Puppetry has had a long history worldwide, but seems to have resonated here in the Czech Republic, a detail that’s hard to miss as one passes numerous shops in the streets of Prague.
In the late part of the 17th Century theater groups from Italy, Holland, and Britain began traveling through the “Lands of the Bohemian Crown” (at that point part of the Austrian Monarchy) performing biblical plays or popular tragedies with a combination of actors and puppets. It was not until the second half of the 18th century though that Czech puppeteers began to appear wandering the countrysides putting on their own traveling shows. Puppetry families grew; passing down knowledge, skills, and marionettes from generation to generation.
In the second part of the 19th century marionette theaters began to pop up all around Prague, providing a source of healthy entertainment for children and adults alike. This rise in popularity brought forth the Golden Era of Czech puppetry with the establishment of the Czech Republic in the first half of the 20th Century.
Always hand carved, Czech rod marionettes are more complex than the traditional Sicilian one. The puppets have a central rod, but also strings for the arms and legs. Occasionally marionettes which require more skilled manipulation can be seen with a movable mouth or ears, also controlled by string. Another kind of Czech marionette (one of the most difficult to control) has no central rod, but strings that are attached to the head, shoulders and back.
While puppetry may not be the country’s main focus for arts and entertainment in current times, the shops and theaters throughout Prague stand as a reminder of this not so distant part of it’s history.