PUNCHINELLO (It. Policinella, Pulcinella), the most popular of the puppets, is of Italian origin, though its history is by no means free from obscurity. The earlier etymologists sought to trace the name to various mythical individuals, by whom, it was alleged the type was first furnished. Galiani adopts the theory which derives it from the name of Puccio dAniell, a vintager of Acerra near Naples, who, having by his wit and grotesque appearance vanquished some strolling comedians in their own sphere, was induced to join the troop, and whose place, by reason of his popularity, was supplied after his death by a masked actor who imitated his dress and manner. The claims of other individuals -- Paolo Cinella Polliceno, and Pulcinella, a Neapolitan dealer in fowls -- have also found supporters, and the derivation of the name and character from some old mystery representing Pontius (O. E. Pownce; Fr. Ponce) Pilate and Judas, or the Jews, was formerly popular. It has even been suggested that the title is a modification of polu kineo [Gk.] as expressive of the restlessness which characteristic of the puppet; and the assumption that the character was invariably of diminutive size has given rise o its reference to the word police, the thumb (cf. Däumling, Tom Thumb). The most plausible theory, however, regards the name in its Italian form a diminutive of pulcino, fem. pulcina, a chicken. It is sometimes stated that, in consequence of the habit of using the word "chicken" as a term of enderment, it came to mean "a little chilid," and hence "a puppet" (Skeat). But this again involves the assumption that the application of the name to the character was in some measure determined by the size of the puppet, whereas it would appear to have been transferred from the comic stage to the puppet show, and the Pulcinella of the stage was not necessarily a dwarf. The choice, therefore, seems to lie between the theory of Quadrio, that it was applied on account of the resemblance of the hooked nose to the beak, and that of Baretti, which ascribes its employment to the nasal squeak and timorous importance of the original character. With respect to the development of the modern type, it has been assumed that the whole family of Italian maschere (Arlecchino, Brighetta, and the like) are modified survivals of the principal Oscan characters of the Atellanae, and that Punchinello is the representative of Maccus, the fool or clown. In proof of this it is urged that Acerra, the supposed residence of Puccio dAniello and the traditional source of the character, is in the neighbourhood of Aversa, the old Atella; and reference is also made to a bronze statue of Maccus, discovered at Rome in 1727, an engraving of which has been preserved in Ficoronis Le Mashere Sceniche e le Figure Comiche d Antichi Romani. But the resemblance of the statue to the puppet is scarcely to be termed a striking one, and large nose and deformed figure are somewhat hazardous ground on which to base a theory, -- especially in view of the fact that such points of likeness as there are in it to the northern Punch are not to be found in the Neapolitan Pulcinella. It is possible that some relic of the old Ludi Osci, transmitted through the Vice of the mystery plays, is to be found in the character; but any direct descent from the Maccus of the Atellanae seems precluded by the fact that, while there are traces of the gradual development of the northern Punch from the Neapolitan Pulcinella, the latter with its grey hat, white smock and trousers, masked face, and undistorted body is widely different from its alleged prototype. It seems necessary, therefore, to regard the Pulcinella as in large part a distinct creation of comparatively modern date. Prior to the 17th there is no indication in the Italian burlesque poets of the existence of Pulcinella though Riccoboni places the creation of the part before 1600.
Andrea Perrucci (1699) and Gimma assert with some show of authority that Silvio Fiorillo, a comedian named after his principal part Captain Matamoros (the Italian Miles Gloriousus), invented the Neapolitan Pulcinella. It was afterwards improved by Andrea Calcese, surnamed Ciuccio, who died of the plague in 1656, and who, according to Gimma, imitated in the character the peasants of Acerra. This would place the origin of the Italian Pulcinella somewhere about the commencement of the 17th century, the original character appearing to have that of a country clown, hook-nosed, shrill-voiced, cowardly, boastful, and often stupid, yet given at times to knavish tricks and shrewd sayings. In thorough accordance with this date, we find that the earliest known appearance of Polichinelle in France is at the commencement of the reign of Louis XIV., I in the show of the puppet-playing dentist Jean Brioché. It might have been expected that the shrewder and wittier side of the character would most commend itself to the French mind, and there is good reason to believe that the Polichnelle of Brioché was neither a blunderer nor a foo. The puppet was almost immediately seized nor a fool. The medium of political satire of the kind exemplified in the Letter of Polichinelle to Cardinal Mazarin (1649), and it is described in the Combat de Cyrano de Bergerac as a "petit Ésope de bois, remuant, tournant, virant, dansant, riant, parlant, petant" and as "cet heteroclite marmouset, disons mieux, ce drolifique bossu." In this there appear signs of transformation, whether the importation to France took place before or after the alleged improvements of Calcese. The hunchback had been long associated in France with wit and laughter, and there are, therefore, some grounds for Magnims theory that the northern Punch is of French origin, a Gallic type under an Italian name, though there does not seem to be sufficient reason for adopting his suggestion that Polichinelle was a burlesque portrait of Béarnais. The date of its introduction into England has been disputed, Payne Collier being of opinion that Punch and King William came together, a second theory suggesting an earlier origin with the Hugenot refugees. In view of its popularity in France prior to Restoration, however, it would be strange if its migration had been so long delayed, and it is more than probable that it crossed the Channel in the wake of the Royalists. Apart from the general references by Pepys (1662) and by Evelyn (1667) to an Italian puppet-show at Covent Garden, the former makes mention (1669) of some poor people who called their fat child Punch. "that word being become a word of common use for al that is thick and short." An allusion to "Punchinellos" is also to be found in Butlers satire on English imitation of the French, and Aubrey speaks of "a Punchinello holding a dial" as one of the ornaments of Sir Samuel Lelys house at Whitehall. But though the puppet did not travel in the train of William of Orange, allusions to it become far more after the Revolution of 1688, and the skill of the Dutch in their treatment of puppet mechanism may have enhanced its attractiveness. In 1703 it was introduced at Bartholomew Fair into a puppet play of the creation of world; in 1709 (Tatler, No. 16) it in a different part from that of the Momus Polichinelle of Pirons Arlequin-Deucalion (1722); and in 1710 (Spectator, No. 14) it is mentioned as a leading figure in Powells puppet-show at Covent Garden. The alleged satire on Robert Walpole, entitled A Second Tale of a Tub, or the History of Robert Powel, the Puppet-Showman (1715), furnished some details of Punch performances, and has an interesting frontispiece representing Powell with Punch and his wife. The Judy (or Joan, as she appears to have been sometimes called) is not of a specially grotesque order, but the Punch is easily recognizable in all but the features, which are of the normal puppet type. Other allusions are to be found in Gays Shepherds Week -- Saturday (1714) and Swifts Dialogue between Mad Mullinix and Timothy (1728). The older Punchinello was far less restricted in his actions and circumstances than his modern successor. He fought with allegorical figures representing want and weariness as well as with his wife and with the police, was on intimate terms with the patriarchs and the seven champions of Christendom, sat on the lap of the queen of Sheba, had kings and dukes for his companions, and cheated the Inquisition as well as the common hangman. Powell seems to have introduced a trained pig which danced a minuet with Punch, and the French have occasionally employed a cat in place of the dog Toby, whose origins is somewhat uncertain. A typical version of the modern play, with illustrations, was published by Payne Collier and Cruikshank in 1828. (R. M. W.)
The above article was written by: R. Mortimer Wheeler, Glasgow.