The Turkish Karagoz is different to ours. He can be deceitful, lewd, and even violent. Other characters populate his world, just like our Karagiozis': the drunkard Tuzsuz Deli Bekir with his wine bottle, the long-necked Uzun Efe, the opium addict Kanbur Tiryaki with his pipe, Alti Karis Beberuhi (an eccentric dwarf), the half-wit Denyo, the spendthrift Civan, and Nigar, a flirtatious woman. There may also be dancers and djinns, and various portrayals of non-Turks: an Arab who knows no Turkish (typically a beggar or sweet-seller), a black servant woman, an Albanian security guard, a Greek (usually a doctor), an Armenian (usually a footman or money-changer), a Jew (usually a goldsmith or scrap-dealer).
The structure of the Turkish plays is formulaic and ritualistic, structured as they are in four parts. First comes the Mukaddime, or introduction. Hacivat sings a semai, recites a prayer, and indicates that he is looking for his friend Karagoz, whom he beckons to the scene with a speech that always ends "Yar bana bir eglence" ("Oh, for some amusement"). Karagoz enters from the opposite side. Then there is the Muhavere, repartee between Karagoz and Hacivat before the main plot unfolds and finally the Bitis or conclusion, always a short argument between Karagoz and Hacivat, always ending with Hacivat yelling at Karagoz that he has 'ruined' whatever matter was at hand and has "brought the curtain down," and Karagoz replying "May my transgressions be forgiven."
Karagiozis seems to have come to mainland Greece, in the 19th century, during Ottoman rule. Karagiozis was hellenized in Patra in the end of 19th century by Dimitrios Sardounis, who is considered the founder of modern Greek shadow theatre. Our Karagiozis is a poor hunchbacked Greek, his right hand is always depicted long, his clothes are ragged and patched, and his feet are always bare. He lives in a hovel with his wife Aglaia and his three boys, during the Ottoman era. Because of his poverty, Karagiozis uses mischievous and crude ways to find money and feed his family.
Students of folklore divide Karagiozis' tales in two major categories: the 'Heroics' and the 'Comedies'. The Heroics are tales based on tradition or real stories involving the times under Ottoman rule or anachronistic adaptations of other legends, and Karagiozis is presented as a helper and assistant of an important hero. In "Karagiozis and the accursed Snake," famously performed by Karagiozopaixtis extra-ordinaire Eugenios Spatharis for example, he unforgettably takes the credit for the death of a large serpent from Alexander the Great and tries to claim a reward from the Sultan.
Our Karagiozis is as formulaic as his Turkish counterpart. At the beginning, he appears in the scene with his three sons dancing and singing. He welcomes the audience and has a comical dialogue with his children. He then enters his cottage The Vizier or a local Ottoman lord then reports that he has a problem and needs someone to perform a deed Hatziavatis obeys and starts announcing the news (usually a singing sequence) until Karagiozis hears about it. Initially annoyed by Hatziavatis' shouting, he finds it's an opportunity to gain money (either by helping the Vizier or not) and sometimes asks Hatziavatis to aid him. Karagiozis then either attempts to help the Vizier or fool him. The regular characters appear one at a time in the scene, often with an introducing song which is standard for each of them; Karagiozis has a funny dialogue with them, mocks them, fools them, or becomes annoyed and ousts them violently. Finally, Karagiozis is either rewarded by the Vizier or his mischief is revealed and he is punished.
As a devotee of the whole genre, I purchased a do-it-yourself Karagiozi kit from a bookstore when I was in Athens and set about doing my own impromptu performances for my sister, upon my return to Australia. These were laminated cardboard figurines, not the celluloid or camel-skin transparent figures of tradition and I had immense trouble manipulating Karagiozis immense free arm, at my sister's request. The ensuing fiasco was a cross between a Punch and Judy show and an extremely sarcastic parody of various acquaintances. For a while, I was collecting variations of figurines, noting how some puppeteers made their Karagiozis more hunchbacked, or less mustachioed than others.
Immersed in my fervour, I even wrote a play entitled: The last play of Karagiozis, not knowing that there is a Turkish movie: Who killed Karagoz and Hacivat" of similar theme. My play, a postmodern critique on everything that a university student could find to critique ended in the assassination of Karagiozi by the puppeteer and the destruction of the canvas. It was, I must admit, quite a poor effort. However, Karagiozis has also come to my rescue in ways unsuspected. Back in the days when I played Chinese traditional folk music, it came to pass that at a particular concert the entire orchestra came unstuck. During the deadly pause that ensured, I resolved that the audience would not know better anyway and struck up the traditional introductory kalamatiano of Karagiozi. They loved it.
In Greek daily speech, the name Karagiozis signifies a clown, or a person who is not serious. I resent this. While Karagiozis can be mischievous, a liar and an anti-hero, he is also good-natured and faithful and his name should not be taken in vain.
As we pay homage to our alter ego, we leave you this week with the fascinating fact that Conrad, the protagonist of Roger Zelazny's ...And Call Me Conrad which won the 1966 Hugo Award for Best Novel, is in fact, inspired by Karagiozis. Until next week, let us all embrace life in true Karagiozi fashion, signing "E vre paidia, opa!" Now who has something to eat?
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