Puppet-plays (Lat. pupa, a girl; Fr. poupee, a doll) are exhibitions in which the parts of the different characters are taken by miniature figures worked by wires, while the dialogue is given by persons behind the scenes. These plays are of very ancient date, and, originally intended to gratify children, they ended in being a diversion for adults. In China and India puppets are still made to act dramas, either as movable figures or as shadows behind a curtain. In Italy and France puppet-plays were at one time carried to a considerable degree of artistic perfection; and even Lessing and Goethe, in Germany, thought the subject worth their serious attention. In England, they are mentioned under the name of motions by many of our early authors; and frequent allusions to them occur in the plays of Shakspeare, Ben Jonson, and the older dramatists. The earliest exhibitions of this kind consisted of representations of stories taken from the Old and New Testaments, or from the lives and legends of saints. They thus seem to have been the last remnant of the moralities of the 15th century. SEE MYSTERIES. We learn from Ben Jonson and his contemporaries that the most popular of these exhibitions at that time were the Prodigal Son and Nineveh with Jonas and the Whale. Even the Puritans, with all their hatred of the regular stage, did not object to be present at such representations. The most noted exhibitions of the kind were those of Robert Powel, in the beginning of the 18th century (see Chambers, Book of Days, ii, 167). So recently as the time of Goldsmith, scriptural "motions" were common; and in She Stoops to Conquer reference is made to the display of Solomon's Temple in one of these shows. The regular performances of the stage were also sometimes imitated; and Dr. Samuel Johnson has observed that puppets were so capable of representing even the plays of Shakspeare that Macbeth might be represented by them as well as by living actors. These exhibitions, however, much degenerated, and latterly consisted of a wretched display of wooden figures, barbarously formed, and decorated without the least degree of taste or propriety, while the dialogues were jumbles of absurdities and nonsense.

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