The Ottoman Shadow Theatre “Hacivat Karagöz”
The performance, the shadow player and his characters
The stage and scenery required for the shadow theatre consisted of a wooden frame construction. The player hidden behind it acted – invisible to the audience – with the shadow theatre figures in front of a stage window, which was covered with a light transparent fabric.
Behind the canvas illuminated by candles or lamps the figures moved as coloured shadows. Since the individual parts of the dolls, such as the limbs, were connected by strings at the joints, but also at the head and waist, the figures were able to perform abruptly comical movements and funny contortions. The puppeteer controlled them with the help of sticks to which they were attached. With great dexterity he conducted up to three figures and imitated the different voices.
The shadow theatre was by no means a superficial amusement, but a profound comedy with sometimes satirical and farcical traits. One of the two main actors was Karagöz (Black Eye), an uneducated farmer often portrayed as a gypsy. Despite his laziness and coarseness, his funny cunning and cheekiness made him a sympathetic joker and the audience’s darling. He was the identification figure of the people par excellence.
The plot of shadow theatre
Each shadow play consisted of the following parts: Foreword, dialogue or main action and closing remarks. The performance began with the preface, in which Hacivat recited a song and a poem. With these he taught the audience about the vanity of the world and the transience of human life, which would be just as void and apparent as the illusion theatre itself. Praises of God and blessings for the Sultan and the audience followed, as well as the reference to the legendary founder of the theatre, Sheikh Kuşteri. Hacivat’s preface ended with the desire for a cultivated interlocutor, whereupon Karagöz appeared, who immediately provoked a brawl.
The comedy of the game resulted from the ambiguous puns and the misunderstandings.
between the actors. Because Hacivat expressed himself in a distinguished and chosen manner, his language being interspersed with incomprehensible foreign words, Karagöz cultivated a crude, crude jargon. Thus the two constantly clashed and the disputes regularly ended in brawls. The satirical game, however, did not only want to entertain, but also to criticize the existing circumstances, to denounce social and political grievances, e.g. buying a bride, serving at the front or lending money. Karagöz represented the small man of the people who was dissatisfied with his circumstances.
In the concluding remarks, the antipodes met again. Karagöz spoke the closing formula in which he apologized for his scurrilousness and verbal missteps. At the same time he threatened his neighbour with another beating, and the audience was already looking forward to a continuation of the game.