Monday, January 26, 2015

The Empress --

-- is of course the long-suffering Miss Judy, with her equally-long-suffering baby.

In the tamer and more politically correct Punch and Judy shows of today, this pair is rarely abused at all. But in the real thing, the unexpurgated shows of the Victorian era, Judy and The Baby are Mister Punch's first and primary victims. Of course the horrible Mister Punch beats both of them with his stick, but it's the baby who gets the worst treatment: in milder versions of the show, the baby is repeatedly thrown out of the window (though usually caught by the more sensitive members of the child audience, and returned to the stage). Darker versions of the show find the baby tossed into the sausage-meat machine and ground into sausage. Quite by accident of course.

This sort of treatment of babies is not unique to Mister Punch. I am reminded of a song I learned in my childhood about a certain Mister Dunderbeck:

Oh Dunderbeck, oh Dunderbeck how could you be so mean?
To ever have invented the sausage-meat machine
Now all the neighbors cats and dogs will never more be seen
'cuz they've been ground to sausage-meat in Dunderbeck's machine.

I am afraid that if the classic Punch and Judy show was offered on TV as kid's entertainment today, there would be an outcry so vast that it would shake the pillars of the nation. Because of course Mister Punch is a vile little man: he beats his wife and children, he beats black people, he beats his friends. About the only character he's remotely nice to is his dog, Toby. When the policeman comes to arrest him, Punch beats up the policeman. The judge gets similar treatment. When Punch is sent to the scaffold to be hung for his crimes, he turns the tables and hangs the hangman. The Devil comes along right about now. Mister Devil gets what's coming to him and then some, because Punch is ten times the devil that The Devil is. Not even Death himself can put an end to Mister Punch's awful behavior. 

All of this makes the Punch and Judy show a ridiculously perfect choice to feature in a tarot deck. I'm not sure why it qualified him to become the star and namesake of Britain's longest-running satirical magazine, but perhaps that's something we'll find out together as this project rolls along...