Discuss the theme of deception in the story The Arabian Nights by Sir Richard Burton.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Deception is the core of the frame story of The Arabian Nights. Scheherazade contrives to escape execution by telling King Shahryar tales that begin and captivate him but that don't end. As she is free to choose for herself what she will or will not do (as long as her head is intact, that is), Shahryar must wait till the morrow to hear the conclusion of the tale. In the process, he must spare her life one more night and day. This deception on Scheherazade's part is because she knows the whole story of Shahryar's bitter disappointment over his unfaithful first wife, his determination that all women are betrayers of faith and loyalty, and the succession of young brides who are queens for a night and beheaded in the morning. Her actions are deception because she has plotted and contrived a way to postpone her imminent death by distracting and beguiling King Shahryar with her half told tales.

Thereupon said she: "By Allah, O my father, how long shall this slaughter of women endure? Shall I tell thee what is in my mind in order to save both sides from destruction?" "Say on, O my daughter," quoth he, and quoth she: "I wish thou wouldst give me in marriage to this King Shahryar. Either I shall live or I shall be a ransom for the virgin daughters of Moslems and the cause of their deliverance from his hands and thine."

While we can't examine all the nearly 1001 tales Burton published in 1885, we can briefly examine "The Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdad" and its embedded tales about the three Kalandars. The three Kalandras (mystics and beggars) are invited under a deceptive seal of secrecy, "WHOSO SPEAKETH OF WHAT CONCERNETH HIM NOT SHALL HEAR WHAT PLEASETH HIM NOT!" into the home of the three Ladies and the portress. Each tale told by the Kalandars centers around deception. Each Kalandar initially deceives the Ladies because each is in fact a Prince. The first deceived his uncle by sealing up the son and cousin with a secret lover. The second Kalandar intrudes into a deception in which an "Ifrit named Jirjis bin Rajmus" has kidnapped a Princess and is holding her captive.

The third Kalandar falls under the mercy and care of ten men, each missing an eye, who exile him to a lovely palace when his curiosity gets the better of him. There he seeks to deceive the men only to have his own eye knocked out by a horse's tail. Deception is the bedrock of Scheherazade's motives and tales and the cornerstone of the tales she tells.

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The Arabian Nights

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