Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Karagöz: Karagöz as boatman

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About the scene and clip:
This clip shows a scene from the traditional Turkish puppet shows called Karagöz (the word means “dark eye”). The central and ever-comic stock figure, Karagöz, is usually jobless. In this scene, his friend Hacivat has gotten him a job as a boatman. Karagöz begins to carry people between two places in Istanbul, Eminonu and Kagithane. Several people get on the boat, including the painter Matisse, some Arabs, and other people living in the city. The comic dialogues are based on Karagöz’s misunderstandings and naivety; he confuses the meanings of words. For example, when someone asks how the weather is, he answers, “He is fine, thank you”—thinking that weather is a real person.

Karagöz performances were traditionally one-man shows, where the puppeteer got logistical help from others. This performance used recorded music, but historically one or two musicians provided the music.

About the work:
Karagöz is a kind of shadow puppet theatre, which has been popular for centuries in Turkey. With stock comic characters and plots, Karagöz puppetry was widely comic and satirical; for example, it made fun of all the people living in the city, of the language itself, and of relations between men and women; it also frequently mocked those in power. This sort of shadow puppetry came to Turkey from Egypt around the 16th century (its origins are perhaps Javanese), but the Turkish puppets are unusual in that they are translucent, and brightly and elaborately colored. Puppet shows with brightly colored puppets, plays on language, and strong comic elements were also common in medieval and Early Modern Europe.

About the genre:
Turkish Karagöz were comic performances that created language comedy, often through speech plays, misunderstandings, and miscommunications, and made fun of social rules of propriety, especially between men and women, and satirized those in power and authority. Historically, they had much in common with “Punch and Judy” shows.

Satire generally attacks, often in comic terms, the failings of classes or groups of people, such as those in political power (monarchs and aristocrats), or the clergy, or women; most satire focuses criticism on groups, rather than on individuals. Satire can also mock a political or religious philosophy, or an institution or system.

About the edition/translation:
Each puppeteer has his own versions of Karagöz.

About the performer/ensemble:
Tacettin Diker and his associates, of Istanbul, Turkey, perform traditional Karagöz shadow puppets plays, along with more modern ways of drawing on the art of shadow puppetry.

About the production:
This Karagöz performance, sponsored by the Akbank Karagöz ve Kukla Tiyatrosu, took place at a conference entitled “Performance and Performers in the Eastern Mediterranean from the 11th to the 18th Centuries,” held at Bogazici University, June 7-9, 2007. The conference was organized by Profs. Arzu Ozturkmen of Bogazici University and Timmie Vitz of New York University. It was funded by the Humanities Council of New York University as part of the “Storytelling in Performance” workshop, as well as by Bogazici University and Tübitak. We are grateful to Ulrich Mueller, a member of the website’s Advisory Board, for making the video available to us, and to Tacettin Diker for giving us permission to use this clip.