We can not separate the performance and the characters of the shadow theater from the social context and ethos of the Ottoman Empire in which it was generated and firmly located in its context. It was a large empire spread over three continents; Europe, Asia and Africa. Its population consisted of several nationalities, religions and ethnic groups, all of which saw Istanbul as their capital, a natural centre.
Karagoz also is firmly rooted in the culture of Istanbul. Shadow theater is not expected to introduce individualized traits in its characters. They are stock types and no more. Certain definite types have come to be associated in the common mind, not only with nationalities but with occupations. For instance the Anatolian Baba Himmet is invariably a wood cutter, the Jew is dealer in secondhand goods or a moneylender, while the Laz from Black Seas is boatman or a tinsmith. There is however, a certain amount of truth in generalizing about ethnic and national traits, each being not only a cartoon symbol but also a national type. Actually, if it were possible to define a Turkish Jew at all, one could say he is penurious, thrifty, cunning and cowardly. At least, the accepted joke concerning the mythical characteristic attributed to the Turkish Jew has travelled so far long along these lines that in the average person’s mind it has become almost a label for his character. These character traits account, in a way, for a number of the speech idiosyncrasies that affect the figures dialects. Each native of each separate district has his own special version of the Turkish language, his own peculiarities in the choice of word, inflection, and diction. This serves not only to introduce the character, but also as a comic device. It also provides a main means of creating dramatic tension. For instance during conversation between characters, it results in much comedy from the misunderstandings which can arise. It is due to the respective grammatical vagaries that much of the flavor of these dialects can be captured. Among these can be cited a stubborn insistence on misplacing the negative, verb misuse-especially mistaken verb forms and confusion of tenses. In addition, interrogative sentences abound, as do inversions of sentence structure, common misuse of prepositions and repeated uses of distinctive interjections. Some types are addicted to the use of certain words, or include a number of words from their own native language which have been carried over into the dialect. Dropping entire syllables, lopping off the final syllable in multi-syllabled words; changing, adding or omitting consonants or vowels, are other devices which prevail. Some rely more on the inflection of the voice than on the choice of word. All help to reduce the dialect to a caricature.
We are comforted with three clearly defined groups:
(1)The pillars or the basic figures, those who generally headed the list of the characters and from the backbone of the plot and appear with the greatest frequency like: Karagoz and Hacivat
(2)Feminine roles, children, young girls, servants, old woman, witches and dancing girls. These characters, though frequently present, occasionally had minor parts to play. However some plays are rich in feminine roles. There are also the wives of Karagoz and Hacivat, their children and Hacivat’s brothers.
(3)Taklits, roles rich in comic value, were characters such as professionals, provincials, colonials and foreigners. There were also teratological characters such as dwarfs, stammerers, hunchbacks or mentally defectives like opium addicts and the neighborhood idiot. Many of these were secondary characters but others who were essential to the action. Their weaknesses and characteristics are stressed and stereotyped. For example the Albanian is always ignorant and boastful while the Jew, is seem to be malicious, cowardly and egoistic.
Karagoz and Hacivat: It is always doubtful whether Karagoz and Hacivat ever really existed and, as we have already seen, there are many legends about this. Karagoz was supposed by some to be a gypsy and there are many allusions and much evidence in the plays to support this theory. Karagoz has a round face, his eye is boldly designed with a large black pupil, hence his name -Black Eye-. He has a pug nose and around thick curly black beard. His head, completely bald, sports an enormous turban which, when knocked off, suddenly expose his bald head which always provokes laughter. In all dialogue between Karagoz and Hacivat, we find Hacivat always uses flowing language full of prose rime while Karagoz uses the language of the common people. His promptness with repartee procured for him his fame and reputation. This contrasts artificiality with simplicity and is the first satire to attain these differences. This contrasting language is also noticeable in Hacivat,s erudition. He can recite famou s poems, has a vast knowledge of music, is conversant with the names of various rare spices, the terminology of gardening, many varied encyclopedic extracts, and with the etiquette of the aristocracy. This however is superficial and gives him only a scholastic type of making a living for himself and his family. Because he has no trade, he is usually unemployed and fails to provide for his family, and has enough sense to realize that to rectify this, he does not need Hacivat,s superficial knowledge. Though he is stupid and easily taken in, he is constantly able to deceive Hacivat and others.
Hacivat is reflective character with a pointed turned-up beard. Each movement is well calculated and worked out before hand. Karagoz, on the contrary is impulsive and his character is shown by his speech and behaviour. Hacivat,s reasoning limits his actions. Even though while on the screen, he makes few gestures with hands, Karagoz is the more dynamic and energetic. Where Hacivat is always ready to accept the situation and maintain the status quo and establishment, Karagoz is always eager to try out new ideas and constantly misbehaves himself.
Hacivat is always bound by the moral principles of the upper class and can easily adapt himself to these principles. He sometimes becomes instrumental in providing pleasure for the upper classes and is always worried that Karagoz,s tactlessness will spoil these pleasures. Karagoz, the traditional symbol of the -little man- , on the other hand, finds that his tactless behaviour generally upsets most intrigues. Hacivat also serves as a foil to each character, underlining their helplessness and distress. Most of these lesser characters depend upon the machination of Hacivat to provide either the needed money, job or house. He is loquacious, credulous and good natured. Usually Hacivat offers useful advice to others, aiding them in their schemes. Because of his knowledge of etiquette and language and his opportunism, he is a most desirable, like able character in the neighbourhood. He is not only the local headman but is looked upon as counsellor, especially by the neighbourhood spendthrift. When he partners Karagoz in various undertakings, he prefers merely to find the clients and share the profit. Conversely Karagoz is not respected. He is always insulted by the dandies, is a target for the anger of the opium addict a victim of the village idiot,s practical jokes and the threats of the neighbourhood drunkards.
Woman in Karagoz plays are young, middle-aged and old, flighty, quarrelsome, only just faithful and always prone to gossip. The main type is always flighty and given to intrigue. In nearly every play, this type causes a scandal in the neighbourhood. Karagoz,s wife often abuses him for not feeding her and not clothing her. As the women in Karagoz are always dubbed by male puppeteers, they speak in cracked voices. They wear a loose, sleeved, cloak-like garment called ferace, two pieces of fine muslin or tarlatan called yasmak, folded and pinned in such a way that one edge covers the mouth and lower part of nose and the other passes across the brow above the eyes, while the rest hangs behind. As the veil is very thin, the features can be quite-clearly seen. They wear a blue bonnet called hotoz, patent leather or velvet slippers on their feet and each carries an umbrella. Some wear a red ferace, a black alpaca thrown over the head and held by a pin under the chin, entirely concealing the face. Courtesans always have their breasts half or fully exposed. Some wear slipper boots of yellow Morocco leather called cedik and carry a stick in their hand. If the woman character represents a Negro slave, she wears black gloves, a red ferace, red pabuc (a strong soled shoe) and a white head band.
Celebi is presented in a sympathetic light. He is not caricatured and ridiculed as are so many of the other characters. Usually he is a dandified young man whose love for a courtesan or a girl of good family motivates the action, and provides the plays with plots. We notice he has the ability to charm the opposite sex. Firstly, a zampara, a gallant and a elegant dandy, he is also young, rich and a spend-thrift, who assumes a careful and rather self-conscious elegance of dress and, in the type of stock-role he plays, runs after women, being a well-versed but flighty youth. He speaks with an educated Istanbul accent, pouring out his Arabic and other learned phrases. He is dressed in European style. He wears a pince-nez, he carries a cane and sports patent leather shoes. He wears a clerical style frock-coat, which in cut, hue and the shape of the collar, resembles precisely the -stambouline- , so named from its origin in Istanbul.
Tiryaki, the opium addict, spends all his time smoking opium and sleeping in the neighbourhood coffee house. He can easily be identified by his pipe, his fan and a huge humped shoulder. He is a flippant type but always tries to look serious. He speaks like Hacivat but has a bad habit of frequently going to sleep in the middle of a conversation and snoring loudly. He is inclined to make mountains out of molehills. For mimics, the imitation of Tiryaki had been very popular. Evliya mentions the following, when he was introducing a famous mimic of his time: “His brother, not a less clever mimic, who was himself an opium addict; had the greatest success in representing their ridiculous fancies. A Tiryaki smoking, cuts his own finger, which bleeds amazingly. He bleeds so much that he is falling down. At last he is told that the bleeding will not cease till a boy shall paint with his own finger,s blood the letter Elif on his face.
Bebe Ruhi, the dwarf has an impediment in his speech and pronounces r and s as y. He asks the same questions over and over again until people become tired of listening to him. Sometimes he is a dwarf and sometimes a hunchback. When he is a dwarf he is called by such names as Beberuhi or altikulac (six-fathom), and is shown to be fidgety, talkative and extremely boastful. He often does odd jobs around the neighbourhood and is somewhat spoiled by the pity of the locals. Karagoz on many occasions, has to beat him in order to get rid of him.