Teaching with Guignol: The "Gône de Lyon"

by Mary Lynn Redmond
Teaching with Guignol: The "Gône de Lyon"
Mary Lynn Redmond
The French Review
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Teaching with Guignol: The "GBne de Lyon"

by Jane T. Mitchell and Mary Lynn Redmond

THE IDEA FOR TEACHING WITH GUIGNOLCAME ABOUT as a result of the authors' quest for authentic children's literature in France during the summer of 1993. It was after observing several performances at different Th65tres de Guignol in Paris and in Lyon that many ideas for using Guignol in the classroom originated. Through research and practical experience, the ideas were developed for use on all levels from the ele- mentary grades to high school. This article will focus on the origin and history of Guignol, including the classic repertoire and its character types, and on suggested techniques for teaching with the authentic Guig- no1 in the French classroom.

History and origin

Most people think of marionettes or puppets as mere children's fare. Yet at their origin most puppet theaters were intended for adult audi- ences. The simple plots that dealt with everyday problems and the stock characters who exemplified human foibles appealed to all ages and all classes. Byrom quoted Francesco Picco as saying that "they were pre- sented to a much wider and more cultured public than would seem pos- sible for puppets to us today" (Byrom 32). The locales of the theaters, in the streets and at fairs, added to the popularity of the puppets and gave birth to the idea of the medium as popular culture. It was the Italian pup- peteer, Pietro Cotelli, who first introduced Pulchinella in France around 1640. Later, the Briocci brothers turned him into a real French character by renaming him Polichinelle. Polichinelle became well known through- out France and remained popular over the years. Even Laurent Mour- guet, the creator of Guignol, began his career in 1804 as a marionnettiste playing Polichinelle. However, this silkworker (canut) from Lyon must have sensed that his audiences needed or craved a character just like themselves with whom they could empathize. In 1809 he fashioned Guignol after himself, gave him a classic uniform "a la mode de l'apres Terreur," and filled his speech with colorful regionalisms spoken with a lilting Lyonnais accent.

The transition from Polichinelle to Guignol in France seems to have been gradual, although in Lyon and its environs le canut Guignol met with almost instant success, judging from what is known of Mourguet's different appearances in the cafes or bouchons of the area. But why would he not? He was one of their own. This distinctive feature of Guignol is what sets him apart from his compatriots in England and Italy, but he was first and foremost a true "g8ne de Lyon," filled with bon sens, bon- homie,wit, and humor. As Mourguet was reputed to have said: "il est un Lyonnais d'ici et pas un etranger d'ailleurs" (Jacquemin 12).

Still there is no denying that Mourguet owed much to Polichinelle and the commedia dell'arte. The stock characters, the droll humor, the pungent satire, even the repertoire, came from the Italian theater. Mourguet was known to be a master of improvisation just as the Italians before him had been. Indeed, part of the charm of the presentations was said to come from the fact that an event that happened in the morning would be men- tioned on the stage the same evening. Most of the marionnettistes were able to take a skeleton scenario and add their own embellishments or "jouer au canevas" as it came to be known. It was this original quality that helped create the immense popularity of the puppet shows. The improvising is also the reason that we cannot attribute any of the scripts to Mourguet with any certainty, although Le De'rne'nagernentis usually thought to be his.

Even the origin of the name "Guignol" is often thought to have come from a town irt Lombardy, Chignolo, or from an Italian silkworker in Lyon who hailed from the town. A magistrate from Lyon, Jean-Baptiste Onofrio, himself of Italian origin, was one of the first to become interested in Guignol's name. He proposed the Italian connection, basing it on the premise that custom would have named the artisan after "son pays d'ori- gine" (Leroudier 20). It is interesting to note, too, that in the civil records he bears an Italian middle name, Jean Siflavio Guignol. While our hero may have some Italian ancestry, there is no doubt that he is truly French, for he incarnates the enduring traits of his people across the ages.

Mourguet is sometimes called "le Moliere des marionnettes" (Lerou- dier ll), no doubt because he was such a keen observer and so adept at creating memorable types. After Guignol he created his drinking com- panion, Gnafron (from gnafie=cordonnier), and Madelon, Guignol's com- plaining wife. These are the three principal characters around whom Mourguet constructed his presentations. When the script called for oth- ers, he would draw from traditional popular characters, but most of them were not developed as fully as the trio from Lyon. There was Cadet, the young friend of Guignol and Gnafron; Canezou, the proprietor; le bailli, usually a pretentious judge; le gendarme; and other nobles and servants as needed.

One wonders just what kind of puppet Laurent Mourguet used as he began to perform with his own creations. Were they marionettes 2fils, i.e. manipulated from above with a string or were they a gaine, i.e. operated by the puppeteer's fingers from within? Here again the sources leave us to wonder and to hypothesize. Judging from the figures exhibited in the Musee International de la Marionnette at the HBtel Gadagne in Lyon, it is certain that he would not have been manipulating marionettes b tige or iz clavier,two types manipulated from below using wooden sticks such as exemplified by the puppets from Java, or 2tringle, the metal rod seen on the marionettes from LiPge (Le Musee International de la Marionnette de Lyon 8).

But what of the scenarios or scripts presented in the puppet theaters? Did Mourguet, a simple, out-of-work, silkworker create and write down his own scripts for himself and others to perform? According to Bensky, the written texts that have survived have only a skeleton of an idea since the art of the genre was in the improvisation (124). Each marionnettiste modified, embellished, and transformed constantly. Mourguet suppos- edly believed that none could match his genius in improvising or manip- ulating the puppets. Certainly, his performances were most appreciated at the time. For the first fifty years the scripts were transmitted orally. It was after that time that Onofrio started to collect the scripts for posterity. However, he softened some of the satire and vocabulary to make the sce- narios more palatable.

The classic repertory of the Guignol theater is composed of plays based on themes from folklore and on adaptations of popular plays of the day.' One of the most appreciated scenarios from the former is La Racine Mer- veilleuse (Darlot) which treats the theme of conjugal relationships-an ever recurring topic. The folklore element centers on the marvelous root that Guignol's former master brought back from Martinique because it was guaranteed to cure a shrewish wife. The wondrous "racine d'Ame- rique" is, of course, a good coup de biton to show the wife that "Rien ne va droit dans un menage quand ce n'est pas le maitre qui commande" (Darlot 12).

One of the best known of the adaptations is Le Pot de conjture depicting Guignol's excessive gourmandise. It is thought to take its inspiration from a play by Dorvigny, yet in its many improvisations on the Guignol stage, it becomes associated more often with the traditional Mourguet reper- toire. Guignol is asked to take some preserves to a friend's fiancee and by the time he gets there, it is all gone (Bensky 153). It is the ability to take a simple theme and give it so many different turns that so enhance the pop- ularity of the scenarios in Mourguet's time.

What is typical of all the Guignol plays is the simplicity of situation and of character. For example, the ever popular Le Dkme'nagernent is built upon a simple feud between Guignol and his landlord. It has the trio, Guignol, Gnafron, and Madelon, at their best and the usual capers of Guignol who overcomes the landlord and le bailli with histavelle or bliton. At the end of the piece the three of them go off to celebrate for Madelon will pay for a feast "Copieusement arros6 de vins de tous les crus" (Chanay 12). They exit singing which is customary in many of the scenarios.

Other plays often cited (Bensky 153; Leroudier 58) as favorites include Les FrPres Coq where a rich man returns and tests his two brothers. The poor Guignol takes his brother in and shares the little he has with him. The rich brother rewards him for his generosity, of course. Another often performed play, Le Marchand de picarlats (see Jacquemin 30-32), tells of a wood merchant who claims that the stick Guignol uses on his donkey is part of the bargain. Guignol then tricks the merchant barber into shaving both him and his donkey-sort of a 2 trornpeur, trornpeur et derni situation.

What is important in all the plays is that the spirit of Guignol remains constant throughout the many improvisations performed by various mar- ionnettistes. Certainly the universality of the themes contributed to their success and their longevity as did the regional characters who filled the Guignol theater.

Teaching with Guignol

Guignol and his world offer a culturally authentic subject that embod- ies a wide range of possibilities for language development in the French class. There are also many topics related to Guignol that can be linked to other content areas through the coordination of the French teacher and the teachers of those disciplines. For example, students can explore the origin and development of the silk industry in Lyon and the influence of this commerce on the growth of Lyon and the environs. In language arts classes, students can research the oral tradition of literature and how events of the time period in which Mourguet lived are depicted in his scenarios. In the French classroom (K-12)the scripts can be adapted (improvised?) for the appropriate level.

The scenario used in the discussion that follows, Le FantSrne, (Cestac and Ciccolini 33), is an example of a script that has been written for chil- dren and is one that is appropriate to use at various levels of the curricu- l~m.~

This script demonstrates some of the pedagogical benefits of the Guignol theater and how teaching techniques can be incorporated in the French classroom.

The story, Le FantSrne, is appealing to students of many ages. The plot is uncomplicated and the amusing antics of the characters take place in six brief scenes. Le FantSrneportrays Guignol as M. Mirliton's valet. When asked to carry out the domestic chores for which he is responsible, Guig- no1 assures his employer that he will work, but in Mirliton's absence he continually slips into his lazy habit of napping. While Guignol is avoid- ing his work, a ghost appears and warns him that he will be severely pun- ished if he does not obey M. Mirliton. This frightens Guignol but when he is alone again, he resorts to sleeping rather than working. The ghost reappears and tells Guignol again that he will suffer serious conse- quences if he does not complete his tasks. Guignol assures the ghost once more that he will work, but instead, tricks the spirit by hitting him over the head with his batan the next time he appears. To his surprise Guignol discovers the ghost is his boss, M. Mirliton. Guignol flees to avoid Mir- liton's anger and as Mirliton awakens from his state of unconsciousness, Marguerite arrives with the socks she has carefully laundered for her employer. He expresses to Marguerite his anger with Guignol and de- cides to trick Guignol by disguising himself as Le pere La Chaussette. When Guignol returns, Le pere La Chaussette frightens the lazy Guignol and punches him. The trickery comes back to M. Mirliton though, at the conclusion of the play. When Marguerite returns, she expresses her dis- satisfaction at the state of the socks she had left for him by using several "grands coups de claques." In the end, Guignol is happy to discover that his vengeance for Mirliton has worked, and as always, is in his favor.

Audience participation and creative drama

Le Fantame offers a variety of possible teaching activities that can be used with the beginning, intermediate, and advanced French student. The repetition of onomatopoeia throughout the story, e.g. Guignol's sleep- ing sound, "Ron!Ron!," the "Hou! Hou!" of the fantame, and the constant "Boum!Boum!" of the tavelle (batan) provide an opportunity for begin- ning students to participate by listening and making these sound effects at the appropriate times. Other possible creative drama activities include having students take roles and perform the actions of the characters as the teacher reads the play or even perform the play themselves. Older students can write their own Guignol scenarios and adapt the plots to create contemporary situations. Students of all levels will enjoy incorpo- rating some of the dialogue that Guignol uses to interact with the audi- ence before the play begins. For example, the conversation that is part of the opening of Le Sac d main illustrates a frequently found discussion with the young children in the audience (Neichthauser 2):

-Bonjour mes petits amis et mes petites amies, Ca va, ce matin? Oui, Ah! ben chouette, j'en suis bien content pour vous .. . mais c'est bien vrai que Ca va bien? bon, bon, alors? Vous avez bien mange votre cafe au lait ce matin? . . . hein? Qu'est-ce que vous me dites, vous avez mange votre cafe avec du beurre? . ..avec du vrai beurre. Eh! ben vous etes rien gour- mands, et vous @tes pas bave sur le menton? . . .

Also frequently found in the opening remarks to the audience is an introduction of the play such as: "On va commencer par le commence- ment. Ne faites pas de bruit. Chut! Chut!" At the conclusion of a scene or of the entire presentation, there are often rhymes that signal the end, for example in L'HtritiPre du Manoir, "La piPce est finie / I1 faut applaudir / Assemblee choisie / Pour notre plaisir" (Darlot 9) and in La S~ur h papa (Chanay 1):"n ...i...ni.. .clest fini."

Iigsaw Reading: high school

At the secondary level, the Guignol scenario lends itself nicely to an activity called Jigsaw Reading. This is a small group activity that requires students to examine a reading passage that has been taken apart in meaningful seg- ments and to restore the narrative to its original form. The communicative task of working with a whole message that has been segmented calls upon the simultaneous psycholinguistic functions of top-down (the whole) and bottom-up (the parts) processing (Edelsky 38, Goodman 19, Horiba 230, Weaver 230). For the reader, the use of these strategies concurrently, as opposed to independently, is much more effective for comprehension of the text. That is, reading in the first or second language requires the use of all skills interdependently, and, therefore, the teacher should involve the stu- dents in tasks that deal with whole meaning rather than uncontextualized language. As students work together to determine the proper sequence of the scrambled phrases in a Jigsaw Reading, they areemploying several thinking strategies while they are constructing meaning: experience and knowledge of discourse, agreements of gender and number, tense, punctu- ation, etc. (de Berkeley-Wykes 365).

The following is a sample Jigsaw Reading taken from Le FantBme (Cestac and Ciccoli 35): "Mais il m'knerve, / ce fantame. / J'ai envie / de dormir, moi!/ Alors, vous savez /ce que je vais faire? / Eh bien, / je prends / un biiton comme qa, / je le cache sous moi / pour dormir, / et dPs qu'il approche: / boum! / Je l'assomme. / D'accord? / Surtout, ne dites rien."

Language Experience Approach: elementary and middle grades

Another very effective L2 activity that is based upon construction of meaning is the Language Experience Approach (LEA). Although the tech- niques used may be more often associated with the elementary grades, the ideas can be easily adapted to all levels of instruction. Language experience activities support the Whole Language Approach because they provide opportunities for the learner to create meaning in response to communication needs. The activities are based on existing knowledge and experience and require the integration of all skills-listening, speaking, reading, and writing (Chow et al. 70, Edelsky et al. 55, Newman 5, Weaver 24 ). A language experience may include a trip, an event, or a story in which the students have participated followed by an oral description that the teacher records on a chart/overhead. This class story is the language of the students-their own words used to convey a mes- sage. The dictated story can then be used as a reading (the whole) through which the learner can develop an understanding of the linguistic system (the parts), e.g. conventions of grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. as the teacher guides students to edit their story (Freeman and Free- man 19, K. Goodman 51, Raines and Canady 20). The cognitive functions involved in constructing meaning are the same as those involved in com- pleting a Jigsaw Reading; the reader employs both top-down and bot- tom-up processing knowledge to interpret meaning from jumbled pieces of the text.

Le Fantbme is an excellent authentic text for planning language experi- ence activities. In addition to the cultural aspects and simplicity of the marionnette scenario, the vocabulary is at an appropriate level for the beginning French student at the middle or high school level as well as the emergent reader in the upper elementary grades.

In order to do a language experience successfully and to maximize stu- dents' use of language, it is important to plan preparatory lessons that incorporate the vocabulary they will be using in the language experience. These lessons should be carefully planned to lead up to the experience and to allow students to focus on communicative language. The lan- guage experience itself should provide students with the opportunity to express ideas in their own words built on the activities of the preceding lessons. In the discussion below, the language experience will be a class story based on the presentation of the scenario.

The following vocabulary has been selected to use in the preparatory lessons for the presentation of Le Fantbme. Depending on the level of instruction, the lessons preceding the play might include historical infor- mation surrounding the Guignol theater, a discussion of the most promi- nent characters, literary elements associated with the play, and uses of the vocabulary in a variety of contexts:

Guignolfait le mtnage. M. Mirliton porte (la ckaussette).
un roupillon. se cache.
un somme.  

Le fantbme dit ("Hou!Hou!") Le fantbme arrive. Marguerite est fdckte. Guignol ne travaille pas.

After the presentation and discussion of Le Fantbme, an effective way to lead students to the language experience of writing a class story is to pre- pare guiding questions that incorporate the vocabulary. Pictures of the scenes in the play can be shown as these questions are asked to provide communicative language usage:

  1. Qu'est-ce que Guignol fait toujours quand il est seul? I1 fait un petit roupillon (un somme).


  2. Qu'est-ce que M. Mirliton demande & Guignol de faire? I1 demande & Guignol de faire le menage (travailler).


  3. Qui arrive ensuite? 
    Le fantame arrive. 


  4. Qu'est-ce que le fantame dit a Guignol quand il voit Guignol? I1 dit "Hou!Hou!"


  5. Qu'est-ce que Guignol fait apres? Est-ce qu'il travaille? Non, il ne travaille pas. (I1 assomme le fantame avec le bston.)


    1. Qui se cache sous le fantame?


    2. M. Mirliton se cache.
    1. Qui porte la chaussette et punit Guignol quand Guignol ne tra- vaille pas?


    2. M. Mirliton porte la chaussette.
  6. A la fin de l'histoire, qui est fsche quand elle voit les chaussettes? Marguerite est fschee.


The guiding questions can then be used for the LEA. The teacher writes the students' dictated thoughts on chart/overhead as they respond to the questions (see story below). This becomes a class reading that can be used for many other reading and writing experiences, for example, class and individual big books, whole group and independent reading, origi- nal stories based on the structure of the LEA story, etc.

It will likely be necessary to edit for correctness as the answers are given, i.e., ask students to clarify answers for agreement, word order, etc. The teacher may have to provide partial answers at times to assist stu- dents. This process will reinforce vocabulary, help students organize thoughts, and will expose students to meaning they may need to com- municate but that may not have been previously introduced to them. A class story such as the following may be created:

Class Story: Le Fantame Guignol fait un petit roupillon. M. Mirliton demande a Guignol de faire le menage. Le fantame arrive. I1 dit "Hou! Hou!" Guignol ne travaille pas. M. Mirliton se cache sous le fantame. M. Mirliton porte la chaus- sette. Marguerite est fschee.

An important component of the class story is the comprehension of what has been dictated to the teacher. Questions and activities should be di- rected specifically at comprehension, for example: "Montrez-moi le mot (roupillon) et encerclez-le. Quel mot est un synonyme pour (travailler)? Qui se cache sous la chaussette? Soulignez ce mot."

The class story can also be used as a variation on a cloze passage for an independent comprehension check:

Le FantBme

Remplissez les tirets avec les mots sur la liste au-dessous.

Guignol fait un petit . M. Mirliton demande a

de faire le menage. fantame arrive. I1 dit

. Guignol ne travaille pas. se cache sous

la .M. Mirliton porte la chaussette. 
est f6ch6e. 
Le Marguerite M. Mirliton roupillon 

Guignol Hou!Hou! chaussette

What, then, does Guignol contribute to the French classroom? Why are all puppet theaters in France called "thestre de Guignol?" The answer to both of these questions lies in the fact that he embodies the characteristics of a nation. By history and tradition he is argumentative, fair-minded, witty, and loyal. At the same time, he makes mistakes, exercises poor judgment, and is often lazy. He is human, after all, and easily gives in to human excesses and shortcomings. American students find Guignol ap- pealing for the same reasons that French young people do. He is an intriguing actor full of trickery whose antics delight and capture the imagination of young and old alike.

Guignol can be used effectively in the classroom because the French teacher-marionnettiste has only to improvise the scenarios according to the needs of the class. In this way, Guignol would be performed just as he was originally intended to be with current "tranches de vie." What better way to teach the French language than through the medium of the popular French "g6ne de Lyon"!


'Many of the "Mon Guignol Lyonnais" scenarios referred to in this article were adapted/ arranged by Albert Chanay and Joseph Darlot and edited by Max Orgeret. Some of the scripts are still available from Max Orgeret, Editeur, 24, rue Palais-Grillet, Lyon, France.

2Even though Le FantBme is not in the classic repertoire it maintains its flavor by its theme and by the character types.

Works Cited

Bensky, Roger-Daniel. Structures textuelles de la marionnette de languefran~aise. Paris: Editions A.-G. Nizet, 1969. Berkeley-Wykes, Jonathan de. "Jigsaw Reading."Methods that Work. Second Edition. Ed.

John W. Oller, Jr. Boston: Heinle and Heinle Publishers, 1993.363-67. Byrom, Michael. Punch in the Italian Puppet Theatre. London: Centaur Press, 1983. Cestac, Florence, and Bernard Ciccolini. Bonjour les enfants, c'est Guignol! Paris: Editions

Nathan, 1992. Chanay, Albert. Le Dimtnagernent. (Mon Guignol Lyonnais). Ed. Max Orgeret. Lyon: Max Orgeret, n.d. Chow, Mayling, Lee Dobson, Marietta Hurst, and Joy Nucich. Whole Language: Practical Ideas. Markham, Ontario: Pippin Publ., 1991. Darlot, Joseph. LrHiriti?re du Manoir. (Mon Guignol Lyonnais). Ed. Max Orgeret. Lyon: Max Orgeret, n.d.

Edelsky, Carole, Bess Altwerger, and Barbara Flores. Whole Language-What's the D~fference? Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational Books, 1991. Freeman, Yvonne S., and David E. Freeman. Whole Language for Second Language Learners. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational Books, 1992. Goodman, Kenneth. What's Whole in Whole Language? Portsmouth, NH: Heinemam Educational Books, 1986.

Horiba, Yukie. "Narrative Comprehension Processes: A Study of Native and Non-Native Readers of Japanese." Methods That Work. Second Edition. Ed. John W. Oller, Jr. Boston: Heinle and Heinle, 1993. 230-46.

Jacquemin, Louis. A la rencontre de Guignol. Bourg-en-Bresse: Editions de la Taillanderie, 1992.

Leroudier, Henri. Guignol de Lyon. 3rd ed. Lyon: Editions S.M.E., 1984.

"Le Musee International de la Mariomette de Lyon (France)." Documentation on the history of the Musee International de la Marionnette de Lyon. HBtel Gadagne, Lyon, France, n.d. Neichthauser, Ernest. Le Sac li main (Mon Guignol Lyomais). Ed. Max Orgeret. Lyon: Max Orgeret, n.d. Newman, Judith, Ed. Whole Language Theory in Use. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educa- tional Books, 1985. Raines, Shirley C., and Robert J. Canady. The Whole Language Kindergarten. New York: Teachers College P, 1990. Weaver, Constance. Understanding Whole Language. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educa- tional Books, 1990.

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