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Folk Plays - Spectacle Plays - Shows


Karagöz is a shadow play whose true form is the moving of beings named as designs made from skin of a camel or cow with sticks on a white curtain by reflecting light behind them. The play takes its name from its main character “Karagöz”.

The source of shadow plays is accepted as southeastern Asian countries. There are different views about it coming to Turkey. One of the views is that the plays such as “ember armlet” and “dream tent” known in Middle East are shadow plays and they’ve been brought to Anatolia during migrations. Other view is that the shadow play has come into Turkey after Yavuz Sultan Selim, who had conquered Egypt in 1517, had brought the shadow play artists to Turkey.

Karagöz had become one of the most enjoyed entertainment methods of public, which mainly focused on public types beginning from the 18th century. Karagöz is played depending on the talent of an artist. Moving the design on curtain, voicing them, dialects or imitations are all made by the artist.

The subjects of Karagöz plays are funny elements. Double meanings, exaggerations, verbal plays, imitating accents are the main elements of the comedy.

1. The beginning section in which Hacivat comes to the curtain singing semai and Karagöz’s calling him after saying a lyric poem and in which Karagöz and hacivat quarrel is called “Mukaddime”. In this section, the play’s philosophical and Islamic mysticism and showing the realities are underlined by the lyric poem Hacivat said.

2. In the “muhavere” section, there’s a one-to-one conversation apart from the series of events based only on word of Karagöz and Hacivat. Muhavere may be in rigmarole. In this section the personal characteristics and opposite natures of Karagöz and Hacivat are underlined. Muhaveres may both be related or not be related to the play. Besides there are Muhavere with double Karagözs inconstant muhavere or middle muhavere types.

3. The section where the story is mainly expressed and the other characters come on the curtain is the “fasıl” section. The play takes its title according to the subject of this section. The players leave the curtain in any way toward the end of the play. Only Hacivat and Karagöz remain on the curtain.

4. At the ending part of the play, the ending is informed with the conversation of Karagöz and Hacivat and apologies are made for any mistakes of the event to the spectators and the announcement of the following game is made and the play ends.

In Karagöz play, there’s satire and irony. These ironies may reach to the state administrators with a humorous style.

The main characters of the play are Karagöz and Hacivat. Karagöz represents the public’s morals and common sense. He speaks as he is. Hacivat is educated in Moslem theology school and he’s unreliable and following the order. The other characters are Tuzsuz (Salties) Çelebi, Drunk, Baberuhi, Albanian, Jewish, Circassian, Kurdish, Laz, Addictive, males taking female parts etc.

Karagöz was interested and supported by the Palace. Karagöz had took place in the festivals and circumcision ceremonies of princes.

Karagöz is especially integrated with the Istanbul centered Ottoman culture. It is possible to see the life of Istanbul in Karagöz plays. Aghas, Great Marriage, Boat and Tahmis are Ferhad and Şirin, Fisher, Leila and Majnun, Wrong Marriage Tahir and Zühre, Yalova Pleasure, Karagöz’s Clerkship, Karagöz’s Love, Karagöz’s doctorate etc.

The Technique of Karagöz

The white curtain on which Karagöz is played is named as “mirror”. At first the curtains were 2x2.5 m. then they began to be made in 110x80 m. size.  In the inner side, below the curtain there is an “edging wood”. There are also cymbals, tambourines, canes, pipes and lamps to illuminate the curtain. These are on the edging wood. The designs used in the play are 32-40cm sized and they are generally made from the skin of camel or cows. The skins are made transparent with a special method. Then they are embroidered with sharp painted blades called “nevregan”. The pieces are tied with ropes named rafters or catgut. Then the designs are painted with Indian ink or root paints.

Karagöz, which was the most important entertainment of Ottoman period, was played in ramadans, circumcision feast festivals, coffeehouses and gardens. Karagöz, which is known to address to social events of the period, criticizing them, were prevalently played in Istanbul. This was spread to other parts of Anatolia by the artists going on tours.

Today, Karagöz that is one of the most introductory elements of our country are played in the tourist hotels and restaurants. But spectators generally reach it by television.

The studies related to the art of Karagöz that is tried to be continued by a limited number of artists are conducted by the Presidency of Turkey National Center of International Puppet and Shadow Play Union (UNIMA) and the Ministry of Culture.