The history of the Greek Shadow Theatre is thought to have began in ancient times. Its origins are still as yet unidentified, There are various versions on how shadow theatre was established in Asia Minor. Some stories say the Turks were influenced by Hindu gypsies, while others claim that the Chinese influenced them during the Turkic tribes' nomadic period. Despite religious restrictions, shadow theatre spread throughout the 16th century among the Muslim Turks.

There are also many legends and studies surrounding the popularity of 'Karagiozis' in Greece. Among some of the theories it is strongly believed that a Greek seafarer from the island of Hydra, named 'Mavrommatis' (which in Greek means Black-Eyed), sailed to China in the beginning of the 19th century, where he saw the Chinese Shadow Theatre. He was so impressed that he took it back to Constantinople which was then the seat of the Ottoman Empire. 'Karagiozisi' the name of the principle character is a Turkish term from 'kara' meaning black and 'gioz' meaning eyes, or that a Greek created the folkloric art during Ottoman rule to entertain the sultan.

However, its Turkish structure soon became completely Greek with adaptations to show the Greek way of life, its history of the time and its customs. It became so popular that today it has become part of the very folk laws it originally started to mimic, and is still today described as living relic of genuine Greek folk art, both as entertainment and also as a the method of teaching History and Religion to the uneducated Greek people for the last 150 years.  


The first coloured figures were created in 1920.


It was very easy and cheap to build therefore, enabling even the poorest to construct their own entertainment. It is literally what its name implies, the shadows of  cut out figures made of firstly paper, some were made from leather, then cardboard or very thin plywood whose eyes and other parts of the body and clothing etc were etched out to allow the light to shine through. These figures some smaller than others representing children, were then placed behind a white, back-lit screen a piece of cloth or a sheet were used known as the 'berdes'. The figures were jointed, made of two or four or more pieces, allowing them to move by the puppeteer by means of a wooden or metal handle. 


The left side of the screen is where all the Greek figures come out from and is generally where the home (always referred to as the hovel) where 'Karagiozis' lives. Whilst to the right is the plush and magnificent setting of the Pasha's (governors) mansion or palace known as the 'sarai' or 'Seraglio'. This is where all of the Turkish figures emerge from.


Every figure or puppet has its own characteristic music played every time that they come on screen. In antiquity the music was of course played by a live musician, with the voices and songs of all the characters both men and women performed by the 'Karagiozopaiktis' (puppeteer) this combination of both speech and music (especially folk music) and social satire along with an almost instinctive anti-governmental sense of humour which still continues to this day. 


The 'Karagiozopaktis' brought to life the puppets by altering his voice according to the character and by changing the story line depending on his inspirations. In fact, he was responsible for all aspects of the play, as he was the mime, the writer, the musician, the singer, the stage-designer and the director. These historical 'Karagiozis' plays were very popular in the past and during times of crises, as they lifted the audience's spirits and offered hope.



The main caricatures in the Shadow Theatre are 'Karagiozis' described as a philosopher, but is more of a dreamer, he is always depicted as being very ugly with a hooked nose, a big bald head which he constantly scratches and bulging black eyes - hence his name. His voice is harsh and coarse, he shouts at people and beats them up. He is portrayed as being deformed with a hunchback and has one arms longer than the other and cannot reach out with and he is always barefooted. The world has extended him a bad deal  - so this uncouth, deformed ugly, poor, lazy, and very angry man steals. 'Karagiozis' represented the common folk, in a collision with everyone and everything unjust, whether it be a social or political injustice. He often pretended to be a man of all trades in order to find work and sought silly but cunning solutions to the various difficult and strange situations he'd get into. He has no profession but is always willing to get involved with anything. He lives with his family in a pitiful shack in a large town, across from the Ottoman 'pasha's' enormous palace. 


'Aglaia' is 'Karagiozis's' long suffering wife. She is very clever but always screams and shouts at her husband's inability to find a job. His dream is when he finds a job they can live like real people.

'Kollitiri' is just one of 'Karagiozis's' three children. This son takes after his father in every respect, both in appearance as well as in character. Always an accomplice in the dastardly deed his father is up to.


Pasha, Bey or Vesier (Turkish governor) who represents cruel authority and oppression. The pasha is rarely shown, but his voice is heard giving orders.


Sior (Sir) 'Dionysios' who is the descendant of a fallen ex-aristocratic family of Zakynthos who were not under Turkish rule, but were under Venetian and British rule, and thought themselves to be superior to the rest of Greece. He dresses in European clothes, always wears a top hat  He is poor but cultured, naive, good-hearted and loved by everyone. He has a characteristic lilting way of speaking, influenced by Italian.


Barbagiorgos' is 'Karagiozis's' uncle (Barbas), always seen wearing traditional Greek clothes. a 'mountain man' with primitive ways but with a gentle soul and true feelings. He lives in a village but comes to town on business or when he has to get his nephew out of yet another difficult situation. He conveys the brave Greek bachelor manliness always looking for wife. He is also naive, gullible, moral, and honourable and totally unaware of foreign cultures or civilisations.


'Morfonios', a short character with a huge head and nose who thinks he is handsome and brags about his looks. He is very greedy and thinks highly of himself. He lives in a world of delusions and is one of the silliest characters.


'Hatziabatis' is 'Karagiozi's' friend who is always dressed in levantine Ottoman clothing. Sometimes he is portrayed as honest, yet in other versions he is a cunning thief.

Stavrakas' is a character who pretends to be brave and courageous but is actually a coward 'Karagiozis' knows this and often hits him throughout a play. In the end, 'Stavrakas' is often liked by the audience because in his attempts to hide his cowardliness and avoid the beating, he makes jokes and reverts to trickery.




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: Raki : Komboloy : Hunting Season : Black Veil : Cretan Dagger : Cretan Biscuit :
: Threshing Circles : Tavli : Puppet Theatre : The Mitato :



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