Guignol is a hand puppet created around 1808 by Laurent Mourguet, a silk worker. A colorful character with a loose tongue, he uses the Lyonnais language and earthy expressions to denounce social injustice by taking the side of ordinary people. Accompanied by Gnafron, a cheerful Beaujolais drinker cobbler, and his wife, Madelon, Guignol lives adventures presented in a small theater. The decorations of the castelet are typical places of the city of Lyon such as the café du Soleil on the place de la Trinité in the Saint Georges district. From its birth, this show intended for adults was a great success, Guignol became the emblem of the city of Lyon and the people of Lyon. This success will never be denied. Even today, he holds a privileged place in the hearts of the Lyonnais.
The first puppets of Guignol’s father were born on the markets!.
Laurent Mourguet was the son of a canut at a time when the silk industry was losing its appeal (with the Revolution, orders dropped and the sector went into crisis).
To make a living in a different way, Laurent and his father went to fairs and markets. It was to attract customers that Laurent first had the idea of using puppets from the Italian commedia dell’arte, whose most famous characters are Harlequin and Polichinelle. This was the beginning of his love affair with puppets…
Guignol has no official date of birth: 1808 is the commonly accepted year, but historians prefer to say “around 1810”.
When he was born, Guignol was not there to make people laugh! He even had a very serious look. His little smile only appeared in the 20th century…
In fact, the first Guignol shows were dedicated to adults and were organized in vogues in Lyon and the surrounding area.
At that time, Guignol was a way for the public to keep abreast of current events while having fun: when Lyon was marked by the revolt of the canuts (in 1831 and 1834), Guignol became a protest figure!
The laughter is provoked by situational comedy: funny scenes and misunderstandings follow one another to amuse the spectator. But if these caricatured heroes seduce the crowds, it is also because of the political significance of their words.
The theatre of Guignol is on the side of the little people. Far from the learned tirades of the classical plays, his heroes speak popular, working-class and provincial language. The buffoonish situations inspired by current events are opportunities to denounce social injustice: it is often at the expense of the bourgeoisie or the authorities that we laugh heartily.
Since 1965, the Théâtre la Maison de Guignol has been inviting young and old to discover the adventures of Guignol and his friend Gnafron on stage. The Petit Musée de Guignol has also been set up to explore the history of the famous puppet and to learn many unusual facts about the character. In Paris, the Guignol Theatre in the Parc des Buttes Chaumont is also still in operation and delights young spectators.