In The Thousand and One Nights, how does Shahrayar's wife's infidelity affect how he reacts to Shahrazad's storytelling? What in the tales is meant to be a lesson for Shahrayar?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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 Shahrazad's storytelling, especially at first, involves tales in which men have lost their good sense and judgment because they allowed themselves to be tricked rather than falling to any natural evil in their wives. In short, the men in her tales have been weak before the women. Shahrazad doesn't depict women as tricksters and whores, but as intelligent and capable of the occult arts, which is much more than just being unfaithful. Further, through her tales, Shahrazad instructs Shahrayar in the manipulative ways of women. With this knowledge, Shahrayar can maintain his manliness and not feel that women are a threat to him and believe he must kill them.

In one of the first tales, "The Story of the First Old Man and the Hind," for instance, a man's wife studies magic while he has traveled, entrusting his female slave and his adopted son, whom he has made his heir, to her care; she then turns the boy into a calf and the boy's mother into a cow, instructing her steward to care for both of them. After the man returns, his wife tells him that his slave is dead and the son has disappeared. Soon, it is the feast of Bairam, so the man wishes to offer sacrifice. He has his steward bring him a fat cow, but the cow seems to cry tears before him, so the man orders the steward to take it and kill it; after the steward kills the cow, he says that there was very little meat. So, the man orders the calf brought; he starts to kill it, but it throws itself at his feet. The man summons his steward: "...take back this calf; take great care of it, and bring another in its place instantly." When he says this, his wife exclaims, Do not sacrifice any calf but this." 
Fortunately, the man does not heed his wife. For, the steward's daughter has an insight and realizes the calf is the man's son. Because she knows magic, she changes him back, but only on the condition he marry her. The man is elated to have his son back and tells his son to marry the girl. As punishment, his wife is changed to a cow and he leads her as he tells this story.

This tale demonstrates to Shahayar that the man's misfortune of losing his slave comes from allowing himself to be fooled by his wife; he used poor judgment. However, once he controls his faculties, chooses not kill the calf, and the daughter of the steward changes the son back, he is reunited with his beloved boy. He also acknowledges the skill and intelligence of the steward's daughter, who then marries his son.

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