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(old Slavic and old Russian, “cave”).
(1) An old folk puppet show that arose in the Ukraine in the 17th century and spread into Russia in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is similar to the Russian petrushka and the Byelorussian batleika theaters.
The organizers and performers of the vertep were the pupils of the ecclesiastical schools and seminaries. The vertep was performed in a two-tiered box or model of a small house divided into two floors. The vertep actor moved the dolls by manipulating the wires to which they were attached through slits in the box. In the upper tier, scenes of a religious and biblical nature were performed (the birth of Christ, the worship of the Magi, the slaughter of the innocents). The lower floor was for interludes, including satirical stories and anecdotes in which daring Dnieper cossacks and shrewd serfs held out against Polish aristocrats, Uniate priests, and Russian nobles. The vertep performances enjoyed success among the people.
(2) The word vertep is also used to designate hovels and dens of thieves.