The name Kasper probably comes from the ancient Persian meaning
"keeper of the treasure." Tradition holds, one of the three Magi who
visited the Christ Child was named Casper. This character also
existed in the "mystery plays" of the medieval Church.
The puppet Kasper has his origins in Italy's Commedia Dell'Arte. This
form of street performance started in Naples. Plays were generally
bawdy affairs. Performances could be veiled forms of political protest.
Pulcinella (the traditional clown-like character with white clothing, a
long white hat, and a black mask) is the precursor to Germany's
Kasper, France's Guignol, and Britain's Punch.
The puppet character actually named Kasper first appeared in Munich
in 1858 in a marionette play (The Enchanted Lily) by Graf Pocci. Like
his cousin Punch, the early Kasper used a slapstick to beat the Devil,
Witch, and Crocodile.
In 1920, Max Jacob introduced the form of Kasper Theater recognized
today. Kasper became a positive hero, eventually stopped using the
slapstick (except in Bavaria and Austria), and took on a more child-like
quality. This form is called the Hohensteiner style (after Hohenstein
Castle in Saxony where Max Jacob and his troupe lived and Kasper
performances were held).
Modern Kasper plays involve Kasper helping his friends (Grandma,
Seppel, the Princess, etc.) with various problems. For example, the
Witch turns Seppel into a chicken or someone steals Grandma's cake.
The structure of Kasper theater is also used to retell Grimm Fairy Tales
such as Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood. In Southern
Germany and Austria, Kasper is known as Kasperle or Kasperl (the
diminutive form of Kasper).