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Karagöz and Hacivat

Legends and storytelling have been traditions in the Turkish culture for many centuries. In Turkey, one form long-lasting form of entertainment can be viewed through the shadow puppet play called Karagöz and Hacivat. Dating back to the Ottoman Empire, the puppet play has entertained many sultans and commoners with quirky stories for many years. The exact origin of the play is a bit foggy, but there are three theories and legends that many people use to explain its origin. One historian theory suggests that Sultan Selim I introduced the puppet play to Turkey after his conquest of Egypt in 1517. In contrast to this theory, one legend states that the puppetry became popular after the performance of a commoner made before the sultan to voice his concern about dishonest officials. The sultan was so amused by this display that he appointed the commoner as his Grand Vizier and punished the officials by the narrative of the play. The other legend of Karagöz and Hacivat is that the characters were inspired by two 14th century construction workers. It is believed that the puppets were in memory of the two as they were executed for slowing the construction of the mosque with their lighthearted mischief.

The storyline of each play is centered around two characters, Karagöz and Hacivat. Both characters balance one another as they both represent different aspects of knowledge like Hacivat who represents knowledge and Karagöz who represents common sense. The story of the play is composed into four sections: the Mukaddime, Muhavere, Fasil, Bitiş. The mukaddime is the beginning of the play when Hacivat is calling out for Karagöz and proceeds to recite a poem before Karagöz appears. The muhavere is the portion that emphasizes the perspectives and beliefs of the two characters as they are engaged in dialogue. The fasil portion continues ushers in the main story for the play. The plays end in bitiş with Karagöz and Hacivat engage in an argument, then apologies, and declare that the play has ended.


The production of the plays involves four entertainers and a simple stage set up. The hayalî or main puppeteer handles the movements, sounds, voices, and accents of the puppets, which are made out of camel or water buffalo skin to allow enough transparency for light to shine through the characters. The next position is the sandıkkâr or the apprentice whose role is to set up the theater before the show and hand the hayalî puppets in the order they appear during the show. The sandıkkâr must set up the ayna or mirror which is a white sheet used for projections and the şem’a or candle to act as the light source for the performance. The yardak is the singer who often only sings a prelude to the performance. The last entertainer to mention is the dairezen who plays the tambourine along with the yardak’s singing. The simplicity of the cast and set up have allowed the plays to thrive for many centuries.


The shadow puppet plays were very popular during the observation of Ramadan where performances occurred in the coffeehouses across the city. At one point, the plays were significant to certain ceremonies and events. If you are interested in seeing a comical performance of Karagöz and Hacivat, hotels, restaurants, and television programs allow you the opportunity to enjoy a long-lasting Turkish entertainment tradition.

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