The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



betleika (from Betleem, the Polish word for Bethlehem), a folk puppet theater.

It first developed in 16th-century Byelorussia. It also existed under the names zhlob, vifleem, iaselka, and viartep. Originally batleika was connected with the Christmas holidays (according to the Gospels, Bethlehem is Christ’s birthplace). Traveling seminarians disseminated the theater form.

Among typical batleika productions are the religious play King Herod, the folk drama King Maximilian, and the genre pieces Matei and the Doctor; Anton, the Goat, and Antonikha; Vol’skii Is a Polish Merchant; Berka the Innkeeper; and The Gypsy Man and Woman. These skits are suffused with social satire, ridiculing members of the exploiting classes (large landowners, innkeepers, and so forth) and counterposing positive heroes from among the people.

A tiered box was used as a stage for batleika performances; the puppets appeared in the top and bottom levels. The wooden puppets were operated by rods traveling along grooves in the bottom of the wooden stage. Batleika theater based on shadow puppets existed in such places as Vitebsk and Velizh, and the use of changing transparent scenery was known at Dokshitsy. Batleika continued to exist as a folk form into the early years of tht 20th century.


Shein, P. V. “Vertep, ili betleiki (batleiki).” In his book Materialy dlia izucheniia byta i iazyka russkogo naseleniia Severo-Zapadnogo kraia, vol. 3. St. Petersburg, 1902.
Peretts, V. N. Kukol’nyi teatr na Rusi. St. Petersburg, 1895. (Reprint from EIT, 1894–95 season.)
Biadulia, Z. “Betleika i Belaruski teatr.” Vestnik Narodnogo Komissariata prosveshcheniia SSRB, Minsk, 1922, nos. 3–4, 11–12.
Baryshev, G. I. “Khudozhestvennoe oformlenie belorusskogo kukol’nogo teatra batleiki.” In Belorusskoe iskusstvo: Sb. statei i materialov. Minsk, 1957.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.