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Updated on August 14, 2009

A puppet is an inanimate figure, moved by human agency, usually in the form of a human being or an animal, used in some form of theatrical show.

A puppet can be made of cloth, wood, papier-mache, plastic, or some other material. It is used in professional dramatic performances or as a children's toy. Unlike a doll, a puppet performs before an audience.

The operator, or puppeteer, controls its gestures either by strings or rods that are attached to the puppet's limbs or by his hand, which he conceals inside the puppet's costume.

There are many kinds of puppets throughout the world, just as there are different types of puppet shows. Puppets range in size from the very small ringer puppet, attached to the back of the hand with the puppeteer's ringers inserted into the legs, to the very large figures used in street processions. The principal types of puppets are hand, or glove, puppets; string puppets, or marionettes; rod puppets; and shadow puppets.

Types of Puppets

Hand Puppets. A hand puppet is the simplest type to construct. It has a solid head, often made of papier-mache, and an empty garment for a body. The hand of the puppeteer fits inside the garment like a glove. The forefinger controls the movements of the puppet's head. Its arms are moved by the puppeteer's thumb and second finger, which are inserted into the sleeves of the garment. Hand puppets have a very direct assortment of gestures and are the easiest to manipulate. The hand puppeteer works behind a drape topped by a playboard just higher than his head, maneuvering his puppets in view of the audience while he himself is concealed below.

String Puppets. Marionettes, or string puppets, are elaborate in construction. They are full-length figures with rounded and jointed limbs. A simple string puppet is controlled by strings, which are attached at one end to the marionette and at the other end to a controller. Strings to the shoulders support the puppet's weight, and strings to each hand and knee control the movements of the limbs. Two strings control the turning of the puppet's head, and one at the back enables it to bow. Marionettes designed to perform elaborate gestures or trick steps may have as many as 30 strings. In operating a marionette the puppeteer is usually concealed from the audience by a curtain. He manipulates a controller from which the puppet is suspended, causing it to move.

Rod Puppets. A rod puppet is a rounded figure controlled by a supporting rod running through the torso and fastened to its head and by other rods fastened to its arms. n Europe the best-known rod puppets are in the eastern countries. However, the European rod puppets are descended from those used in Javanese religious dramas, for which the fanciful movements of these figures are especially well suited. Rod puppets are operated from below.

Shadow Puppets. The shadow puppet is a flat figure with jointed limbs. It is supported by a central rod and manipulated by other, more slender rods attached to its arms. A shadow puppet is placed between a strong light and a partially transparent screen so that only its silhouette, or its colored shadow, is seen by the audience. This type of puppet is very popular in China, Indonesia, and India, where it probably originated. From the Far East, shadow puppets spread to Turkey and Greece and were later imported into western Europe.

Puppet Manipulation

There are many different forms and methods of manipulation: marionettes are full-length figures moved from above by strings (or rather threads in most cases) and sometimes by wires or rods.

Glove or hand puppets are hollow bodies, usually of cloth, into which the performer inserts his hand while his fingers and thumb manipulate the usually wooden head and hands.

Rod puppets are similarly operated from below, but are larger in size and are manipulated by rods to the head and hands. A combination of these are hand and rod puppets in which the hand of the performer manipulates the head while the hands of the puppet are moved by rods.

Shadow puppets are flat figures held between a light and translucent screen.

There are many other less familiar types: jigging puppets are worked by a horizontal string or rod and are given a dancing motion by taughtening and slackening the string, or vibrating the board upon which they rest; living marionettes are marionette like bodies attached to the actual head of the performer, with either legs or arms manipulated by short horizontal rods from behind; 'held' puppets (there is no general accepted term for this type) are figures carried about by one or more operators, like the characters in the Japanese Bunraku theatre which are manipulated by sometimes as many as three operators in view of the audience, or the characters in 'black theatre' in which the operators are rendered invisible to the audience by their black costumes and special lighting.

There is an increasing tendency for the watertight barriers of puppet types to be broken down by contemporary puppeteers. Puppets of different types will often appear together in the same show, and the range of this art form extends to the type of figure used by exponents of ventriloquism, to the giant figures used for street processions, and also to actors wearing masks.

Puppetry as an Educational Tool

Another field in which puppets have been developed with great success has been in education, where the quality of performance is not the prime issue but rather the creative value for the child in making a figure of his own. Puppets have been found to be of great value as a form of therapy for socially challenged children and as a means of expression for the shy or withdrawn child.


  • Merit Students Encyclopedia, Volume 15, P.F. Collier Inc, 1979. Page 391.
  • New Age Encyclopaedia, Seventh Edition edited by D. A. Girling, Bay Books, 1983. Volume 24, Page 4.
  • The New International Illustrated Encyclopaedia, Volume 5, 1954. Page 291.


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      Anna 3 years ago

      OK, I have just started putintg together a new fun educational play room for my four kids which will also double as our home-school room. I have planned for one of the four corners to be a dramatic play area with a puppet theatre, but wasn't sure how to accomplish this yet. WOW! This would be perfectly fantastic!

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      mishel 6 years ago

      Puppets are exhausting these days and is really a bad news for puppeteers.Such circumstances you have made a wonderful effort to once again give life to this art form.This is one of the oldest art form and we should take care of our traditions.

    • darkside profile image

      Glen 6 years ago from Australia

      I love them. And my collection is growing!

    • Sinea Pies profile image

      Sinea Pies 6 years ago from Northeastern United States

      Puppets are an excellent teaching tool. Great info.

    • profile image

      Kirsten 7 years ago

      Thanks! you helped me heaps, all the other sites were to tipical. I used this on my "puppets" project

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      John Edwards 8 years ago

      Where can I buy me an Obama Puppet? Everyone else in the Democratic Party seem to have there's; where's mine?

    • Dame Scribe profile image

      Dame Scribe 8 years ago from Canada

      My parents bought me a puppet from Mexico. Absolutely love it and is 16 yrs old now. :) great info.

    • BetsyIckes profile image

      BetsyIckes 8 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Cool hub! I've always loved puppets!