Literature Paper on Character Analysis of Shahrayar the King

Literature Paper on Character Analysis of Shahrayar the King

One Thousand and One Night comprise of collection of folk tales that were told during the Golden Age in Islamic culture. A common feature in the entire storyline is the character of Shahryar who appears in all the tales. The frame story involves Shahzaman and Shahryar who are both betrayed by their wives, which makes them lose faith in women. The angry Shahryar seeks revenge for what was done to him. He decides that for a period of three years, he would sleep with a woman and then execute her in the morning, so that she would not get a chance to deceive him. Shahryar’s terrible plan reveals a lot about the ways in which women used to be treated in Arabian countries during this period (Kathryn 1). In the story, however, after spending 1001 nights with Scheherazade, a clever and beautiful girl, Shahryar’s perspective about women undergoes a change. The readers see him recover and resume the role of a wise ruler as his trust in women is rekindled. In the process, another role of women as change agents is also depicted in the story. Shahryar, as a character, contributes greatly to the plot of the story based on the ways in which he relates with other characters. Through him, the audience learns more about the role of women during the Islamic Golden Age in Arabic nations as analyzed in this discussion.

The Portrayal of Women

The name ‘Shahryar’ literally means a prince, a king or a kingdom holder. In One Thousand and One Nights he is depicted as a fictional King of Persia. He not only ruled the Persian Empire but also extended his empire to India, and other islands adjacent to these territories. His brother Shahzaman was also a king who ruled over the Samarkand (Zott 1). The two brothers are connected not only by blood but also by the comparable experiences in their life. Shahryar underwent a bad ordeal with his wife, was heartbroken, and turned against women in general. The Narrator, who was responsible for narrating all the 1001 stories, manages to rescue herself and the lives of many more innocent girls who would have ended up in his palace. At the same time, the wife plays an important role in developing the plot of the play because, after she betrayed Shahryar, the readers learn more about his true character, the manner in which he contributes to the literary work in particular, and the role of women during the Islamic Golden Age.

The picture generated in the public mind was that women not only lacked a voice but were supposed to be completely submissive to their husbands. They were not given a chance to take part in any public activity; rather, their roles were centered in the home where they took care of the household and the children. It is, therefore, ironical to the readers to realize that quite a few women were deceitful because of the manner in which Shahryar ended up sleeping with a different woman every night (Chapman 1). Women are depicted as slaves to men because they are easily eager to sleep with them to please them. Shahryar did not find any difficulty trying to get a woman to have sex with as he sought revenge for being betrayed by his wife. At the same time, women are seen to be prisoners isolated from the rest of the world. However, this was expected because women were not allowed to socialize with strangers. The author of the stories has, therefore, managed to perfectly present this concept to depict the Islamic Golden Age in Islamic society.

Several critics have claimed that the tales in the story degrade women, especially on their roles and place in the society. They are portrayed as objects of pleasure who can be easily given away, used, bought, and sold as one wishes. They are also seen to be gifts that are given to kings whereby they are considered to be “worthy gifts” (Burton 1). It shows that women did not have a position of dignity or respect in the society; rather, they were tools that men like King Shahryar used to fulfill their personal pleasures. Anything that can be exchanged as per personal whims and fancies does not have any specific value attached to it. After the owner is tired of using such objects, they end up selling them to others who they perceive will enjoy them. It is for this reason that critics have argued that the tales demean Muslim women.

In trying to view the experience of women through the Islamic Golden Age, it is easy to understand why men behaved the way they did in the story. During the twelfth century, the Islamic culture allowed men to marry more than one woman. The Sharia law regarding polygamy still applies today, especially in wealthy households where men feel comfortable to marry as many wives as they possibly can since they are in a position to take care of all of them. The society, however, had a specific set of codes that they used to regulate any form of dispute that could have started as a result of a man marrying many women. It is the reason the readers did not identify any incident in which the women who slept with Shahryar ended up fighting for him. It is because they each knew their place in the society and had accepted the idea of sharing a husband. Shahryar was also a king and that gave him the privilege to have any woman that he desired for the night without the society questioning his morality as an individual.

The Image Attributed to Women by Readers

When Shahryar decided to start sleeping with every woman he could get into his bed for the night after his wife’s escapade, the author attempts to depict the power and the strength of women during the Islamic Golden Age. The strength is not illustrated directly, but shown in the ways in which the men responded to and behaved towards women. It is an indication that the women, despite being undermined by men, greatly influenced their lives. On the other hand, the fact that Shahrazade was able to weave a network of stories shows that women were not afraid to speak out about their mistakes. This depicts the strength of womanhood that the author wanted to convey to the readers. It showed that women did everything possible to maintain their dignity by speaking out about the errors they made in life. Although men tend to focus on women’s weaknesses, they find the strength to change, while people are not allowed to judge them harshly since they are ready to admit their mistakes.

The fact that Shahrazade was the one narrating the 1001 stories gives the readers a different picture from what they expected to see during the Islamic Golden Age. It shows that women were not only powerful but also intelligent. A woman who is able to narrate such great stories to speak about the challenges that others like her were facing in the community and the ways in which culture defined them shows high levels of creativity and intelligence. It also bestows on the reader the impression that women did not take the back seat and remain at home in accordance with the public image of Muslim women in the rest of the world. The fact that the stories were published showed that there were women who had the courage to speak out about their daily lives which exuded strength and power.

The narrative also shows the readers that women were not mere possessions as they were depicted in the public eye, but were in reality potent agents of change. At the end of the stories, the readers are informed that Shahryar had changed his attitude towards women and no longer viewed them as objects of pleasure. It shows that perhaps he came to realize that he was wrong about women based on what the society and his own experiences so far had led him to believe. The change in Shahryar is a sign of liberation in the society as men come to accept a different facet for women and alter their views about them (Chapman 1). The transformation in the king is some form of inspiration for the audience who are already sympathetic towards the women of this period, especially regarding the ways in which they were viewed and used by men in the Islamic society.

The Constructed Image in Comparison With Men

One Thousand and One Nights has provided readers with a unique perspective on the ways in which they view men and women of the Islamic Golden Age in Arabia. In contrast to women, men can be viewed as heartless individuals who did not care about the emotions or needs of women. They would rather subject women to suffering by using them as objects and slaves than acknowledge them as human beings with equal rights (Haddawy 681). It shows that the men were the root cause of the problems that women faced during this particular period. It is evident through the character Shahrazade that women had some sort of inner strength which they could have used to change the society or to make it a better place for everyone. All that men needed to do was give them a chance to speak out and address their grievances rather than mistreating and using them as sex objects as Shahryar and other men in top leadership positions did.

In conclusion, Shahryar as a character contributes greatly to the plot of the story, based on the ways in which he relates with other characters. Through him, the audience gets to learn more about the role of women during the Islamic Golden Age. Through Shahryar, the readers learn more about the ways in which women were undermined by men and used because of their gender. Moreover, it is through the same character that the audience learns more about the culture because he is the avid listener as Shahrazade narrates the stories. The audience also learns that women were not what the society imagined them to be, rather they held much more strength than the readers had ever anticipated.



Works Cited

Burton, Richard. “The Arabian Nights – Introduction.” Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism, edited by Lynn M. Zott, Vol. 62, Gale Cengage 2004, eNotes Accessed 5Nov. 2017


Burton, Richard, translator and editor. The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night. The Burton Club, 1885. Retrieved from

Chapman, Rachel. “Women’s Role in The Thousand and One Nights.sharazadsstories, 2009,″The%20Thousand%20and%20One%20Nights”. Accessed 26 Nov. 2017.

Haddawy, Husain, translator. “The Thousand and One Nights.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature, edited by Sarah Lawall, W.W. Norton, 2002, pp 92-658

Gundersen, Kathryn. “The Arabian Nights: One Thousand and One Nights: The Frame Story Summary and Analysis.” GradeSaver, 9 Jun. 2014, Accessed 5 Nov. 2017.

Zott, Lynn. The Arabian Nights-Principal Works. “Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism.” Gale Cengage. Web 5 Nov 2017