Karangiozis in the Shadows: A Linguistic Anthropology of Greece’s Shadow Puppetry

Author Information

Michael Hadzantonis,
SOAS, University of London, U.K.

DOI: 10.47298/comela22.1-4
The GLOCAL Proceedings:  The GLOCAL Conference in the Mediterranean and Europe 2022


The Karangiozi theatre play has existed for centuries in its various forms and across territories. Initially emanating from the Ottoman regions, it entered Greece several centuries prior, and was popularized during Ottoman occupation of Greece. Structured on a system of multilayered symbolisms, the visuals, performances and narratives in Karangiozi present the lead character, Karangiozi, a poor and benevolent man who is frequently oppressed and beaten for his misdoings. The character must contend with the arrogance and comical approaches of other characters, and must support his family, all while accepting his low socioeconomic status.

While the theatre has long addressed Greece’s political satire, nationalist discourse, and class and socioeconomic differentials, the performance has, over the past century, significantly shifted with respect to its poetics, narratives, and symbolisms. These shifts correlate with movements from capitalism to late capitalism, and to the information age, as technology and information flow, and the acceleration of time scales require a new engagement with media, technology and information, where old media, such as puppet theatre performance and its narratives, as well as poetic forms of vernacular, now appear redundant.

In this paper, I address the changes in the Karangiozi puppet theatre performance. To this, I have collated a corpus of old and new Karangiozi narratives and performance scripts, which I compare. Factors I address include the altered poetics and script designs, and the notable shift in symbolisms, over the past century. Here, I draw on a framework of symbolic and narrative analysis, while also discussing the ways in which narratives and performance are newly appropriated in the shifting form of the theatre play.

Keywords: Karangiozi, Puppet theatre, poetics and performance, linguistic anthropology, symbolism

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