For many people, Punch is associated with the traditional Punch and Judy shows of Victorian and Edwardian England. However, the character of Punch is much older, originating with an Italian style of comedy popular in the sixteenth century called Commedia dell Arte, which used live masked actors, and was performed by roving troupes in village squares.
Punch’s antecedent, Puncinello, was a very coarse, gluttonous, and often violent servant character with a humped back and a huge nose. Puncinello travelled to France with the touring troupes and then to England where he became a clown character in pantomimes, and also to Germany where he became Kasper, a sort of cousin to Punch.
In England, Puncinello took on many elements of English folk drama and the court jester tradition, eventually taking to the puppet booth and becoming Punch It was there that he teamed up with Judy and a cast of other characters to perform at fairgrounds, beaches and on street corners.
Punch and Judy was essentially an oral tradition passed from one Punch ‘Professor’ to another through the centuries, with new characters added and slight changes in the story but with the overall drama remaining the same.
Today, Punch remains mainly an English tradition but he is also popular in America where a number of Punch professors continue the tradition.