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An Address delivered by Richard Pischd on assuming the
office of Rector of the Kbniglichc Vereinigte Fricdrichs-
Universitiit, Halle - Wittenberg, on the I2th July, 1900.


Among the ineffaceable impressions which we
retain from earliest childhood to ripest old age, we
must include the recollection of the time when we first
heard from our mother's lips the immortal fairy tales
of Snow-white and the Seven Dwarfs, Dame Holle
and Goldilocks, and Little Red Riding Hood and
the wicked wolf. Our delight in all these beings
became still greater when we saw them afterwards
in flesh and blood before us on the stage. Nowadays
the Christmas fairy tales are produced for children
with lavish splendour, and owing to the gorgeous
externals the simple story is often not duly appre-
ciated. But those of us who were children in the
fifties and sixties or earlier in the nineteenth century,
had to be content with plainer fare. In those days
the stage consisted of a platform erected in a room
only partially lighted by oil-lamps, and furnished
with wooden benches, the actors being puppets. Yet


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the thrill of expectancy with which we, the children
of that time, sat before the homely curtain was as
great as it is to-day ; the eagerness with which we
followed the performance was perhaps even greater.

The birthplace of fairy tales has long been recognized
to be India. They wandered from India to Persia,
and thence the Arabs brought them to Europe. But
the original home of puppet-plays still remains quite
obscure. The problem is also more difficult to solve
because the sources flow but feebly. Fairy tales were
early written down in Sanskrit, Pali, and Prakrit ; no
single puppet-play has been handed down to us from
antiquity. A place in literature was at once readily
accorded to fairy tales, and all classes of people heard
and read them with equal interest. The art of the
puppet-player was always more or less a ' mystery,' re-
ceiving no substantial encouragement from the cultured
classes. Xenophon, in his Symposion, makes the
puppet-player from Syracuse assert that he esteems
fools above other men ; they being the spectators
of his puppet-plays, and consequently his means of
livelihood. 1 This is hardly borne out by facts. Adults
of all stations and degrees of education have at times
been unable to withstand the fascination of the
puppet-play. The puppet-player Potheinos was so
much run after in Athens, that the Archons gave
up to him the very stage on which the dramas
of Euripides had excited the enthusiasm of the
populace. 2 France, in the time of Moliere and
Beaumarchais, England, under Shakespeare and
;C Sheridan, 3 Germany, in the days of Goethe and Schiller,


had numerously attended marionette shows, which
at times proved formidable rivals to the theatrical
companies. 4 Puppet-players were also summoned
to the courts of princes, 5 and the Emperor Joseph II,
in company with his guests, visited in 1876 the
Kasperle theatre in the Leopoldstadt in Vienna.
But these must still be regarded as exceptional cases.
For the most part, the puppet-play continued to be
the favourite child of the mass of the people, and
only the stepchild of the cultured classes. And this
is easily understood. The puppet-play appeals most
strongly to the people because to them it owes its
^rigin. Precisely for this reason, however, it is often
a clearer mirror of the thoughts and feelings of the
people than more finished poetry, and is in many
cases the vehicle of old traditions. As a confirmation
of this I need only cite the puppet-play of Dr. Faust.
It is not improbable that the puppet-play is in reality
everywhere the most ancient form of dramatic repre-
sentation. Without doubt this is the case in India.
And there, too, we must look for its home.

The words for * puppet ' in Sanskrit are putrika,
dithitrkd 7 , ' pitttali, puttalikd, all of which mean 'little
daughter,' and also pdflcdlikd, of which the meaning-
is doubtful. 8 Of these the words pnttall and puttalikd
have, as their form indicates, been adopted into
Sanskrit from the vernaculars in which they still
exist to the present day.-' In ancient India puppets
were made out of wool, 10 wood, buffalo-horn, and ivory,
and these playthings were quite as popular long ago
with the girls of that country as they are with our


girls at the present day. 11 A broken doll was then
the cause of as many tears as would be shed nowa-
days ; indeed, it was proverbially said of anyone
who had caused his own misfortune and then lamented
over it, that he was crying after breaking his own
doll. 12 In India even grown-up people enjoyed
playing with puppets. Vatsyayana, in his Treatise
on Love, advises not only boys but also young men
to join the girls and young women in their games
with puppets, as a means of gaining their affections. 1 '
In the Mahabharata Princess Uttara and her friends
entreat Arjuna (whose son Uttara shortly afterwards
married) to bring back with him from his campaign
against the Kurus fine, gaily-coloured, delicate, and
soft garments for their dolls. 14 Puppets might even
become dangerous rivals to deities. A legend runs 15
that ParvatI, wife of the god Siva, made herself such
a beautiful doll, that she thought it necessary to
conceal it from the eyes of her husband. She carried
it far away to the Malaya mountain, but visited it
every day, that she might adorn it. S'iva, rendered
suspicious by her long absence, stole after her, saw the
doll, fell in love with it, and gave it life. There is
also an early mention made of puppets worked by
machinery. We read in the Kathasaritsagara, the
great collection of tales by the Kashmiri Somadeva,
that Somaprabha, the daughter of the A sura Maya,
a celebrated mechanician, brought as a present to her
friend Princess Kalingasena a basket of mechanical
wooden puppets, constructed by her father. There
was a wooden peg in each of the puppets, and when


this was touched, one of them flew through the air,
fetched a wreath, and returned when ordered ; another,
when desired, brought water in the same way ; a third
danced, and a fourth carried on conversation. 16 This
delighted Kalingasena so much that she neglected
her meals in order to play with them. Somadeva
was not born until the eleventh century of our era, but
his work is only a Sanskrit adaptation of the oldest
collection of Indian fairy tales, the Brhatkatha of
Gunadhya. This work, which was written in PaisacI,
one of the most ancient Prakrit dialects, has
unfortunately not yet been discovered. Talking
dolls must not, however, be considered as a mere
invention of storytellers. Among the social amuse-
ments mentioned in the Treatise on Love 17 we find
a game called pdfUdldnuydnam^ or the * mimicry of
puppets,' which, according to the commentator, con-
sisted in the players mimicking the voices and actions
of puppets. Mithila, the capital of Videha in Eastern
India, is mentioned as the place where this amuse-
ment was most in vogue. 18 Talking puppets were
also introduced on the stage. In this case they were
not, as a rule, worked by internal mechanism, but
by means of a thread (sutra\ manipulated by the
puppet-player. This arrangement prevailed in ancient
Greece (where marionettes were called vevpoaTraara,
i.e. * things drawn by threads '), and, as a general
rule, in the Middle Ages and also in modern times. An
allusion to such puppets moved by threads (sutraprotd),
made of wood, is found as far back as the Mahabharata.
In this work men are compared to puppets, inasmuch


as they have no will of their own, but are subject to
the control of God, and receive in turn from Him joy
and sorrow, pleasure and pain. The actions of human
beings are controlled by a power external to them,
in the same way as are the movements of a properly
constructed wooden puppet (ddrumayt yosa}. This
idea is worked out at length in the Mahabharata,
where it is referred to as an old legend (itihasa
purdtana\ and thus still greater antiquity is claimed
for it. 19 In the fifth act of his Balaramayana 20
Rajasekhara, who flourished early in the tenth century,
introduces two jointed puppets constructed by the
mechanic Visarada, the best pupil of the Asura
Maya, of whom mention has already been made.
One of the puppets represented Slta, who was carried
off by the demon Ravana, the other her foster-sister
Sindurika. A starling that could speak Prakrit
fluently, 21 even in verse, was placed in the mouth of
the puppet representing Slta ; while the puppet-player,
who appeared as the demon, spoke in Sanskrit and
Prakrit 22 for the other puppet, which took the leading
part. Talking starlings are frequently mentioned in
Indian literature, and the teaching of parrots and
starlings to speak belonged to the sixty-four arts
necessary to the education of a girl in India. 23 In
Rajasekhara's drama the starling played his part
remarkably well. Indeed, the two puppets imitated
the originals so closely that Ravana took them for
living beings. It was only when he embraced Slta
that he found out his mistake, and exclaimed, " This
does not feel like a woman." However, he caused


the puppets to be brought to his palace for his
diversion. Absurd as this incident is, we must yet
be grateful to Rajasekhara for it. It is the only
passage in the whole of Indian literature where
puppets appear on the stage in a Sanskrit drama, and,
what is still more important, we learn from it the
name for puppet-player in the tenth century. He
is called sutradhdra, i.e. 4 threadholder ' (5, 5 ; 7, 77),
which corresponds to the epithet sntraprota, ' attached
to threads,' applied to puppets in the Mahabharata. 24
And sutradluir is still the name for a puppet-player in
India at the present day. Puppet-plays are mentioned
in ancient 25 and modern- 11 writings on India, and are
at the present time the only form of dramatic repre-
sentation known to the country people. 27 As was
generally the case in India in ancient time, so also
at the present day puppets are moved by threads. 28
In the drama, as we find it in its most artistically
developed form in Sanskrit and Prakrit, the stage-
manager comes forward at the beginning of the piece,
utters the blessing, and then introduces the prologue
on the stage. This stage-manager is called, as in the
puppet-play, sntradJiara, ' threadholder.' From this
fact, as early as 1879, a native scholar of European
education, Shankar Pandurang Pandit by name,
drew the reasonable conclusion that performances
by puppets and paper figures must have preceded
those by human beings. 29 Otherwise it is impossible
to conceive how the term sutradJidra, i.e. ' thread-
holder,' could be applied to a stage- manager, who
has nothing whatever to do with threads. Now we


learn from the Indian dramatists that in old days the
sutradhdra appeared and arranged a short introductory
piece, consisting either of dancing, songs, and instru-
mental music, or of songs and instrumental music
only, or simply one of these three. Originally this
introductory piece was of considerable length ; it was
gradually cut shorter and shorter, until it was finally
almost abolished. 30 At the close of this first piece the
sutradhara retired, and in old days he was followed
on the stage by another man, who resembled him
in manner and appearance, and who was dressed in
accordance with the subject of the play. He made
known the poet's name, and intimated the subject
of the piece, thus speaking the prologue as it was
understood in the ancient drama. Later on he was
completely abolished. He does not appear in any
of the pieces preserved to us, 31 for one sutradhdra
managed everything, as the writers on Rhetoric
expressly state. 32 This second manager was called
sthdpaka^ ' the setter up,' an expression which up to
this time has never been successfully explained. 33
Except in this case, the word is applied only to the
priest who had to set up the images of the gods,
when they were solemnly consecrated. On the stage
the sthdpaka was originally the setter up of the
puppets. 31

The art of the puppet-player was a two-sided one.
He was not only an exhibiting but also a constructive
artist ; i.e., he brought the puppets on the stage and
spoke for them, and also made and mended them
himself. As one man seldom understood both duties


equally well, it was a common arrangement for two
to enter into temporary or permanent partnership.
So in France, in 1717, Carolet was associated as
poet with Bertrand and his son-in-law and successor,
Bienfait, as puppet-players ; 35 in German)-, Reibehand,
by profession a tailor, from 1734 head of a theatrical
company, with Lorenz. 36 Of the famous puppet-
players Dreher and Schiitz, who in 1804 achieved
such striking success in Berlin with their performance
of " Faust," the former was rather the practical, the
latter the literary artist, who had himself tried his
hand at poetry. 37 When a man united in himself
both talents, he usually belonged to the working class.
For example, the above-mentioned puppet-player in
France, Bertrand, was originally a gilder. 38 Powell,
who in the beginning of the eighteenth century
temporarily ruled the London stage, was an ex-
tremely clever mechanician. 39 In the same way in
German)-, early in the nineteenth century, there was
the unequalled Geiselbrecht, who, as well as his
son-in-law, Tendler, was a wood-carver from Berchtes-
gaden,and is well known t> many people from Storm's
splendid novel "Pole Poppenspaler." Mechanics and
tailors were, by their training, particularly fitted for
one side of the puppet-player's art. Next to them
on the list of puppet -players and showmen we find
a profession represented which otherwise is not
usually a source of pleasure to mankind, that of
a dentist, or what was its primitive equivalent. In
the reign of Louis XIV, the famous French puppet-
player Jean Brioche (whose constant companion, the


monkey Fagotin, has become a typical and proverbial
term to denote French puppet-players), was a tooth-
drawer ; 4() while in Germany, about 1736, Johann
Ferdinand Beck, who called himself " Head of a high
princely privileged high-German Saxon company of
comedians to the Court of Waldeck," was previously
" Dentist and Jackpudding in vulgar farces." 41

It was probably much the same in India as in
Europe. I have already mentioned that Maya and
Visarada, the only two puppet-makers whose names
we know, are described as mechanicians. 42 We are
entitled to assume that in the puppet-show the sutra-
dhdra was the actor, who moved the puppets and
spoke for them ; the sthapaka the man whose duties
consisted, first and foremost, in making, mending,
and putting them on the stage. However that 'may
be, it is certain that two of the most important
members of the personnel of the oldest Indian stage
have, as their names show, been taken over from the
puppet-play. And this is not the only fact which
tends to prove that the Indian drama was developed
out of the puppet-play. Other facts point to the
same conclusion.

The art of dramatic expression in India dates from
very ancient times. Even the oldest monument of
Indian literature, the Rgveda, of which the earliest
parts date back to 3,000 years B.C., contains more
than a dozen hymns in the form of dialogue and
of partially dramatic construction. On solemn occa-
sions, such as that of the sacrifice of a horse, it was
the custom in Vedic times to recite old histories and


songs, and the performers, the priests of the Rgveda
and the Yajurveda, spoke turn about. 43 On the day
of a Mahavrata an Arya and a Siidra appeared, who
disputed about a skin ; 44 and at the ceremony of the
purchase of Soma a buyer and a seller were introduced,.
who held an animated conversation about the price.
The buyer makes his offer, the seller raises his price.
If the Soma-dealcr proved refractor}', the purchaser-
was bound to tear the Soma from him, and also to
take away the gold and the co\v which he had given
for the Soma. If the dealer resisted, the buyer had
to beat him with a leather strap or with billets
of wood. 1 '

These are, without doubt, characteristics which
remind us of popular performances. The great gram-
marian Pfrnini, who is usually supposed to have lived
in the fourth century B.C., mentions textbooks for
actors (mitasfrtni, 4, 3, no), and his commentator,.
Patanjali, who lived, as is generally believed, towards
the middle of the second century B.C., not only
frequently alludes to actors but also to jugglers
(sobJianikaJi). The latter brought the" story of the
god Krsna so vividly before men's eyes, that it
seemed as if Kamsa, the uncle and persecutor of
Krsna, were really and actually killed, and the demon
Bali really put in chains by the god Visnu. He
further mentions that the rhapsodists, when reciting
the story of Krsna, divided themselves into two
groups. The one belonged to Kamsa's party and
coloured their faces red, the other represented the
adherents of Krsna and coloured their faces black. 46


The Mahabharata mentions dramas only once, but
players frequently. 47 Unfortunately, of ancient dramas
none has come down to us. The Indian drama
presents itself to us at once in its most perfect shape
in the pieces of Kalidasa, who lived in the sixth
century after Christ. However, the dramas themselves
tell us by their form a part of their history.

The hymns in dialogue of the Rgveda and other
works also, as the Suparnadhyaya, are almost incom-
prehensible in the form in which they have come
down to us. The connection between the separate
verses is very loose, often quite impossible to discover.
To understand it we need a connecting text, which
in some cases is given in prose by the Brahmanas,
works explanatory of the Vedas. Later works, such
as the Mahabharata and the Puranas, sometimes

contain the entire narrative, but then often in a very
different form. On the ground of similar cases
in Irish literature, Windisch 48 first threw out the
suggestion that originally only the verses were un-
changeable, and that the reciters connected them by
means of prose narrations. This view is undoubtedly
correct. It is borne out by the name of the rhapsodist
grant/iika, i.e. joiner or connecter. 49 The prose narra-
tions were in general only rigidly fixed as regards
their contents ; their development in detail was left to
the judgment of the rhapsodist. Originally it was
precisely the same with the drama. The classical
drama of India has a peculiar construction, the prose
being continually interrupted by stanzas in various
metres. Such stanzas in pre-classical times formed


the 'fixed capital' of the player. As regards the
prose the greatest freedom was left to him. 50 This
is the case up to the present day in the popular
plays. Popular plays have never been written down
in India. The manager gives his actors a short
summary of the contents of the piece they are to
act, and leaves the development of it to their talent
for improvisation. 51 We have literary imitations of
popular plays in Bengal and Nepal, all of which
have the same characteristics. The verses are fixed :
only suggestions are given for the prose, and these in
the Nepali pieces are in the dialects of the country.

That the widest scope should be given to im-
provisation is not specifically Indian. The same was
the case with the Commedia dell' arte or Commedia
a soggetto, which appears in Italy from the middle
of the sixteenth century, and a great deal earlier
in Germany, in the carnival plays and improvised
pieces which flourished in the first half of the
fifteenth century, and of which we find traces
up to the second half of the eighteenth century.
In Germany it was notably Master Johannes
Velten of Halle 52 who with his troupe, " the famous
band," practised improvisation, later, however, cur-
tailing it. Improvisation prevailed even more in
puppet-plays than in popular dramas. Holtei, in his
" Vagabunden," makes the before-mentioned puppet-
player, Dreher, say that puppet-players are " an old
fraternity, a survival from the dark ages." He goes
on to say that of books they have none, no play
is written down. It is handed down from father to


son ; the one learns it by heart from the other, and
then carries the whole story about in his head. Each
one of them has to take an oath that he will never
write down a line of it, lest it should fall into alien
hands, that would rob them of their bread. 53 This
is for the main part correct. Acting without a book
of words is also very common to-day, especially in
the small puppet-theatres in the suburbs and villages, 54
and even now there is much improvisation. In earlier
times this was the rule, which explains the fact that no
puppet-play has been preserved to us from antiquity,
and that those, which later on were written down,
show so marked a variation in their text In the
classical dramas, on the other hand, the text was
of course quite fixed from the first. But in their
mixture of prose and verse they retain a clearly
recognizable trace of their origin from popular plays
with improvisation, and these popular plays must, in
the first instance, have been puppet-plays, of which
they, according to the judgment of eye-witnesses,
sometimes directly remind us. 55

Indian dramas often extend to a very considerable
length. Pieces of seven and ten acts are not uncommon ;
indeed, the Mahanataka has, in one recension,
as many as fourteen. We are able to ascertain the
exact length of one variety of the Indian drama,
the Samavakara, a spectacular play of the nature of
a pageant, such as even to-day is often performed at
great festivals in India. There were only three acts
in it ; but the first act lasted 9^ hours, the second 2\
(according to others 3-}-), the third i^ hours, the whole


piece therefore 13^- or 14^ hours, a time which ought
to have contented even the most enthusiastic play-
goer. As a rule the pieces were much shorter. But
the performance did not conclude with the play. It
was invariably followed in the popular playhouses
by a farce. As the performances do not begin till
after sunset, they last the whole night, and the farce
only begins at daybreak." 1 ' 1 This combination of drama
and low farce was at one time also customary in
Germany. In this way the above-mentioned "famous
band ' of Velten played in Hamburg in 1688 first
the Haupt- nnd Stoats- Action^ "Adam and Eve,"
and following it "Jackpudding in a Box " ; and also in
Hamburg in 1702, first the Haupt- Action, "Elijah's
Translation to Heaven, or the Stoning of Naboth,"
and following it the farce " The Schoolmaster
murdered by Jackpudding, or the Baffled Bacon-
thieves. " : ' 7 This has been called an instance of
degeneration on the part of the comedians. In
reality it is something very old, and a concession
made to the taste of the people of India as well as
of Europe. To this corresponded also the often very
indelicate contents of the farce, and above all the
figure of the buffoon, who in the above-mentioned
pieces by Velten is called u Pickelhering." Devrient
has insisted in his history of German dramatic art,
that the careful study of this comic character is of
great importance for understanding the progress of
the history of art, and that the fundamental type
of the buffoon is just as ancient as it is imperishable. 58

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