Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Shahriar, Emperor of Persia and India. Convinced of the unfaithfulness of all women, he vows to marry a new woman every day and have her executed the next morning.
Scheherazade, his wise and beautiful bride. On the night of their wedding, she begins to tell him a tale that so fascinates him that he stays her execution for a day so that he can learn the end of the story. The stories are continued for a thousand and one nights. Then, convinced of her worthiness, he bids her live and makes her his consort. The following are characters in some of her stories:
The King of the Black Isles
The King of the Black Isles, who nearly kills the lover of his unfaithful queen. She gets revenge by turning her husband’s lower half into marble and his town and all its people into a lake of fish. A neighboring sultan kills the lover and deceives the queen into undoing all her enchantments; then she too is killed.
Sindbad the Sailor
Sindbad the Sailor, who, in the course of his voyages, visits an island that is really the back of a sea monster; a valley of diamonds; an island inhabited by cannibal dwarfs and black one-eyed giants; and an underground river.
The Caliph Harun-al-Rashid of Baghdad
The Caliph Harun-al-Rashid of Baghdad, Sindbad’s ruler.
(The entire section is 473 words.)
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. New York: Vintage Books, 1977. Offers detailed interpretations of the frame story and of the Sindbad stories and “The History of the Fisherman and the Genie.” Compares them to Western fairy tales. Lacks a historical perspective but nevertheless a good demonstration of the psychoanalytic approach to The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments.
Carpenter, Humphrey, and Mari Prichard. The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1984. Major entries on Aladdin, Ali Baba, and Sindbad, as well as references to the collection as a whole. Provides the stories’ histories and their incorporation collectively and individually into Western children’s literature.
Hamori, Andras. On the Art of Medieval Arabic Literature. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1974. Explores links between the tales of two of the collection’s story cycles based on theme and literary motif, and demonstrates the tales’ moral purpose connected to classical Islamic teaching about man’s place in the universe.
Irwin, Robert. The Arabian Nights: A Companion. London: Allen Lane, 1994. An excellent source, which provides a variety of approaches and materials for study. Discusses translation, composition, and compilation of The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, explains the medieval Islamic life as the context of the tales, and makes comparisons to literary analogues in Arabic and other cultures.
Marzolph, Ulrich, ed. The Arabian Nights Reader. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne University Press, 2006. Marzolph compiles sixteen studies of Arabian Nights that examine the stories that make up the text, as well as the history of the text as a whole. The essays offer insightful analysis of the individual tales, including unique interpretations of themes and characters. Formalist and structuralist views are presented alongside feminist interpretations which give readers not-often-thought-of analyses of gender issues present in the stories.
Pinault, David. Story-Telling Techniques in the “Arabian Nights.” Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1992. Detailed study of the tales’ narrative structure, arguing for the persistence of oral methods of composition in the literary work as it exists, and analyzing the thematic and linguistic connections among the tales.