Traditional Theatre


This is a shadow play based on the movements of representations of people, animals or objects called “tasvir” made of water buffalo or camel skin with the help of sticks against a curtain with s strong source of light behind it. The play takes name from its main character, Karagöz.

Southeast Asia is considered to be the origin of shadow theatre. There are different opinions as to its existence in Turkey. According to one view, the “kor kolcak” and “ cadir” games of Central Asia were in fact examples of shadow theatre and came to Anatolia by means of migration. Another opinion holds that Sultan Yavuz Selim brought shadow theatre artists to Turkey when he captured Egypt in 1517.

Karagöz, which took its final shape in the 18th century, was always one of the most popular forms of entertainment. Karagöz shows are performed by one single artists. Movements of the models on the curtain, their voices, different accents and mimicry are all carried out by a single person.

The subject matter in Karagöz is dealt with in an amusing way. The main comic elements are double meanings, overstatements, word games and mimicry.
1. The initial section, in which Hacivat comes onto the curtain with singing and calls for Karagöz, is called “mukaddime.” In this section, the poem that is read out by Hacivat emphasizes that the play aims to teach people and has an element of Islamic mysticism.

2. In the “muhavere” section, there is a discussion between the main protagonists, Karagöz and Hacivat, apart from the main subject matter and based on words, not action. “Muhavere” may also be composed by using repartee. In this section, there is an emphasis on the differences between the characteristics of Karagöz and Hacivat. The “muhavere” may or may not be related to the play itself. There are also some other types of muhavere, such as muhavere with double Karagöz, transient muhavere or interval muhavere.

3. The section in which story is told and the other characters come onto the curtain is called the “fasil.” The play takes its name from the topic that is set out in this part. Some characters leave the play in this section, although Karagöz and Hacivat stay on the curtain.

4. In the final part, Karagöz and Hacivat announce that the play is about to end, apologize for their mistakes and announce the following play.
Karagöz also contains a considerable element of satire and lampooning, which refer to the state authorities in a comic style.

The main characters in the play are Karagöz and Hacivat. Karagöz represents the morals and common sense of the nation. Hacivat has had a good education and lives in harmony with the prevailing system of corruption. The other characters in the play are Tuzsuz Celebi, Matiz, Beberuhi, Arnavut, Yahudi, Cerkez, Kürt and Laz,

Karagöz attracted the interest of and was supported by the palace. In the ceremonies and circumcision rituals organized by the palace, Karagöz plays were a major attraction.

Karagöz became an integral part of the Istanbul-based Ottoman culture. We can observe elements of daily life of Istanbul in these plays. Agalik (generosity), Büyük Evlenme (Marrying Old), Kayik (boat) and Tahmis are some examples of this. The other well known Karagöz plays are Ferhat and Sirin, Balikci (fisherman), Cazular, Kanli Nigar (Bloody Nigar), Layla and Mecnun, Ters Evlenme (Converse Marriage), Tahir and Zühre, Yalova Sefasi (The Pleasure of Yalova), Karagöz’ün Yaziciligi (Karagöz as a Writer), Karagöz’ün Asikligi (Karagöz in Love), Karagöz’ün Hekimligi (Karagöz the Doctor).

Karagöz Techniques

The curtain on which Karagöz plays are performed is called the “ayna” (mirror). Curtains used to be 2 x 2.5 m at first, but were then decreased to 110 x 80 cm. Inside, there is a “pes tahtasi” placed under the curtain. Added to this there are a bell, tambourine, bamboo, nareke (pipe) and candles or an electric bulb to illuminate the curtain. The models used in the play are 32-40 cm long and generally made of camel or water buffalo skin. The leather is made transparent by the use of a special method in which it is processed with sharp knife called a “nevregan.” The individual parts of the puppets are tied to each other with cords known as ‘kalkut’ or ‘kiris.’ After this process, the puppets are colored with Indian ink or natural paints.
Karagöz, which was an important source of entertainment in the Ottoman period, used to be perfprmed during Ramadan, religious ceremonies, at circumcision ceremonies and in coffee houses or gardens. It commented on the social events of the period in a satirical style, and as we know, it was generally performed in Istanbul. It spread to other parts of Anatolia as artists began to go on tour.

Today, Karagöz is generally performed in tourist hotels and restaurants. It also reaches a wider audience by means of television.

Work on Karagöz, which is trying to survive under difficult conditions, is co-ordinated with the Ministry of Culture and the Turkish National Center of the International Union of Puppet and Shadow Theatre (UNIMA).

Traditional Turkish Shadow Puppet Play Karagoz Hacivat