Eye") is the name of the traditional
Turkish shadow puppet theater.
The legend of Karagöz is
said to have begun in Bursa when
two men working on construction of
the Ulu Cami in 1396 would perform
impromptu comedy routines. They became
very popular with the other workers,
who would stop work to watch their
antics. This slowed the progress of
construction, and when the sultan heard
of it, he condemned the two men, Karagöz and Hacivat, to death.
So the legend goes. Whatever may have
happened to the comedians, the
shadow play based on their jokes,
pranks, fights, intrigues, stupidities
and camaraderie survives and prospers to
this day in Bursa and across Turkey.
Shadow puppets are
flat figures cut from camel or donkey
leather, oiled to make them translucent,
then perforated and painted, and mounted
perpendicularly at the end of sticks.
A white sheet is hung
as a screen, a strong light put
behind it, and the puppets, pressed
gently to the light-source side of
the sheet, are animated by
means of the sticks in the hands of
A talented puppeteer can make the
figures walk and dance, jump
and fight, nod and laugh.
Over the centuries the two original
characters have been joined by a host
of others, animals as
well as humans. The puppets play between
two traditional Turkish houses with
second-story windows from which the
irate wives of the comedians can berate
them for their mischief.
The list of plays is long, and includes
many set pieces that would have been
familiar to generations of the Ottoman sultans' subjects. Themes range across
the theatrical spectrum: love, jealousy,
oneupmanship, rivalry and—very often—ribaldry.
Shadow plays were often performed
in coffeehouses, parks and
other public places.
Sexual and scatological jokes and pranks
might be toned down when children were
present, but given a full airing for
an adult audience.
Today the Karagöz shadow puppet
play is carried on in Bursa by
Mr Şinasi Çelikkol,
owner of Karagöz
an antiques shop in the Eski Aynali Çarsi
section of Bursa's Covered
Sinasi Bey even has a small shadow
puppet theater set up in his shop so
he can give impromptu performances of
Karagöz plays for visitors. He also
sells the hand-made shadow puppets
and many other traditional Turkish
handicraft items. More...
—by Tom Brosnahan
|Above, Karagöz Shadow Puppet play.
Below left, Karagöz, the
hero of the play.