Death, the Devil and the Wife: Danse Macabre Motifs in Nineteenth-Century Puppetry, from Punch to Kasperl


  • Jean Boutan Université Paul Valéry - Montpellier 3



In the wake of Romanticism, during the first half of the nineteenth century, the late medieval motif of the danse macabre was rediscovered in the knockabout scenes between comic figures of hand-puppet theatre and personifications of Death and Evil. The Punch and Judy shows in England, Carl Reinhardt’s Kasperltheater in Germany, as well as the first printed Jan Klaassen plays in the Netherland, show how puppet repertoire drew on the grotesques of the danse macabre to refashion Hans Holbein’s representation of an individual, everyday life struggle with death. The adaptation of the motif to the domestic context of the petty bourgeoisie leads to the addition in puppet theatre of a third character, more terrible than Death and the Devil, namely the hero’s wife. 

Keywords: hand-puppetry; Romanticism; satire; hybrid genres; England; Germany; the Netherlands