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Who is Scheherazade?

By A. B. Kelsey
Updated May 23, 2024
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Scheherazade, sometimes spelled Scheherazadea, Shahrazad, or Shahrzād, was a Persian queen and the narrator of all but the main story in The Arabian Nights, also called One Thousand and One Nights. The popular legend centers on King Shahryar, a sultan who was disillusioned by the sexual infidelity of women because his first wife had been unfaithful to him. He vowed that every night he would wed a different virgin only to have her beheaded the next morning.

After only a few years, all of the marriageable women in his kingdom either had moved far away from the region or had been killed under his orders. No suitable women were left to marry Shahryar except for Scherazade and Dinarzade, the daughters of the kingdom’s vizier, which is a high official in Muslim government.

Scheherazade, the older daughter, is a very well-educated young lady, having studied the legends, books, histories, and stories about preceding Kings and humankind in general. She had learned all about poetry, philosophy, arts, and the sciences. Not only was she well read, but also was well bred, polite, and pleasant to all she encountered.

Against her father's wishes, Scheherazade challenged King Shahryar. The night of their wedding ceremony, Scheherazade instructed her sister to ask for a story. King Shahryar listened in awe as Scheherazade spun a fascinating, adventurous tale, but she quit speaking before the story was finished. The King asked her to finish the tale, but Scheherazade said there was no time left because it was almost dawn and time for her beheading. She added that she really regretted not finishing this story, because her next story was even more thrilling.

His curiosity whetted, King Shahryar decided not to execute Scheherazade just so he could hear the rest of the story later that night. This strategy of anticipation continues for a thousand nights, with Scheherazade telling her husband a new tale every night, but stopping just before dawn with a cliffhanger. This forced the King to keep her alive. On the one-thousand-first night, however, Scheherazade admitted to her ruse and showed the King the three sons she had borne him. King Shahryar forgave her, for Scherazade had not only entertained her husband with her tales, but she had also educated the man in kindness and morality.

Much has been made of Scheherazade’s character by feminist scholars, many of whom acknowledge the Persian storyteller for being the greatest female strategist of all times. Although King Shahryar is originally portrayed as the supreme ruler who commands life and death, he readily falls victim to a simple, yet daring, feminine ruse. By arousing the male’s curiosity, the “powerless female” is able to educate him and his positive qualities finally emerge. Obviously more than a simple morality tale, Scheherazade’s character continues to inspire reworked stories, ballets, symphonies, song titles, and characters in popular video games.

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Discussion Comments
By anon972972 — On Oct 07, 2014

So the king had over 1000 innocent young girls put to death and gets off scot free? That stinks big time. If I were Scheherazade, I would have killed him, preferably painfully, once I had his trust. I can't believe she actually fell in love with this monster.

By anon164092 — On Mar 30, 2011

i agree anon. i would love to see that movie and hollywood wouldn't be able to do it. only foreign countries like Arabia can do something like that.

By anon61217 — On Jan 19, 2010

Would love to see this made into a movie, but not out of Hollywood. Someone who could make this a believable story from 1,000 years ago and show a strong, confident woman who didn't belittle or try to be macho. That is where a woman's strengths are hidden, in the ability to do what Scheherazade did.

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