Some representative Karagoz scenarios

The main plot involves various types of people with different costumes, manners and dialects. Some of these plots have been handed down from generation to generation. Evliya Celebi lists some of the plays which are used to this day. However some puppeteers or Ortaoyunu companies tried to create new plots or vary the old ones by adding or substracing characters or changing the order of appearance or title. A foreign author even claimed that in the 19th century some Karagoz plots were borrowed from Moliere’s play such as L’avare Teartuffle, Les Fourberies de Scapin. The plots contain very little intrigue, action is only incidental. One important structural characteristic of these plots is that they are what we can call “open from” or “flexible from”. That is, each episode is an entity in itself and independent so that in each different performance these episodes coluld change places, could be reduced, added to or subtracted from according to the audiance’s reaction or the puppeteer’s wishes, without upsetting the general course. Surviving titles show a resemblance and close parallels between Karagoz and Ortaoyunu plots. To classify the plots is far from easy. Some of them parody a particular trade or tradition. The major emphasis of the play appears to be on the portrayal of customs. A foreign observer makes the following remark: “He (puppet master) carries on his show through all the details, from the cradle to the wedding, and from the wedding to the grave, with all the alterations of funny episodes”

Cologne Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum bought that puppets
Sunnet – ircumcision, Cologne Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum bought that puppets

For instance the plot might deal with given scene from social life and show reaction to this with the “The Circumcision”, which satirises the tradition of circumcision, while “The Purse or Karagoz the Wrestler” does the some for the traditional sport of wrestling. “The Poetry Contest” shows how minstrels used to compete with each other in the old days. The play “The Madhouse” is a satire on the old Turkish bedlams, and also on those people who walk about free but who should be in such institutions. In addition, this play pokes fun at the Greek or Italian physician who is himself not much saner than the majority of his patiens. So most of the themes exhibit historic lore. In this category of plays, Karagoz has an important role. He wins the poetry contest, he is circumcised and wins at wrestling. In this group we also find Hacivat and Karagoz entering into several business partnerships. In one play, they rent a boat to various characters and in another they hire a swing. In “The Public Scribe”, they write letters for people. In these plays Hacivat usually undertakes to find clients for Karagoz. In “The Forest”, Karagoz runs an open air coffee house while in “The Restaurant” he works as cook.

Another type of plot finds Karagoz mixed up, sometimes unwillingly, in some kind of intrigue. Usually he is traying to protect a woman and ends up having trouble with her numerous admirers. In yet another play karagoz tries to enter a place where wanted nor allowed to enter. For example, in “The Public Bath” and “The Garden”, he attempts respectively to enter a bath and a garden either by disguising himself or by mingling with other people who are allowed to enter. In all these plays, Karagoz essays to find out why certain things, which are permissible for a privileged class of people, are barred to him. In other types of plays, the intrigue is better developed, using fewer characters but having a more definite plot, some being on the cuckolding theme. Sometimes the subject of the intrigue is a love affair taken from popular stories or legends like Ferhat and Sirin, Tahir and Zuhre where we have two young people in love with each other, the parents of whom put obstacles in their way, while Karagoz and Hacivat help the young lovers by all kinds of intricate means. Here the adaption usually leaves out the romantic or tragic side and deals mainly with the humorous or farcical aspect. In most of these plays, Karagoz is the servant who helps to solve the lovers problems or to soothe the angry father. In all these plays there is unity of action, since they always take place in the same neighbourhood no matter where the original action occured. In some plays, we find supernatural elements, pseudo-magic transformation to add to the possibilities of disguise. Some plays contain a large amount of song and dance and have a festive conclusion or a colorful parade, such as the nuptial procession of the dowry in “The big wedding.”

Most of the extant Karagoz plays have been dictated or transcribed by the Karagoz puppeteer. In other words, they belong to the category of ‘dead’ plays, that is plays recorded without an audiance. Most of the printed texts are generally remote from the original. Even copies written at the direct dictation of the shadow master are unrealiable because of the large part improvisation played in these shows. The best collection of scenarios were collected and published by Professor Helmut Ritter in there volumes, both in Turkish and in German. The first volume (Hannover,1924) contains three scenarios. The second volume (Liepzig/Istanbul, 1941) contains six, while the third volume (Weisbaden, 1963) collects togother nineteen puppet scenarios, all transcribed by Nazif Efendi, a court puppet master. A Turkish author republished Ritter’s out of print work in Turkey in three volumes and added a few more scenarios. There are other published scenarios in Turkish and German. Text in English are few. Matinovitsch’s book contain a few. However a translation in English of “The big wedding” has been published recently. Some versions exist as recorded live on tape, the National Library in Ankara, and the theatre department of Ankara University having several of these reels. However these are scarce. Here are the synopsis of some representative scenarios.

Kanli Nigar (The Bloody Nigar): Celebi, the dandy, after swindling two courtesans out of their money, has escaped. He is stopped by them in the street, one of whom is known as Bloody Nigar. Both women claim rights over him. When they cannot resolve their disputes, women neighboors are called in to decide which is worthy of the handsome young. However each woman decides in her own favor. Eventually, Bloody Nigar drags the young man by force into her house and takes revenge on him for his infedility by stripping him and throwing him out onto the street. A series of types from neighborhood then arrive to find the young man sitting. Each volunteers to get back his clothes for him, including Karagoz and Hacivat, yet each is stripped by the two woman. Soon there are many people in the doorway. Sari Efe, whom the Bloody Nigar respects, solves the problem and everyone gets eventually his clothes back.

Yalova Safasi (The Pleasure Trip to Yalova): Celebi, the dandy, wishes to take a trip with his sweetheart to the Spa of Yalova. He therefore buys a large sack and a jar in which to put provisions for the journey. While he is making last minute preparations, Karagoz appears and teases her with stupid, nonsensical stories the young woman who has remained behind with the sack and the jar. For instance he tells her that her boy friend is dead and somebody has set fire to the sea and that Celebi has been burnt, or that somebody though that he was a mouthful of food and has swallowed him, and so on. Taklits appear, all of whom wish to go on the same trip and are hidden one after the other by the obling girl in the sack and the jar. Among them is the girl’s other lower. When Celebi comes, he puts all these people out of the jar and sack where they had been concealed, hopping to travel without paying their fare.

Bloody Poplar
Bloody Poplar

Mandira (The Dairy Farm): After a quarrel, karagoz is abandonned by his wife. He meets a girl in the street and takes her to his house. After a while all the lovers of this girl try to see her and ask Karagoz to carry their versified messages of love to her. However, while Karagoz agrees to do this, each time he misunderstands and distorts them. They all invite the girl to go on a pleasure trip to a spot called Mandira. Karagoz, chases all these people away and asks the girl on each occasion whether there are more people. The girl always replies: “The next one is the last”. Finally a drunkard comes and chases Karagoz from his own house. To get in again, Karagoz asks the help of all the lovers whom he had previously been chased away by him but all show some signs of cowardice.

Kanli Kavak (The Bloody Poplar): The son of the famous minstrel, Hasan has been imprisonned by the djin of the bewitched poplar tree. When his father implores the spirit to return his son, the djin does so. Meanwhile Karagoz who has been rude to the tree is bewitched by the djin. Eventually Hacivat rescues him, and changes him back to his normal shape. To take revenge , Karagoz tries to chop down the tree but foresters stop him. In another version, the djin, before kidnapping the child, kidnaps several people passing by.


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