Karagöz and Hacivat Shadow Theatre – A Turkish Storytelling Tradition

We were in Canakkale in the north west of Turkey recently doing shows for school children, and at one of the schools we happened across a performance by some Turkish shadow puppeteers – known in Turkey as Karagöz.

Karagöz is part of a rich Turkish strorytelling tradition, which before the advent of radio and television was one of the most popular forms of entertainment and survives today in a toned down version for kids. The two main characters are Karagöz and Hacivat. Karagoz is a peasant, reperesentative of the people, who normally wins the day with his boorish wit, outsmarting his more urbane sidekick Hacivat. Karagöz can be lewd, deceitful and even violent whilst Hacivat, by contrast, is an educated gentlemen, more refined in his manner, who resolutely tries to instil a sense of decorum into the proceedings. Hacivat attempts to temper the extravagances of Karagöz and his get rich quick schemes, all of which result in failure.

The story goes that Karagöz and Hacivat were actual people. They were construction workers on a mosque in Bursa sometime in the mid-1300s and were reknowned for their clowning and tomfoolery. Their practical jokes and wisecracking banter distracted the other workers, slowing down the construction. Angered by the slow progress of the mosque the ruler at the time ordered their execution. They were so sorely missed that they were immortalized as the shadow puppets that entertained the Ottoman Empire for centuries.

Other characters in these plays include the drunkard Tuzsuz Deli Bekir, the long-necked Uzun Efe, the opium addict Kanbur Tiryaki, an eccentric dwarf, Altı Kariş Beberuhi , the half-wit Denyo, the spendthrift Civan, and Bloody Nigâr, a rather flirtatious woman.

There are about thirty plays that are accepted as the classical Karagöz repertoire, and later more plays were added, but the structure remains the same. The play has four parts:

The introduction, or mukaddime, during which Hacivat sings, recites a prayer, and indicates that he is looking for his friend Karagöz, whom he beckons to the scene with a speech that always ends “Yar bana bir eğlence” (‘Oh, for some amusement’). Karagöz enters from the opposite side of the stage. Then follows a dialogue between the two main protagonists, Karagoz and Hacivat (muhavere).Then head long into the main body of the story (fasıl) followed by the conclusion (bitiş). The conclusion always involves a short argument between Karagöz and Hacivat, with Hacivat finally yelling that Karagöz has ruined everything and Karagöz replies with, ‘May my transgressions be forgiven.’

A classic tale of the bawdier variety is ‘Bloody Nigar’. Nigar you’ll remember is a rather flirtatious woman as well as being somewhat quarrelsome. The story starts with Çelebi, a rich educated man, fleecing the ladies Salkim İnci and Bloody Nigar of a large part of their wealth, and then disappearing. One day, they meet him on the street and deceive him into returning to their house where they subsequently beat him, strip him of his clothes and throw him onto the street naked.

Karagöz hearing of Çelebi’s plight tries to retrieve the clothes but he too receives the same treatment at the hands of Salkim İnci and Bloody Nigar, ending up naked and on the street. Along comes Hacivat who, being the gentleman that he is, tries to charm the ladies into returning the clothes of both men but he too suffers the same fate.

Finally, the hard man, Tuzsuz Deli Bekir (above), arrives at the house and because the ladies are frightened of him they return the clothes. The ‘happy’ ending is celebrated by Güllü, a dancing girl, who arrives on stage and starts dancing.

Needless to say, The Henry Brothers are big fans of Karagöz and long may the tradition continue. Despite this being the digital age, there is still a place for this time honoured form of stortytelling. If you’d like to see the much reputed Karagöz puppeteer Cengiz Özek in action, click on the link below and enjoy the short clip which sums up the essence of Karagöz.


And just as a footnote – for some great ideas on using shadow puppets in the classroom read ‘Transparency in Education’, a great post at adaptivelearnin.wordpress.com


About The Henry Brothers

We are English teachers involved in ELT publishing in Turkey, and also touring the country giving workshops and presentations to English teachers, mainly on the use of poetry, storytelling and other lively activities in the classroom. We can be contacted by e-mail to canmoorcroft@gmail.com or paul.zarraga@gmail.com
This entry was posted in Storytelling Traditions, The Henry Brothers and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Karagöz and Hacivat Shadow Theatre – A Turkish Storytelling Tradition

  1. Pingback: Transparency in Education « adaptivelearnin

  2. Pingback: Transparency in Education - adaptivelearnin

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