Karagiozis seems to have come to mainland Greece, probably from Asia Minor in the 19th century, during Ottoman rule. Karagiozis was hellenized in Patra, Greece in the end of 19th century by Dimitrios Sardounis alias Mimaros, who is considered the founder of modern Greek shadow theater.
The genre became a fully integrated, though adapted, amongst the Greek population. But there are several legends as well as studies surrounding Karagiozis' arrival and subsequent popularity in Greece. Some stories say that Greek merchants brought the art from China and others say that it was a Greek who created the "legend" during Ottoman rule for the entertainment of the sultan. Yet others believe that it originated from real events involving two masonry workers named Karagöz and Haci Ivat working in the construction of a mosque in the city of Bursa in early 14th century.
Karagiozis is a poor hunchbacked Greek, his right hand is always depicted long, his clothes are botched, and his feet are always bare. He lives in a poor cottage with his wife Aglaia and his three boys, during the times of the Ottoman Empire. The scene is occupied by his cottage in the left, and the Sultan's Palace (Sarayi) on the far right.
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, and Karagiozis is presented as a helper and assistance of an important hero.
Puppeteers devise their own original tales, however there are many 'traditional' tales that have descended orally from earlier puppeteers and are accepted as 'canon' with slight alterations between the players. Most of the are formulaic and have the following layout but with a wide improvisional variety, and often involving interaction with the audience:
- Karagiozis appears in the scene with his 3 sons dancing and singing. He welcomes the audience and has a comical dialogue with his children. He then enters his cottage
- The Pasha or a local Ottoman lord reports that he has a problem and needs someone to perform a deed
- Haci Ivat obeys and starts announcing the news until Karagiozis hears about it
- Initially annoyed by Haci Ivat's shouting, he finds it's an opportunity to gain money (either by helping the Pasha or cheating him) and sometimes asks Haci Ivat to aid him.
- Karagiozis either attempts to help the Pasha or fool him. The regular characters (see below) appear one at a time in the scene (they often appear 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 Pasha or his mischief is revealed and he's punished.
Some of the most known Heroic tales are:
Some of the most known comedies are:
- The wedding of Karagiozis
- Karagiozis the doctor
- Karagiozis the cook
- Karagiozis the senator
- Karagiozis the scholar
- Karagiozis the prophet
- Karagiozis the teacher
- Karagiozis the astronaut
- Karagiozis, is a trickster poor Greek man whose sole interest is sleep and eating. Socially, he is in closer relation to Hadji Ivat (Greek: Hadjiavatis) than any other characters, and often he is informed by him, sometimes they cooperate in business, but sometimes Hadjiavatis is a victim of Karagiozis' tricks.
- Kollitiria, Karagiozis' three kids. Some versions give their names as Kollitiri, Kopritis (or Skorpios) and Birigokos (or Pitsikokos).
- Aglaia (or Karagiozena), Karagiozis' wife.
- Hadjiavatis, (the Turkish counterpart is Hacivat, he is called "Hatzatzaris" by Karagiozis) he is Karagiozis' friend and sidekick, an honest and serious figure but often ends up being wrapped up in Karagiozis' schemes getting punished alongside him. He has a tendency to flatter the powerful and his name in Greece is associated with the "eternally compliant person towards the occupying and dominant establishment". Sometimes he is portrayed as Armenian.
- Barba Yiorgos (Uncle George), he represents the mountain Greek, a robust shepherd uncontaminated by urban trends; he is usually on some business related visit in the lowlands, he is a Vlach from Rumeli in mainland Greece, always depicted broad built with traditional outfit, is crude and very strong. Even though he believes his nephew to be a crook, he helps him out and beats all the opponents black and blue with his shepherd's staff. He is the only character who can get the better of Veli Gekas.
- Stavrakas, a cowardly bully, whose puppet is the only one with a long independent arm, like Karagiozis. He represents the "mangas" culture prevalent in Piraeus and the Rebetiko tradition. He is always introduced with rebetiko music and Karagiozis usually teases him.
- Sior Dionysios, an Italianate gentleman from Zakynthos of imagined aristocratic stock. Faithfull to his Ionian Islands origin, he speaks the Ionian Greek dialect with the appropriate accent. He is introduced with cantada music from the Ionian Isles.
- Morfonios, a European bred softie; he is very ugly with a huge head with an extremely large nose; however, he considers himself to be handsome and keeps falling in love.
- Solomon, a Jew, one of the less known characters.
- The Pasha, sometimes called the Vizier, he is the dominant figure of the occupying side and lives in the Sarayi. He is usually the beginning of each new tale, by announcing trials, needs, problems etc to which Karagiozis always decides to get involved
- Veli Gekas, a powerful Albanian guard of the Sarayi. He is the executive arm of the Pasha, whose fist often lands on Karagiozis head. Only Barba Giorgos can get the better of him.
Some players have introduced other characters, like Karagiozis's old father or the Pasha's beautiful daughter.
Karagiozis, as well as all the figures that represent the characters of his tales, are two dimensional and designed always in profile. They were traditionally made from camel skin, carved to allow light through the image, creating details, but are today most often made of cardboard. Traditional puppets gave off black shadows against the white screen, but some more recent puppets have wholes covered with colored silk or plastic gel materials to create colored shadows. The torso, waist, feet and sometimes the limbs, were separate pieces that were joined together with pins. Most figures were composed of two parts, torso and legs, with only one joint to the waist. Two characters, the Jew and Morfonios had joints in the neck, and had a flexible head.
They were moved with a stick attached to them, except in the case of the figure of Karagiozis and a few other characters whose arms or other limbs required separate movement. The 'scene' was a vertical white parapet, usually a cloth, called 'perde' (curtain). Between the figures and the player (who was invisible), were candles or lamps that shed light to the figures and made their silhouettes and colours visible to the audience through the cloth.
In Greek daily speech, the name Karagiozis is also used as an insult more or less like Joker. Puppeteers complain about this, saying that while Karagiozis can be violent, mischievous, a liar and an anti-hero, he is also good-natured and faithful, so his name should not be used as an insult.
During the decade of 1980s, Greek Television had Karagiozis shows on a weekly basis. These shows had more modern themes, like for example Karagiozis living some myths of Greek mythology or visiting the moon and other planets. Some of these episodes were either live with an audience, or filmed especially for the TV show and contained scenes that required editing or special effects.
Since the 2000s, Karagiozis is not so popular as a choice of recreation for young kids and the number of puppeteers has diminished. Today, he is performed mostly in folk feasts or festivals and on national Greek television. There are also occasional tours in the Greek diaspora.
Famous Karagiozis puppeteers
- Dimitrios Sardounis ("Mimaros")
- Theodoros Theodorellos
- Yiannis Roulias
- Memos Christodoulou
- Dinos Theodoropoulos
- Mitsos Manolopoulos
- Antonis Pappoulis
- Sotiris Spatharis
- Evgenios Spatharis
- Christos Charidimos
- Giorgos Charidimos
- Spathario Museum Museum of Shadow Theatre, Maroussi, Athens
- The Shadow Theatre of Kostas Makris Greek Shadow Theatre puppeteer
- General information Extensive article about Karaghiozis
- Cooperative site of puppeteers
- Haridimos' Karaghiozi Shadow Theater From Athens guide
- Who killed Hacivat and Karagoz ? A Turkish Film
- Turkish Karagoz
- The Karagiozis Puppet Theatre