Why Are Some Puppets Called Marionettes?
There are different kinds of puppets – hand puppets, stick puppets, shadow figures, and marionettes. Marionettes, which are operated by strings from above, got their name from the religious puppet plays of the Middle Ages.
During the early Christmas celebrations, puppet characters representing the Christ Child and the Virgin Mary were made to move by strings. This kind of puppet became known as a marionette, a word of French origin meaning “little Mary.” Some marionettes are controlled with as many as 30 strings.
A marionette’s puppeteer is called a marionettist. Marionettes are operated with the puppeteer hidden or revealed to an audience by using a vertical or horizontal control bar in different forms of theatres or entertainment venues. They have also been used in films and on television. The attachment of the strings varies according to its character or purpose.
Puppetry is an ancient form of performance. Some historians claim that they predate actors in theatre. There is evidence that they were used in Egypt as early as 2000 BC when string-operated figures of wood were manipulated to perform the action of kneading bread, and other string-controlled objects.
Wire-controlled, articulated puppets made of clay and ivory have been found in Egyptian tombs. Marionette puppetry was used to display rituals and ceremonies using these string-operated figurines back in ancient times and is used today.
Puppetry was practiced in Ancient Greece and the oldest written records of puppetry can be found in the works of Herodotus and Xenophon, dating from the 5th century BC. The Greek word translated as “puppet” is (nevróspastos), which literally means “drawn by strings, string-pulling”, from (nevron), meaning either “sinew, tendon, muscle, string”, or “wire”, and (spáō), meaning “draw, pull”.