I've written in the past about Mr. Punch, the puppet descendant of the commedia dell'arte character Punchinello. He first showed up in England in the 17th century, and a plaque outside of St. Paul's Church in Covent Garden marks the spot of the first recorded performance of a Punch puppet play, which was mentioned by Samuel Pepys in his diary in 1662.
At first, Punch appears to have been a marionette, but later versions tend to be hand puppets. We have records of puppet shows featuring Punch and his wife Judy throughout the eighteenth century. Colley Cibber's daughter, Charlotte Charke, was given a license in 1738 to run a puppet theatre at St. James's that was known as Punch's Theatre. Unfortunately, no scripts for Punch and Judy plays exist from this period.
That changed in 1827, when John Payne Collier published a script entitled The Tragical Comedy, or Comical Tragedy, of Punch and Judy. The dialogue was allegedly related to Collier by the puppeteer Giovanni Piccini, but given that Collier was later outed as a forger of documents relating to William Shakespeare, everything he claimed has to be taken with a heavy portion of salt. He secured the noted artist George Cruikshank to illustrate the book, though, so the script at least has the advantage of being beautiful.
Collier's script begins with Punch getting into a fight with his neighbor, Scaramouch, another figure from the commedia tradition. Scaramouch's dog Toby bites Punch's nose, and after a fight between the two neighbors, Punch knocks Scaramouch's head clean off his shoulders. Judy then makes her first appearance, handing the couple's child over to Punch. After failing to appease the crying baby with a lullaby, Punch beats his child, then throws the baby out the "window" of the puppet stage's proscenium and into the audience.
As you might imagine, Judy is unimpressed. She beats Punch with a stick, but then he snatches the stick from her and beats her in turn. After at first appearing like he will relent, Punch beats Judy to death and knocks her body off the side of the stage, claiming, "To lose a wife is to get a fortune." He soon finds another woman, though: Pretty Polly. She's actually a character borrowed from John Gay's play The Beggar's Opera, and in Collier's script Punch sings an air from that play: "When the heart of a man is oppress'd with cares."
The second act opens with a special puppet with an extendable neck. Alluding to hanging, Punch tells him, "You may get it stretched for you, one of these days, by somebody else." The comment foreshadows an event later in the play, when after killing a doctor and a servant and beating a poor blind man, Punch is at last arrested for multiple murders. The hangman Jack Ketch tries to execute him, but Punch tricks Ketch into putting his own head in the noose, and Punch hangs him. Punch's final challenge comes when the devil himself comes for him, but Punch succeeds in even beating the devil.
A later Punch and Judy script appeared in Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor in 1851. The script Mayhew recorded also includes a clown named Joey (after Joseph Grimaldi) and a character named Jim Crow (who originated in minstrel shows). Another innovation in the script is bringing Judy back from the grave as a ghost. After being terrified by the ghost, Punch keels over, and a doctor comes on and asks Punch if he's dead. Punch responds that, yes, he is dead, and becomes quite upset when the doctor doesn't believe him.