Sunday, February 8, 2009

Comparisons: The Tale of the Ensorcelled Prince and the Frame Story

Comparison between:

The Tale of the Ensorcelled Prince and the Frame Story

I really like the word ensorcelled by the way, it should be used more often.


1. Cheating wife with black man who is beneath the wife’s “class” (frame: slave (both Shahriyar and Shahzaman, although sometimes Shahzaman’s wife goes with a cook), Prince: inhabitant of the garbage dump (not clear if he’s a slave but he’s definitely of a “lower” class).

- an aside, I’ve only heard mention of the “issue” of the black man’s role in the Nights once and I can’t remember where, but its treatment was cursory. I’m sure there are articles or books or chapters which deal with the problems inherent in the Nights and their tales for a contemporary audience who may not be as willing to allow the function of the hyper-sexual black slave man character to operate in the same way that audiences of 14th century Cairo might have, or 19th century England for that matter. It’s kind of a troubling matter because this stock figure appears quite often throughout the stories and in fact “his” role is quite important to the functioning of the tales and of the main frame story itself.

2. Tricks by the cuckolded husbands in order to get back at their wives. Frame story: While Shahzaman immediately kills his wife and the cook, Shahriyar waits, Shahriyar and his brother lie and tell Shahriyar’s wife they are going hunting and then sneak back into the palace to see the garden orgy. In the prince story the husband pretends to drink the sleeping potion/bhang drink and runs off after thinking he mortally wounds his wife’s lover instead of revealing what he knows to her (he doesn’t do so for three years!).

3. Stalling of the revenge. In the frame story there seems to be this painfully long stalling of the revenge by Shahriyar, particularly following his brother’s quick and immediate justice to his wife. The Prince story has similar stalling of the action. Both seem to draw out the drama of the tale and seem to function toward the “endlessness” of the Nights themselves.

- Shahriyar first needs to see the infraction for himself in order to mete out his justice. The Prince, likewise, hears the female servants who are fanning him tell of his own wife’s bad behavior and he also needs to know firsthand.
- Also, Shahriyar doesn’t immediately react to his wife’s infidelity, instead him and his brother go off to travel and to see if this feature of painful marriage exists anywhere else in the world (it does, in the first being they encounter). This leads to the side story of the Genie and the lady in the box, etc.

4. Women/wives as instigators. In the frame story Shahriyar’s wife calls Mas’ud down from the trees. Mas’ud is hiding in nature, in the trees. She calls him to commit adultery in her husband’s house. In the Prince story the prince’s wife seeks out her lover in nature/the outskirts of the city/garbage dump (admittedly somewhat different than a tree). The Prince’s wife also brings her lover to the Prince’s castle and also commits adultery in her husband’s house.

5. “Saved” by another man. In the frame story Shahzaman’s depression is saved by his brother’s misfortune (is that a stretch?), Shahriyar is saved by his brother telling him the truth, the two are saved by the genie’s misfortune, can we say that Shahriyar is saved by the Wazir who agrees to his daughter’s marriage to the virgin-killing king? Similarly the Prince is saved by the curious King who, upon hearing the Prince’s version of his predicament, believes him without question and goes and kills the wife’s lover and the wife herself.

6. Magic: The main magic/supernatural feature of the frame story is the genie who keeps the woman in the box on his head. There is also the story of the ox and the donkey and the dog and the rooster, these come a bit later and are told to Sharazad by her father. There is a lot of magic in the Prince story: the magical people who appear when the cooks fry up the fish (an aside – what ever happens to these people who come out of the wall? Their story and their relationship to the fish frying in the pan are tantalizingly unfinished and left hanging unresolved), the seemingly sudden magical powers of the Prince’s wife (how/where does she get these powers from? Why do they appear only after her husband discovers her and her lover and why didn’t she use them earlier to “ensorcel” her husband? Why does she turn the whole town into colored fish?

In any case, just some similarities that I noticed after reading both stories back to back. I’m sure there are others, please feel free to add some of your own.

1 comment:

  1. When listening to the Arabic versions there is no mention of black slaves, just slaves. This may be a Eurocentric addition.