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Sock Puppets and more. Quick history of puppets through the ages

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Early Indian puppet: theatrestyles.blogspot.sg

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The art of puppetry was born in India as far back as 1000 B.C. These puppets can trace their colourful roots back to Indian morality tales, when they were two-dimensional and highly decorated.

Puppets were found to be a useful, often less dangerous, way to speak out about important issues:

“Puppets have throughout history been used to represent good, evil, jealousy, and greed without running the risk of identifying individuals who might exact revenge against the storyteller.” thehistoryofthings.com

Puppetry spread across Asia, through China and Japan. In the first millennium BC, puppets were intricately designed and carved from wood.

Then came the sock

What easier way to manufacture a character than to sew two buttons onto a lonely sock? Now, sock puppets come in all shapes and sizes, with hair, hats, moustaches, glasses and cigars.

Sock puppets were always a form of instant theatre, easy to assemble and use, plus the puppeteer could use the other hand for the puppet’s friend (or enemy) or to control stage props. Normally, a sock puppet stage would be the size of a table and could involve up to ten puppets on stage at any one time.

Where do socks come from?

Socks date back as far as 750 BC and the ancient Greeks. Knitting got its start with Egyptian sheep farmers and quickly spread through the Middle East into Europe. In Spain in the 1200s, Muslim knitters discovered new techniques that allowed wool to be shaped, and with this, the advent of the woollen sock!

So why the sock puppet?

For much the same reason as in India – as a means of expression. At one point, theatre was banned in Europe, so people began to organise secret shows. Sock puppets were easy to make and transport and became a popular way to get around the theatre ban. If caught, those involved were still liable to being arrested, imprisoned and possibly tortured. Netflix seems pretty tame by comparison!

The term ‘sock puppet’ is now also used to describe a fictitious online identity used to promote a particular point of view or defend a person who is seen as controversial.

Famous forms of puppetry

  1. Shadow play is an old tradition and has a long history in Southeast Asia, especially in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia.
  2. Wayang, comes from the Indonesian word for shadow baying, figures are made from water buffalo hide.
  3. Egyptians made jointed puppets from terra cotta.
  4. Marionettes are operated from above by strings or rods.
  5. The simplest puppets are finger puppets - tiny puppets that fit onto a single finger!
  6. Japanese Bunraku developed out of Shinto temple rites and gradually became a sophisticated form of puppetry.
  7. Vietnam developed the art form of water puppetry, unique to that country. The puppets are built out of wood, and the shows are performed in a waist high pool.

Have you made your own sock puppet? If so, we’d love to see it. Post it to our Facebook page or Instagram and tag us in it.

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