arm. This
way, the puppet can perform hand gestures. This is a form of glove or
hand puppetry and rod puppetry.
"Briegel der Busch" puppet and puppeteer Jan Mixsa, autographing at
"Erstes Fantreffen von Bernd das Brot"
"Chili das Schaf" puppet and creators Tommy Krappweis and Erik
Haffner, taken at "Erstes Fantreffen von Bernd das Brot"
Three "Two-hand Puppets" are very popular in Russia even after the end
of The Cold War.
Light curtain puppet
Light curtain puppet presentations use light to highlight small
portions of a performance area, allowing the puppet to be seen while
the manipulators remain invisible. The puppets stand on a stage
divided into an unlit background and a well-lit foreground, meeting to
form a "curtain" of light. The puppeteer dresses in black and remains
hidden in the unlit background of the stage while the puppet is held
across the light curtain in the lit foreground of the stage. "Light
curtain puppet" is an umbrella term, and any puppet which is extended
into a well-lit area where its handler remains separated from the
puppet by a division of light may be called a light curtain
Marionettes, or "string puppets," are suspended and controlled by a
number of strings, plus sometimes a central rod attached to a control
bar held from above by the puppeteer. The control bar can be either
horizontal or vertical. Basic strings for operation are usually
attached to the head, back, hands (to control the arms) and just above
the knee (to control the legs). This form of puppetry is complex
and sophisticated to operate, requiring greater manipulative control
than a finger, glove or rod puppet. The puppet play performed by the
Von Trapp children with Maria in
The Sound of Music
The Sound of Music is a marionette
A puppeteer manipulating a marionette
Marionettes from the Swedish Cottage
Marionette Theatre, New York, USA
production of "Cinderella Samba"
A puppeteer manipulating a marionette in Prague, Czech Republic
Puppeteer performing in New Orleans, Louisiana
"The Giglet Sisters" posed on puppet theatre stage
"Uncle Rastus" an elderly man playing a banjo
"Mrs Garbage" and " Mrs Guppy", charwomen
Marionette Theaters operating today include: Salzberg
Marionette Theater, Bob Baker
Marionette Theater, Center for Puppetry
Marionette Theater, The Swedish Cottage Marionette
Theater in Central Park, Le
Theatre de Marionette. Famous Italian
puppet is Romeo Gallo.
The marotte is a simplified rod puppet that is just a head and/or body
on a stick. It was used by jesters in renaissance times. In a marotte
à main prenante, the puppeteer's other arm emerges from the body
(which is just a cloth drape) to act as the puppet's arm. Some
marottes have a small string running through the stick attached to a
handle at the bottom. When the handle is squeezed, the mouth opens.
Motekar or wayang motekar is a kind of shadow puppet theater known in
Sundanese, Javanese, and Indonesian as 'wayang (kulit)', that is,
(leather) shadow puppet. While most shadow puppets cast black
silhouettes from behind a screen, motekar shadow puppets can be in
full color. They use plastic materials, transparent dyes, a special
light system, and a special type of screen to make this happen.
Motekar puppet shows can be performed by one or several puppeteers and
usually feature music, singing, and a series of dances.
Nikolai Zykov Theatre, Russia.
Not all forms of puppetry need specially created items to puppet.
Object puppets can be created with found everyday objects either
assembled in advance or during performance.
Señor Wences was a
Spanish ventriloquist who became popular through his appearances on
the American program The Ed Sullivan Show. His characters included
Johnny (a face drawn on his hand) and Pedro (a gruff head in a box)
who would talk when Wences opened the box. Similarly, chinface
puppetry involves puppet features drawn or attached onto an
Pull string puppet
A pull string puppet is a puppet consisting of a cloth body where in
the puppeteer puts his/her arm into a slot in the back and pulls rings
on strings to make certain movements such as waving the arms or moving
A push puppet consists of a segmented character on a base which is
kept under tension until the button on the bottom is pressed. The
puppet wiggles, slumps and then collapses. Push puppets are usually
intended as novelty toys, rather than as part of professional puppet
A rod puppet is a puppet constructed around a central rod secured to
the head. A large glove covers the rod and is attached to the neck of
the puppet. A rod puppet is controlled by the puppeteer moving the
metal rods attached to the hands of the puppet (or any other limbs)
and by turning the central rod secured to the head.
Preparing a rod puppet for a performance of Town Musicians of Bremen,
Sibiu, Romania, 2002.
Rod puppets from the Horse and Bamboo
Theatre production 'Harvest of
Rod puppet "Bleeckie", meeting an owl, 2011.
A shadow puppet is a cut-out figure held between a source of light and
a translucent screen. Shadow puppets can form solid silhouettes or be
decorated with various amounts of cut-out details. Colour can be
introduced into the cut-out shapes to provide a different dimension
and different effects can be achieved by moving the puppet (or light
source) out of focus. Javanese shadow puppets known as Wayang Kulit
are the classic example of this. In China, it became popular from
Shadow Puppets, Jakarta, Indonesia
Sock puppet from the Web series Totally Socks
A sock puppet is a puppet formed and operated by inserting a hand
inside a sock. The hand is opened and closed to simulate the movement
of the puppet's "mouth" and give the impression of speaking. Sometimes
eyes and other facial features are added to the sock in order to make
the puppet more realistic. Sock puppets are popular in many puppet
performances, as they are simple to make and easy to use. They are
mostly used in satirical or children's works.
Supermarionation is a method of puppetry invented by Gerry Anderson,
which he used in his television shows Stingray and Thunderbirds. The
puppets were marionettes with electronically moving mouths to allow
for lip-synchronised speech. The marionettes were still controlled by
human manipulators with darkened strings.
Table top puppet
A table top puppet is a puppet usually operated by rod or direct
contact from behind, on a surface similar to a table top (hence the
name). Shares many characteristics with Bunraku.
A Ticklebug is a type of hand puppet created from a human hand to have
four legs, where the puppet features are drawn on the hand itself. The
middle finger is lifted as a head, and the thumb and forefinger serve
as a first set of two legs on one side, while the ring finger and
little finger serve as a second set of two legs on the opposite
The toy theatre is a puppet cut out of paper and stuck onto card. It
is fixed at its base to a stick and operated by pushing it in from the
side of the puppet theatre. Sheets of puppets and scenery were
produced from the 19th century for children's use.
The Ventriloquist's Dummy is a puppet shaped like a small human which
is operated by a ventriloquist performer to focus the audience's
attention away from the performer's activities and heighten the
illusion that the dummy is speaking. They are called dummies because
they do not speak on their own. The ventriloquist dummy is controlled
by one hand of the ventriloquist.
Ventriloquism acts are not always
performed with a traditional dummy; occasionally other forms of
puppetry are used.
Edgar Bergen, seen with Charlie McCarthy, is one of America's best
Ventriloquist Ramdas Padhye has been performing in
India for over 40
After popular American performer
Shari Lewis died, daughter Mallory
continued performing Lamb Chop.
Performers like Jeff Dunham, here with Achmed the Dead Terrorist, have
revived interest in North America.
German Jörg Jará's puppet, Olga.
Vietnamese water puppets
A water puppet is a Vietnamese puppet form, the "Múa rối nước".
Múa rối nước literally means "puppets that dance on water", an
ancient tradition that dates back to the 10th century. The puppets are
built out of wood and the shows are performed in a waist-deep pool. A
large rod supports the puppet under the water and is used by the
puppeteers to control them. The appearance is of the puppets moving
over the water. When the rice fields would flood, the villagers would
entertain each other using this puppet form.
The water also provides the setting for traditional stories depicting
day-to-day village life. Water puppets bring wry humor to scenes of
farming, fishing, festival events such as buffalo fights, and
children's games of marbles and coin-toss. Fishing turns into a game
of wits between the fisherman and his prey, with the fisherman getting
the short end (often capturing his surprised neighbor by mistake).
Besides village life, scenes include legends and national history.
Lion dogs romp like puppies while dragons exhale smoke and shoot
sprays of water at the audience. Performances of up to 18 short scenes
are usually introduced by a pig-tailed bumpkin known as Teu, and
accompanied by a small folk orchestra.
Idioms and cultural expressions
The word puppet can mean a political leader installed, supported and
controlled by powerful external forces, without legitimacy in the
country itself. In modern times, this usually implies no democratic
mandate from the country's electorate; in earlier times, it could have
meant a monarch imposed from outside, who was not a member of a
country's established ruling dynasty, and/or unrecognised by its
Puppet government", "puppet regime" and "puppet state" are
derogatory terms for a government which is in charge of a region or
country, but only through being installed, supported and controlled by
a more powerful outside government (see Quisling, a Norwegian fascist
leader during WW II who collaborated with the Nazis and led a puppet
In a more general sense, a puppet is any person who is controlled by
another by reasons of (for instance) undue influence, intellectual
deficiency, or lack of character or charisma. Science fiction writer
Robert A. Heinlein's novel
The Puppet Masters
The Puppet Masters depicts alien parasites
who attach themselves to human beings and control their actions.
Poppet, a word that sounds similar, is sometimes a term of endearment,
similar to "love", "pet", "doll" or "dear". It alludes to folk-magic
and witchcraft, where a poppet is a special doll created to represent
a person for the purpose of casting healing, fertility, or binding
Sock Puppet is increasingly used on social media as a term to describe
fake accounts used to spread political disinformation.
Library resources about
Resources in your library
Resources in other libraries
Look up puppet in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Animation or digital puppet.
Animation is a related but essentially
different process from puppetry. Animating puppets in time-based media
such as film or video is a simulation of movement created by
displaying a series of pictures, or frames, whereas puppetry is the
live manipulation of figures.
Puppet animation, or "puppetoon", can
refer either to stop motion filming, where the movements of the
puppets are created frame-by-frame; or
Supermarionation (see above)
Main article: Puppetoon
Karakuri ningyō - Mechanized puppets or automata from Japan.
Kenya Institute of
The Yakshagana Puppets an Indian Documentary on Yakshagana Puppets
Lübeck Museum of
Pelham puppets - A type of factory-made puppet created by Bob Pelham
famous for making mainly string puppets (Marionettes) In the UK from
1947 to 1993. In 2008 the Pelham
Puppet company was revived by a
former employee of the original factory and now produces a new line of
Pelham Puppets some echoing former styles.
Punch and Judy
Puppetry - for the cultural and theatrical history of puppet theatre
Rajasthani Puppet - String marionettes originating from the state of
Rajasthan in India
Das Spielhaus, East German television variety show
The Muppets, a cast of puppets conceptualized by Jim Henson, notable
for the being the first form of televised puppetry to not include a
physical proscenium arch within which the characters are presented,
but rather the inherent four-sided frame of the viewer's television
^ Herodotus, The Histories, 2.48, on Perseus
^ Xenophon, Symposium, 4.55, on Perseus
^ νευρόσπαστος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A
Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
^ νεῦρον, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English
Lexicon, on Perseus
^ σπάω, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English
Lexicon, on Perseus
^ List of Ancient Greek words related to puppetry, Henry George
Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
^ Aristotle, On the Motion of Animals, 350 BC.
^ "Pulling the strings to resuscitate a dying art". The Hindu.
Thanjavur, India. 17 August 2012.
Puppet Forms of India". Centre for Cultural Resources and Training,
Ministry of Culture,
Government of India. Archived from the original
on 15 May 2013. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
^ Adachi, Barbara C., Backstage at Bunraku, Weatherhill, 1985 .
^ Currell, David, Introduction to Puppets and
Puppet making, p.7
Puppet show at PNCA mesmerises children of twin cities". Daily
Times. Islamabad, Pakistan. 5 July 2011.
^ Robinson, Patricia and Stuart, Exploring Puppetry, p.64
^ Currell, David, An Introduction to Puppets and Puppetmaking', p.7
^ Tytti Ollila (2 April 2012). "Shadow puppetry brightens those dark
days". GB-Times. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
^ "Vietnamese Water Puppets".
Ghosh, S. and Banerjee, Utpal Kumar, Indian Puppets, Abhinav
Publications, 2006. ISBN 81-7017-435-X.
Bell, John, Strings, Hands, Shadows: A Modern
Puppet History, Wayne
State University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-89558-156-6.
Books and articles
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Puppets.
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Bell, John (2000). Strings, Hands, Shadows: A Modern
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