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Types of Marionette Hand Controls

Updated April 17, 2017

The marionette is a puppet controlled from above by a hidden puppeteer manipulating strings. Marionettes have delighted audiences for centuries. Although they have improved over this time period, the types of controls are much the same today as they were when first introduced. Makers of marionettes rely on two methods to manipulate the puppet: Either with a rod or with string (or thread).

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Archeologists have found marionette-type dolls with both rods and strings in Greek and Roman children's tombs. For some of these dolls, the puppeteer (also called the manipulator) moved the limbs by pulling strings. However, historians consider Italy the real birthplace of the marionette where manipulators performed plays to entertain illiterate citizens. These early marionettes used a rod versus strings to manipulate the puppet. In the mid-19th century, Thomas Holden perfected the string marionette and with his beautiful craftsmanship, popularised this form of puppetry. (see Reference 2)

Rod Marionettes

Some rod marionettes use a combination of both the rod and string. For the rod method, a main iron rod is attached to the head of the puppet, another rod connects to one arm, and a string might control the other arm. All three controls are attached to the manipulator's hand-held bar. The legs, with no strings or rods attached, hang free, and the puppeteer 'walks" the marionette by moving the main rod. Rod marionettes are the easiest to control.

String Marionettes

Without the rod for stability, string marionettes are the most difficult to manipulate. The string method usually requires at least nine strings or threads: one attached to each of the puppet's legs, hands, shoulders, ears, and the base of the spine. By adding more strings, perhaps to the mouth, eye, and chin, the manipulator creates a more life-like puppet that can mimic most human movements.

The Perch

The main part of the control that the manipulator holds is called the perch. This can be either horizontal, where the perch is parallel to the floor, or vertical, where the perch is perpendicular to the floor. Which type to use is mainly a matter of the puppeteer's preference. However, the horizontal perch is considered better for four-footed animal marionettes.


Different countries have their own form of marionettes. The rod marionette is popular in Sicily. Marionettes in Antwerp, Belgium, only have rods attached to the head and to one arm. In India, a string is connected to the puppet's head, looped over the puppeteer's hand, and then connected to the marionette's waist. The European marionette evolved into the most advanced and intricate puppet with it's multiple strings allowing the manipulator to perform very precise movements.

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About the Author

A writer for over 25 years, Linda Covella boasts a background in art, computers, business and restaurant reviewing. She holds degrees in art, mechanical drafting, manufacturing management and a Certificate for Professional Technical Writing. She has a Bachelor of Science from San Jose State University.

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