Just as the performance is a totality, so the Karagöz performer is an all-round and creative artist:

 • First of all he is the creator or dramaturge. He composes all the elements of the scenario and all the dialogue. Since Karagöz is open and flexible in form, he can improvise, even during a performance, shortening, lengthening, or changing the order of the scenes, or incorporating topical event.

• He is the director of the performance, organising all its elements and the links between them, the tempo, and the rhytm.

• He is a musician. He sings songs, plays instrument such as tambourines and whistles, or selects and uses recordings of music, which in the past was played by a group of musicians.

• He is an actor. He plays dozens of characters. He adjusts his voice according to the characteristics of each one, pithing his voice higher or lower, and altering the stress patterns and tone. Men and women, the elderly and children, stutterers, nasal voices, and the opium eater who snores in the middle of every sentence are all distinguished. By means of their words he expresses their reactions, and makes the fıgures move accordingly.

• He is a choreographer. Whether in art dancing (çengi, köçek, kanto) or Anatolian folk dancing (halay, bar, zeybek) he ensures that the movements are in harmony with the music.

• If the fıgures are made by the Karagöz puppeteer, he is a plastic artist who designs, draws and paints them. He is also in this respect a craftsman who must prepare the leather in the correct way, make the fıgures transparent, cut them out, pierce the holes, and link the sections at their joints.

• He arranges the lighting.

• He organises the sound effects.

• He is also the manager of the performance. He inspects the venue, puts up the curtain, makes business contacts, organises moves, and so on.

Of course there are some Karagöz puppeteers who employ one or two helpers for all these. But although they take care of minor tasks, this is basically a one-man performance. These artists are also expert at some of the other traditional stage arts, like storytelling (meddahlık), puppetry (kuklacılık), illusionism (hokkabazlık) and folk drama (ortaoyunu).


As to the question of where, how and when the shadow play came to Turkey, this tradition does not exist in Central Asia and Iran, so it cannot have arrived from there. The shadow play is known to have been introduced to Turkey from Egypt in the l6th century, when there is indisputable evidence of its existence here. Evidence of its introduction from Egypt is equally incontrovertible, provided by a history of Egypt entitled Bedayiü’z-zuhbur fi vekaayiü’d-dühur by the Arab writer Mehmed b. Ahmad b. İlyasü’l-Hanefi. In several places in this work there are references to shadow plays. In one place he tells us that in 855 H. (1451) the Memluk sultan Çakmak (1438- 1 453) banned all shadow play performances (şuhus – hayalü’z-zıll) and commanded that the fıgures be burnt. In another he recalls that Sultan Melikü’n-Nasirü’d-din Muhammed amused himself watching the performances of the shadow player Ebü’l-Şer. He also relates that shadow plays were performed throughout the year, not only in the month of Ramadan, and that they were banned on 9 Zilhicce 924 H (12 December 1518) on the grounds that Ottoman soldiers robbed audiences returning from the performances, and kidnapped women and boys.

Where the part of this book pertinent to our subject is concerned, it relates that when the Ottoman sultan Selim II conquered Egypt in 1 S 1 7 he hanged the Memluk sultan Tumanbay II on 1 S April 1 S 17. The shadow player at the palace on the island of Rode in the Nile at Cize re-enacted the hanging of Tumanbay at the Züveyle Gate, including the fact that the rope snapped twice in the process. Sultan Selim was very pleased with the performance, and having presented the player with 80 gold pieces and an embroidered kaftan, said, ‘When we return to Istanbul, come with us, so that my son can see this play and be entertained.’ At that time his son Süleyman was 21 years old. Altogether six hundred Memluk artists accompanied the. sultan back to Istanbul, and returned home three years later.

On 20 June 1612 shadow players were brought from Egypt to perform at the wedding of Öküz Mehmet Paşa and the sultan’s sister Geverharı. Sultan Ahmet i watched one of these Egyptian players, Davüd el-Artar (Merıavi), in Edirne, as we learn from the memoirs of the play¬er himself.

Another reliable source confirming that the shadow play was introduced to Turkey from Egypt in the 10th century is a work by Ibn İyôs dating from the reign of Selim II.

Before going on to other evidence in support of this, ler us see whether there are any common attributes of the shadow play in Egypt and the 16th century Turkish shadow play. We know that the shadow play existed in Egypt in the 1 Ith, 12th and 13th centuries. We have the texts of three 13th century shadow plays written in verse and rhyming prose by Mehmed bin Danyal b. Yusuf around 1248. The first of these is entitled Tayfii’l-hayal. It begins, just as in Karagöz, with a song, thanks to the audience, a plea to God, and a prayer to the ruler. The hero of the play, a poor soldier named Visal, finds a wife through a matchmaker, but after the wedding lifts the bride’s veil to discover a horrifically ugly woman beneath it. Visal threatens both the matchmaker and the matchmaker’s husband, and decides to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca to be purified of his sins.

The second of Ibn Danyal’s plays is Acib ve Garib. This is not a specific succession of events. but instead various characters appear. The main characters are Garib and Acib who, just like Karagöz and Hacivat, have contrasting personalities. Garib is cunning and poor, and Acib is an eloquent talker who gives praise to Gad for creating wine and encourages beggars. Apart from these two, the other characters are a physician, snake charmer, surgeon, stargazer, magician. epileptic child, aerobat, monkey trainer, sword swallower, down, lion, elephant and bear trainer, and ebü’l-kıtat (the father of the cats’), who makes peace between cats and dogs. Garib brings the play to a dose. The cat and dog fight is mentioned in an account of the shadow play in the l0th century that we will see below. Evliya Çelebi also mentions a shadow play based around a cat and dog fight. (In the 17th century).

The third play by Ibn Danyal, El-Müteyyem, consists of cock, ram and bull fights organised by Müteyyem with his rivals in order to win the girl he loves. Earlier than this we find a long account of the shadow play in Egypt by the poet Ömer Ibnül-Fariz, in his Ta’iyyeti’l-Kübra: In the shadow plays described in this poem ships sail on the sea, armies battle on land and sea, camels, cavalry and infantry soldiers pass by, a fisherman throws his net and catches fish, sea monsters sink ships, and lions, birds and other wild animals attack their prey. Almost all of these later featured in l6th century shadow plays in Istanbul. Here too birds fly, wild animals fight one another, shipssail, and people are swallowed by a monster. Further proof of such shared features are picrures dis-covered by Paul Kahle thought to depict a 13th century shadow play. When we examine these picrures we find that the figures indude a lion, birds, induding a stork (we will see a stork in the narrative below), and ships.

After the introduction of the shadow play from Egypt, the Turks made their own creative contriburions, and a very colourful, animated and original new form emerged which was dissem-inared throughout the Ottoman Empire and jts sphere of influence. Sources deseribmg the early Turkish shadow playall dare from the festival of 1582 celebrating the circumcision of the royal princes, or dates dose to this. The most important document, which did not attracr the attentiorı of earlier researchers, and which gives the most extensive and detailed information about the shad¬ow play, is the Surname-i Hümayun, an illustrated account of the famous 1582 festivaL.

In numerous places in the Surname-i Hümayun we come across the term hayalbaz, which is not explained, presumably because everyone knew what it was. The term hayalbaz may have referred to a type of puppet or perhaps anather type of performing art, before it came to refer to the shad¬ow play. In a foreign source, although puppet plays are described in several places, the shadow play is described in onlyone place, as in the Surname-i Hümayun. This foreign eyewitness, although he gives a shorter description than the Turkish writer, had dearly seen the same per¬formance:

‘Sorneone brought a small wooden hut on six wheels, the stage, into the cerıtre. In front of this was a curtain of linen cloth, and inside severallights. Sorneone made the images move, casr¬ing reflections onro the curtain by means of the lighrs. For example, a cat ate a mouse, and a stark are a snake. As well as these, two people talked together using signs made with their fıngers like mutes, and similar things. One chased, anather ran, and so on. Watching an these would have been most delightful if the srrings pulling the images here and there had not been visible.’

There are many comman features between the two texts. For example, the Surname-i Hüma