Friday, September 20, 2013

The Changing Face Of Punchinella (history & song lyrics)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a two part series on "Punchinello"/"Punchinella". This post provides information about the development of the character who became "Punchinella"/"Punchinello". Particular attention is given "Punchinella"/"Punchinella" as a clown or jester character, that character's physical appearance and how he was portrayed.

This post also features song excerpts that aren't children's singing games which mention Punchinello. Two YouTube examples of these songs are also provided in this post.

Click for Part II of this series.

Part II of this series focuses on the development of children's singing game "Punchinella"/"Punchinello". Special emphasis is given to versions pf this singing game from the United States.

Note: Because pancocojams focuses on music, dance, and customs from African Americans & other Black people throughout the world, let me be very clear that by no means am I stating that "Punchinella"/"Punchinello" games originated with Black people. However, that singing game has been and still is played by Black people-in the United States, in Jamaica, and presumably elsewhere. For that reason, and because I find this subject interesting, I'm including it in this blog.

The content of this post is presented for historical, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

"Pulcinella, Italian pronunciation: [pultʃiˈnɛlla]; often called Punch or Punchinello in English, Polichinelle in French, is a classical character that originated in the commedia dell'arte of the 17th century and became a stock character in Neapolitan puppetry.

His name, from Italian pulcino ('chick'), refers to his distinguishing feature: a long beaklike nose. According to another version, Pulcinella derived from the name of Puccio d'Aniello, a peasant of Acerra, who was portrayed in a famous picture attributed to Annibale Carracci, and indeed characterized by a long nose...

Always dressed in white with a black mask (hence conciliating the opposites of life and death), he stands out thanks to his peculiar voice, whose sharp and vibrant qualities produced with a tool called a swazzle contribute to the intense tempo of the show. Pulcinella often carries around macaroni and a wooden spoon. According to Pierre-Louis Duchartre, his traditional temperament is to be mean, vicious, and crafty and his main mode of defense is to pretend to be too stupid to know what's going on...

Many regional variants of Pulcinella were developed as the character diffused across Europe. In Germany, Pulcinella came to be known as Kasper. In the Netherlands he is known as Jan Klaassen. In Denmark he is Mester Jakel. Russian composer Igor Stravinsky composed two different ballets entitled Pulcinella and Petrushka, inspired by him. In Romania, he is Vasilache; in Hungary he is Vitéz László, and in France Polichinelle, while in the United Kingdom he inspired the character of Mister Punch of Punch and Judy."...

" "Punchinello" is one of those intriguing and enigmatic figures in folklore that wander all over through several cultures and periods. He absolutely orginated in Italy, where he traditionally appeared in a baggy white suit with a black half mask with a nose resembling a bird beak. He is a short clownish figure often having a large pot belly or paunch".

"Punch and Judy is a traditional, popular puppet show featuring Mr. Punch and his wife, Judy. The performance consists of a sequence of short scenes, each depicting an interaction between two characters, most typically the violent Punch and one other character...

The Punch and Judy show has roots in the 16th-century Italian commedia dell'arte. The figure of Punch derives from the Neapolitan stock character of Pulcinella, which was anglicized to Punchinello. He is a manifestation of the Lord of Misrule and Trickster figures of deep-rooted mythologies. Punch's wife was originally called "Joan."

The figure who later became Mr. Punch made his first recorded appearance in England on 9 May 1662, which is traditionally reckoned as Punch's UK birthday.[1] The diarist Samuel Pepys observed a marionette show featuring an early version of the Punch character in Covent Garden in London. It was performed by an Italian puppet showman, Pietro Gimonde, a.k.a. "Signor Bologna." Pepys described the event in his diary as "an Italian puppet play, that is within the rails there, which is very pretty."

In the British Punch and Judy show, Punch wears a brightly coloured jester's motley and sugarloaf hat with a tassel. He is a hunchback whose hooked nose almost meets his curved, jutting chin. He carries a stick (called a slapstick) as large as himself, which he freely uses upon most of the other characters in the show. He speaks in a distinctive squawking voice, produced by a contrivance known as a swazzle or swatchel which the professor holds in his mouth, transmitting his gleeful cackle".

These examples are given in chronological order with an excerpt of the oldest song posted first.

The complete lyrics for each of these songs can be found at
Hat tip to MMario, Amos, and Jim Dixon for posting lyrics & information about those songs.

Notice that in each of these songs the name of the character is "Punchinello" and not "Punchinella". Also, notice that in each of these songs, the character is a clown.

...Even though you're only make believing
Laugh, Clown, laugh!
Even though something inside is grieving
Laugh, Clown, laugh!
Don't let your heart grow too mellow
Just be a real Punchinello, fellow...

Fred Waring's Pennsylvanians (vocal: Ted Waring) - 1928
Ted Lewis & His Band (vocal: Ted Lewis) - 1928"

Words and music by Chet Forrest and Bob Wright (1939)
Featured in the Tony Martin/Rita Hayworth film "Music In My Heart" (1940)
As sung by Monte Rey.

...Oh, Punchinello,
Don't be a downhearted fellow.
Oh, Punchinello,
Though your heart is breaking in two,
Smile through those teardrops.
Maybe someday she will listen,
And kiss you,
And whisper,
"I miss you; I need you; I do."
Funny fellow,
Your funny old dream may come true."...
" gives the following soundtrack information for No Other Love (1940):

Music and Lyrics by Bob Wright and Chet Forrest
Sung a cappella by George Humbert
Performed by Tony Martin and The Brian Sisters (uncredited)
Reprised Tony Martin, Edith Fellows and danced by Rita Hayworth (uncredited)"

Example #3: HEY, PUNCHINELLO (1954)
with Jerry Lewis
in the movie "Three Ring Circus"

"There's a famous man who's the idol of every clown
He started the profession and his tricks he handed down
So everyone who has a yen to be a happy man
Calls on Punchinello to help him if he can...

The clown in the circus will get a special pride
When people laugh the kind of laugh that warms them up inside
Punchinello, hey Punchinello
Oh the face of every clown's a work of art
Punchinello molto bello
You ring a bell a bell a bell a bell a bell a bell a bell a bell a bell a bell a bell a bell here in my heart
Hey, Punchinello"...

Example #1:Looping the Loop - Poor Punchinello - Die Todesschleife (D1928)

peter hackenbusch, Uploaded on Nov 4, 2010

Some scenes from "Looping the loop", a German Silent from 1928 with great actor Werner Krauss, directed by Artur Robison, theme song (Lyrics by Lewis & Young, Music by Lew Pollack) sung by Tenor Frederick Vettel.

Example #2: Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis - Hey Punchinello

DeanMartinForever, Uploaded on Jun 28, 2007

from "3 Ring Circus" 1954

A big change in the face of Punchinello/Punchinella is the fact that few children playing the singing games of that name asssociate "Punchinello"/"Punchinella" with a clown. Click to read about & find some examples of Punchinello/Punchinella singing games.

Thanks to all those who composed and performed these songs. Thanks also to those who are quoted in this post and thanks to the publishers of these YouTube examples.

Thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. Interesting! Particularly since my source isn't listed :). I learned it as a Girl Scout Brownie in the mid-1970s; it's listed in my "orange book" handbook, copyright late 60's (I think). In the mid-1980s I lived in Pittsburgh and was a "junior leader"... and taught it to my troop of GSBrownies. It's a popular game for 6-9 year olds.

    1. Thanks for your comment. kimbol!

      I remember singing a "Punchinella" rhyme during my childhood in Atlantic City, New Jersey in the mid 1950s. The words that I remember suggest that it was sung while playing a one person in the middle circle game. Here are those words;
      What can you do, punchinella, punchinella
      What can you do punchinella in the shoe.

      We can do it too punchella punchinella
      [same pattern as above]

      Who do you choose punchinella punchinella
      [same pattern as above]
      If I recall correctly, the person in the middle closed her or his eyes. pointed while turning around the center. At the end of the song, the person who sh or he was pointing to was "It" and the game began again from the beginning.

      This is the way I recall my children-who grew up in Pittsburgh, Pa. in the 1970s and the 1980s playing it-although they may also have said "punchinella in the zoo. I also recall some children saying "Punchinella 42".

      I'm curious which way did you learn this singing game and which way it was featured in your "orange handbook".

      And, btw, it's good to hear from a felllow Pittsburgher, even though you moved away from that city :o)

      Kimbol, this is th sis t
      e i. eeeem

  2. Proper citation time! :) _Brownie Girl Scout Handbook_, 1963, p 144
    v1: Here's Punchinello, Punchinello, funny fellow / Here's Punchinello, Punchinello, funny you! ("Punchinello" stands silent in the center of the ring while everyone else sings.) v.2 What can you do, Punchinello, funny fellow? / What can you do, Punchinello funny you? (P moves self in some silly way.) v.3 We can do it too, Punchinello, funny fellow / We can do it too, Punchinello, funny you! (Everyone including P does same move.) v.4 Whom do you choose, Punchinello, funny fellow / Whom do you choose, Punchinello funny YOU! (P spins like you describe)

    The handbook doesn't mention how they decided to include it... Girl Scouts use all SORTS of oral tradition for their songs & games. I moved every few years growing up, learning new songs & teaching new-to-them songs wherever I ended up. But this really is my fave for early elementary -- they'll play FOREVER! (in 6-9 year-old time :D)
    (waves hi! from Austin TX... missing real fall & real leaves & real cold right about now -!)

    1. Thanks, kimbol! I think that "Punchinello funny fellow/funny you" probably is the earliest form of that rhyme or at least it's much older than "Punchinella in the shoe" and Punchinella 42".

      It's also interesting that the gender changed from male (Punchinello) to female (Punchinella), for some reason or another.

      (waves hi back from not too cold yet Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where the leaves are changing colors and falling to the ground. I wish we wouldn't have to deal with the ice and snow, but I know that is coming in a few months if not sooner.)

  3. I grew up in Pittsburgh as well in the 70's. We used to sing it as follows:

    "What can you do Punchinella, Punchinella? What can you do Punchinella in the shoe?

    We can do it too Punchinella, Punchinella. We can do it too Punchinella in the shoe.

    Choose your partner Punchinella, Punchinella. Choose your partner Punchinella in the shoe."

    1. Hello, Ms. Boop.

      Thanks for sharing your remembrances of "Punchinella" along with demographics.

      Was "Punchinella" played as a circle game with one person in the middle? And was the new Punchinella chosen at random (by the person in the middle closing her or his eyes and turning around pointing until the end of that song) or was the new middle person purposely chosen?

      Also, would you please share the age range of children who played this game and whether this game was independently played (meaning children deciding to play on their own). Also, was "Punchinella" mostly or always a girl game?

      Btw, I'm also from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (since 1969) :o)