Punch in the Churchyard by Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz). Wood engraving, 3 1/8 x 4 1/4 inches (7.9 x 10.9 cm). — Part Ten, Chapter 16, The Old Curiosity Shop. Date of original serial publication: 11 July 1840. Master Humphrey's Clock, no. 14, 177. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Passage Illustrated: The Tawdry Punch-and-Judy Men

The old man and the child quitted the gravel path, and strayed among the tombs; for there the ground was soft, and easy to their tired feet. As they passed behind the church, they heard voices near at hand, and presently came on those who had spoken.

They were two men who were seated in easy attitudes upon the grass, and so busily engaged as to be at first unconscious of intruders. It was not difficult to divine that they were of a class of itinerant showmen—exhibitors of the freaks of Punch — for, perched cross-legged upon a tombstone behind them, was a figure of that hero himself, his nose and chin as hooked and his face as beaming as usual. Perhaps his imperturbable character was never more strikingly developed, for he preserved his usual equable smile notwithstanding that his body was dangling in a most uncomfortable position, all loose and limp and shapeless, while his long peaked cap, unequally balanced against his exceedingly slight legs, threatened every instant to bring him toppling down. lay for the present nearly at his feet-might feel at last that he was clear of London.

In part scattered upon the ground at the feet of the two men, and in part jumbled together in a long flat box, were the other persons of the Drama. The hero’s wife and one child, the hobby-horse, the doctor, the foreign gentleman who not being familiar with the language is unable in the representation to express his ideas otherwise than by the utterance of the word "Shallabalah" three distinct times, the radical neighbour who will by no means admit that a tin bell is an organ, the executioner, and the devil, were all here. Their owners had evidently come to that spot to make some needful repairs in the stage arrangements, for one of them was engaged in binding together a small gallows with thread, while the other was intent upon fixing a new black wig, with the aid of a small hammer and some tacks, upon the head of the radical neighbour, who had been beaten bald. [Chapter XVI, 160-62]


Phiz depicts these itinerant performers without romance or flattery; rather, he renders them as moderately grotesque or outlandish. He depicts them as somewhat tawdry, in line with Dickens's revealing them as cynical about their trade, which does not even possess the pretence of offering a moral or edifying experience (as opposed to Mrs. Jarley's higher calling as an exhibitor of "educational" waxworks). They know that they are providers of trivial entertainment for the masses, and nothing more. However, Phiz provides an interesting embedded commentary above the disreputable image of Codlin: "Sacred" with wings is emblazoned on the grave-marker, as if the idea of Punch-and-Judy is blessed, even though the "Professors" shown here are but down-at-heel representatives of a great theatrical tradition.

Dickens does not use the traditional term for the puppeteers, “Professors,” but accurately describes their kit. Such shows, appealing not just to children, have their roots in the commedia dell’arte plays of sixteenth century Naples, especially those that included the beloved and irascible rascal, Pulcinella. Itinerant professors such as Codlin and Short have entertained English-speaking audiences at least since the 1662, when Samuel Pepys attended and subsequently recorded in his famous Diary a performance in London by Italian puppeteer Pietro Gimonde, whose stage-name was "Signor Bologna." in London. Pepys recorded the date of that show as May 9, 1662, so that it has come by tradition to be known in the United Kingdom as “Mr. Punch’s birthday.”

Relevant illustrations from later editions (1872-1910)

Left: Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s study of the Punch Professors without Nell and her grandfather in the frame: Codlin and Short (1867). Right: Charles Green's less whimsical Household Edition illustration focuses on the casual nature of the puppeteers in Nelly, kneeling down beside the box, was soon busily engaged in her task (1876).

Dickens provides a cue to his illustrator about Punch's pointing to an epitaph on a nearby grave, but he does not specify the precise wording, and so leaves the choice of embedded text to the illustrator: "Punch, it may be remarked, seemed to be pointing with the tip of his cap to a most flourishing epitaph, and to be chuckling over it with all his heart." Thus, Phiz in his original serial illustration Punch in the Churchyard had the opportunity to act as collaborator and co-presenter by supplying the missing biblical passage that has so tickled Mr. Punch's fancy: "SAGARS" looks to be a corruption of an epitaph commonly used in the seventeenth century "All flesh is grass" ("Isaiah," 40: 6) which is the text upon which Dickens had elaborated at the opening of the chapter with his descriptions of the clergyman's horse and donkey nearby. Although Phiz has surmounted the inscription with a pair of wings, as if suggesting the soul's ascent on angelic pinions, he has left the decoding of the inscription to the reader. To unify the composition, Phiz has Punch's gaze directed to Grandfather Trent's face just beyond the headstone, as if implying a connection between the coded epitaph, the grave, and the fate of the elderly traveller. Significantly, in his version of this scene, Household Edition illustrator Charles Green has moved past the moment that Phiz illustrated. His travellers are already seated, Nell is engaged in sewing repairs to the puppet's costume, and Punch is no longer perched on a headstone. Moreover, Green has not attempted to embed any text at all; even though he has included a dozen stone markers, not one bears even the trace of an inscription or artistic elaboration. The effect, therefore, is to draw the reader's eye towards the four seated figures, and away from the stage-set.

In terms of visual continuity, Phiz in the graveyard scene offers a contrast to the natural beauty of the previous illustration, A Rest by the Way. In place of the tranquil vista and park-like setting dominated by the noble oak, Phiz has placed the tawdry figures of the Punch-and-Judy entertainers, whose patron deity, Punch, hovers above them on an enormous tombstone. The picture thus becomes both an exposé of the entertainment industry and a meditation on the inevitability of death.

Above: Worth's more prosaic Household Edition illustration establishes the ill-kempt natures of Codlin and Short in v (1872).

Left: Clayton J. Clarke's amusing caricatures of the Punch-and-Judy performers in the Player's Cigarette card series: Codlin (Card No. 25) and Short (Card No. 25), both dating from 1910. Right: Harry Furniss's realisation of the same scene in the Charles Dickens Library edition, Codlin and Short in the Churchyard< (1910).

Relevant Illustrations from the 1861 and 1888 editions by Darley

Related Resources Including Other Illustrated Editions

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

Bibliography: The Old Curiosity Shop (1841-1924)

Dickens, Charles. The Old Curiosity Shop in Master Humphrey's Clock. Illustrated by Phiz, George Cattermole, Samuel Williams, and Daniel Maclise. 3 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1840.

_____. The Old Curiosity Shop. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 viols. London: Educational Book, 1910. V.

_____. The Old Curiosity Shop. Illustrated by Charles Green. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1876. XII.

Hall, Stephanie. "Punch & Judy in America: Lecture and Oral History with Mark Walker." Library of Congress. 5 November 2019. Web. 2 June 2020.

_______. "Puppets: A Story of Magical Actors." Folklife Today, March 16, 2018. Web. 2 June 2020.

Hammerton, J. A. "XIII. The Old Curiosity Shop." The Dickens Picture-Book. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. London: Educational Book, 1910. 170-211.

Mayhew, Henry. "Punch's Showmen" and "Our Street Folk. 1. Street Exhibitions, Punch."  London Labour and the London Poor, Volume III. Griffen, Bohn, and Co., 1861 (volume III was part of the original 1851 set). [Available from Hathi Trust. See page 61 of the digital version for a discussion and script of Punch and Judy street puppetry.]

_____. The Old Curiosity Shop. Illustrated by Thomas Worth. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1872. VI.

Created 10 May 2020

Last modified 12 November 2020