In The Arabian Nights, there are hundreds of stories intertwined with each other. There are three main motives of the tellers: to avoid death or punishment, to prove the storyteller’s point, and characteristics to look for in a spouse. The outermost story is that of Shahrazad, told by the narrator, who is a storyteller that must keep the king interested and in suspense, or else she dies. Shahrazad tells stories every night to save not only her life but also those of the countless virgins that would otherwise die after her on subsequent nights.
The King Shahrayer has promised to wed a new virgin each night and execute them in the morning for women’s treachery before they can cheat on him. Within these stories, Shahrazad weaves many motives for her characters’ telling of the story. In some of Shahrazad’s stories, the characters tell stories of their own to avoid punishment or death. In “The Story of the Merchant and the Demon”1 in which three passersby decide to stay and help the merchant avoid the death promised by the demon. They do this by each telling an even more amazing story than the one before him for a third of the merchant’s life.
When all three of the men succeeded in telling their fantastic tales the demon lets the merchant go free. Another story about the saving of lives with stories is the hunchback’s four deaths2. The steward tells the story/truth of how he killed the hunchback to save the merchant from being hanged. Then the doctor tells his story of how he killed the hunchback to save the steward from hanging. The tailor admits to killing the hunchback and tells his story to save the doctor. In each of the layers, the supposed murderer is telling a story to save the framed man.
Another motive of the storytellers in The Arabian Nights is to get the listener to agree with their opinion or to do things the way the storyteller wants. Shahrazad’s father, the vizier, tells her “The Tale of the Ox and the Donkey”3. He tells this story to emphasize his point of view that becoming King Shahrayer’s bride would be a bad decision and suicide. Shahrazad’s father continues his argument with another story, “The Tale of the Merchant and His Wife”4. Yet, these stories don’t discourage Shahrazad’s determination. She claims she knows just as many stories and as the book progresses, she proves her storytelling ability.
A character of Shahrazad’s stories, the fisherman, also uses his wits to recapture the demon that was going to kill him when he let the demon free. He backs up his decision to throw the demon back into the sea by telling the demon “The Tale of King Yunan and the Sage Duban”5. In this story, the king trusts his vizier and his green-eyed stories, “The Tale of the Husband and the Parrot”6 and “The Tale of the King’s Son and the She-Ghoul”7 and decides to kill the sage who cures him of leprosy. The Sage in turn kills the king by the method that the king was worried that he would kill him with.
The story convinces the demon to change his ways so he pledges to help the fisherman when freed from his bottle and he keeps this pledge. The final motive of storytellers in The Arabian Nights is to advise the reader/listener and the public of wanted qualities in a spouse. The story of King Shahzaman killing his wife after finding her sleeping with the kitchen help, and the story of his brother, King Shahrayer, who’s wife was also unfaithful. In both of the stories it points out a fact that should be obvious when choosing a spouse: choose a faithful wife.
When King Shahrayer marries Shahrazad, it gives the readers hope that there are faithful wives. The stories also warn listeners “when a women desires something, no one can stop her. “8 Shahrazad is the primary example of this her father does not want her to marry the king. She does anyway. The king wants to kill her after one night or the one after; Shahrazad still lives and eventually convinces him of her faithfulness. Another example of this is the story of the demon and his imprisoned wife who has cheated on him and kept the ring of each of her 100 liaisons.
One of the men who saves the merchant story is “The First Old Man’s Tale”9. It warns of women’s jealousy of one’s mistress. In this story, the man’s wife turns his mistress and his son into cows out of jealousy. “The Second Old Man’s Tale”10 is about three brothers and two become jealous of the first brother’s wealth and plots to kill him, but his wife saves him because he married her when she was poor and she loved him. This is an example of what a spouse should be. The story of the prince who was turned half to stone by his wife after he mostly killed her lover11 is another example of women’s disloyalty.
The reoccurring theme from the stories is of finding a faithful wife. Beginning with the narrator, then Shahrazad The Arabian Nights is full of stories within stories and each storyteller has their own motive for telling their story. The three most popular from the selections we read are the avoidance of death or penalty, the emphasis of the teller’s point, and the desirable and undesirable qualities of a spouse. The Arabian Nights provided lessons within humorous stories that were told when the common people could not read or write. 1 Haddawy, Husain.
The Arabian Nights. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1990. P22-29 2 The Arabian Nights. P206 3 The Arabian Nights. P11 4 The Arabian Nights. P17 5 The Arabian Nights. p36 6 The Arabian Nights. p41 7 The Arabian Nights. p42 8 The Arabian Nights. P10 9 The Arabian Nights. P22 10 The Arabian Nights. P26 11 The Arabian Nights. P55 Show preview only The above preview is unformatted text This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Geoffrey Chaucer section.