Wikipedia, Shakespeare & Shadow Puppets

I love Wikipedia. I love the knowledge it contains. I love the breadth of its coverage. I love its images. I love the commons and the accessibility of its information. I enjoy its brand of articles – they are felt before they are fact. And I love the democracy in its inclusion. By that, I mean I love the way anyone can write a Wiki page without a council of editors judging whether the topic is worthy.

Wikipedia wordmark

Wikipedia began with a passion for knowledge and the sharing of it. As to the accuracy of its content, each page is its own entity. Wikipedia is a good gauge of how people have reacted to a subject, how much exposure they have had to it and their impressions of it.

Every so often I come across a wiki-page that is bemusing. There is something disconcerting about the way it is written. Grammar, tenses and content need editing. Or perhaps they have been over-edited. In very low instances a sentence seems to have been begun by one writer and finished by another. Meaning is lost. When the subject matter is controversial this is more likely to occur. The Karagiozi page is an example. The Earl of Oxford’s, “Edward de Vere” page, is more so.


Edward Oxenford aka Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Now I can understand why the leading claimant to the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays would be controversial, but Karagiozi? Shakespeare is not just a man’s name. He was not just any old figure in the world of the English renaissance stage. He seems to have a greater meaning for all of us. The suggestion that Shakespeare did not write the works attributed to him rankles even people who have only a cursory acquaintance with his work.

“Shakespeare” is an anchor in world history. He is a name, a time, a place, a point of reference in history. He is part of a diagram of anchors that include figures like Adam and Eve, Buddha, Alexander the Great, Jesus Christ, Socrates, Muhammad, Martin Luther etc. They evoke a time and place away from us. We place ourselves in history in relation to them. When history is a dot-to-dot picture or a pixel anchored image, moving just one anchor or removing it altogether means that the entire sketch has to be re-proportioned. Each anchor is affected. We have to redefine ourselves in that picture.

Questioning Shakespeare’s name or his existence as a unique soul is understandably upsetting, but Karagiozi? Karagiozi, although a fictitious character is almost a national identity in modern day Greece. He is the irreverent clown who laughs at authority, outwits the educated and survives through poverty and strife. For many Greeks there wasn’t a time when he didn’t exist. For generations he has just been there. His early scenarios see him besting his Ottoman overlords. Didn’t he always get the better of the Turks?

Here is the problem. Written records of performances of Karagiozi do not exist for the period of the Ottoman occupation of Greece. His first recorded performances in Greece were in a Pireus coffeehouse in the mid 19th century, decades after the end of the Greek War of Independence. The puppets had a decided Ottoman character. The puppeteer, Mimaros began adding Greek characters in the late 19th century. Did the nature of the stories also change at this time?

Karagöz Muzesi in Bursa - Karagöz

Wikipedia, over recent months, has considered merging the Karagöz page with Karagiozi’s. Karagöz is the Turkish shadow puppet, much beloved by the Turksh people. He shares similar traits to Karagiozi. He too, is an irreverent clown. Record of Karagöz performances date back to the early 1500s. In the Turkish performances the comic dialogue between Karagöz and the town crier, Hacivat, is a highlight. In the Greek the same can be said of the dialogue between Karagiozi and the town crier, Hadjiavatis. The similarities stop here. But who pre-dates who?

According to verbal tradition passed from puppeteer to puppeteer, Karagiozi was performed by Greeks during the Ottoman occupation. A Greek may ask, “If Karagiozi is a replica of Karagöz, why do the Ottomen make fools of themselves in these scenarios?” Aggravating the problem is the lack of written accounts because of a campaign of cultural genocide practiced by the Ottomans. The Greek language was suppressed. How could written records survive or even exist? The question of who pre-dated who, can therefore only be partially closed. This is not the only controversy played out on Wikipedia.

The Wayang Kulit

The first time that I visited the Karagiozi page it seemed to have suffered the carnage of a previous battle. I wished I had visited it earlier. It seems as though a Karagiozi enthusiast had upset a Wayang Kulit (Ancient Indonesian Shadow Puppet theatre) fan by suggesting that Karagiozi pre-dated the Wayang Kulit. Didn’t the Ancient Greeks do everything first? Apparently not. Karagiozi and Karagöz, whichever came first, are theatrical phenomena of the Ottoman Empire. Does the tradition of shadow puppetry in the area predate the Ottoman Empire? Can evidence of it be found with the Seljuk Turks or the Byzantine Empire (aka Eastern Roman Empire)? What do the puppets themselves tell us? This is the fodder of a future post.

As for Wikipedia, currently it is running a fund raising campaign. It would be a shame to see it go. We should all help in our own way.

Good health and happiness to you all.

P.S. For more images of the Karagiozi, the Karagöz and the Wayang Kulit, visit the Crafty Theatre Pinterest page.

Photo credit: / Public domain – Wikipedia

Photo credit: Unknown artist / / Public Domain Mark 1.0 – Earl of Oxford

Photo credit: CharlesFred / / CC BY-NC-SA – Karagöz

Photo credit: Broken Simulacra / / CC BY-NC-ND – Wayang Kulit


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