Petrushka (Russian: Петру́шка, IPA: [pʲɪtˈruʂkə] (
)) is a stock character of Russian folk puppetry (rayok) attested to since the 17th century. Petrushkas are traditionally marionettes, as well as hand puppets. The character is a kind of a jester distinguished by his red dress, a red kolpak, and often a long nose.
Although the Russian word "petrushka" has a homonym meaning "parsley," in this context the word is actually a hypocoristic (diminutive) for "Pyotr" (Пётр), which is Peter in Russian. Despite this, the character has little or nothing in common with the Commedia del l'Arte stock characters of Petruccio or Pierrot, but is instead a Russian version of Punch or Pulcinella.
Pietro-Mira Pedrillo of Italy, the court jester of the Empress Anna Ioannovna, allegedly served as a prototype for Petrushka.
Like Punch, Petrushka’s voice was created with the help of a special whistle, and the dialogue was based on a momentary change of the pishchik and the “live” voice of other characters. There were a number of basic plots: the medical treatment of Petrushka, his learning of soldier’s service, the scene with his bride, and the buying of a horse and testing it.
Initially, Petrushka was characteristic of typical slapstick comedy, targeting an adult audience. As puppet theatre gradually became a predominantly children's entertainment, Petrushka became less vulgar and aggressive. In the Soviet Union, Petrushka appeared widely in agitprop theater, defending poor peasants and attacking kulaks.