Guignol is the main character in a French puppet show which has come to bear his name.
Although often thought of as children’s entertainment, Guignol’s sharp wit and linguistic verve have always been appreciated by adults as well, as shown by the motto of a prominent Lyon troupe: “Guignol amuses children… and witty adults”.
Laurent Mourguet, his creator, was born into a family of modest silk weavers on March 3rd 1769, the same day as Napoleon Bonaparte. The certificate of his marriage to Jeanne Esterle in 1788 shows he was unable to read. When hard times fell on the silk trade during the French Revolution, he became a peddler, and in 1797 added to his line the practice of dentistry, which in those days was simply the pulling of teeth. The service was free; the money was made from the medicines sold afterward to ease the pain. To attract patients, he started setting up a puppet show in front of his dentist’s chair.
His first shows featured Polichinelle, a character borrowed from the Italian commedia dell’arte who in England would become Punch. By 1804 the success was such that he gave up dentistry altogether and became a professional puppeteer, creating his own scenarios drawing on the concerns of his working class audience and improvising references to the news of the day. He developed characters closer to the daily lives of his Lyon audience, first Gnafron, a cobbler much attached to the bottle, and in 1808 Guignol. Other characters, including Guignol’s wife Madelon and the gendarme Flagéolet soon followed, but these are never much more than foils for the two heroes.
Although nominally a silkweaver like much of his original audience, Guignol’s profession changes, as does his marital status; he can be in turn valet, peddler, carpenter, shoemaker, or unemployed; at times he is Madelon’s husband, at times her smitten suitor, according to requirements of the scenario. What remain constant are his poverty, but more importantly his good humor and his sense of justice. The use in french of "guignol" as an insult meaning buffoon is a curious malapropism, as Guignol is clever, courageous and generous; his inevitable victory is always the triumph of good over evil.
16 of Mourguet’s children and grandchildren continued his tradition, and many of the companies performing today can trace their heritage back to him. According to the era, the region, or the performers, Guignol's original caustic satire has often been watered down to simple children's fare, and has even been used to parody grand opera, but his original spirit still survives in his hometown of Lyons, where both traditional and original contemporary performances are an integral part of local culture. In addition to his social satire, Guignol has become an important protector of the local dialect, the parler lyonnais.
guignol in Bosnian: Ginjola
guignol in German: Guignol
guignol in Spanish: Marioneta#El_gui.C3.B1ol
guignol in French: Guignol
guignol in Croatian: Ginjola
guignol in Portuguese: Guinhol
guignol in Russian: Гиньоль