A few days ago, on a visit to Harvard House, my eldest son and I each made a Jack-a-Lent finger puppet.
I had never heard of them before. Finger puppets, yes. But a Jack-a-Lent?
Apparently these figurines, made of scraps of twigs and fabric, are mentioned in a number of Shakespeare’s plays.
Mistress Page : You little Jack-a-Lent, you have been true to us.
Falstaff : See now how wit may be made a Jack-a-Lent, when ’tis upon ill employment!
The Merry Wives of Windsor
I was able to find out more about them whilst a Harvard House, thanks to a very friendly and informative guide. He told us that these little figures were made during Lent, which begins in February. In Shakespeare’s day, and perhaps still now, Lent wasn’t a very popular time.
Shrove Tuesday was enjoyed though. It was a day of celebration. Apprentices were given the day off. People enjoyed food and drink and played games. It was one last day of fun before fasting and abstinening during Lent.
People would make the Jack-a-Lent figures at this time as they were a representation of all they hated about abstinening. They would throw stones at it, venting their frustration.
On Easter Sunday, at the end of Lent, these figures were burned in celebration!
When doing a little research, I found that they are also called Jack ‘o’ Lent, which made me think of the American Hallowe’en Jack o Lanterns…