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Edexcel English IGCSE: King Schahriar and his brother

Q1. In ‘King Schahriar and his brother’, how does the writer create tension?

In your answer, you should consider:

  • King Schahriar’s practice of having women killed;
  • the actions of Sheherazade;
  • the end of the passage;
  • the writer’s use of language.

You should refer closely to the passage to support your answer. You may use brief quotations.

Edexcel English IGCSE Model Essay by an Expert

The story of ‘King Schahriar and his brother’ is extremely tense. There is tension in the reader’s attitudes to the characters, and in concern about what will happen to the heroine, Sheherazade.

The author creates tension in the actions of King Schahriar. Initially, the reader expects him to be good and kind; he is generous to his brother and his wife. However, there is slight tension in the vocabulary used to describe him – such as “grief” and “cut off” – foreshadowing the later violent events. When we learn about his new barbaric practice, the reader’s sympathy turns to horror. The author uses emotive language to elicit sympathy for the victims instead of him: the phrase “every day saw a girl married and a wife dead” powerfully shows the tragedy of the girls’ premature deaths. There is also tension as families wonder if their daughter will be the next to die. This is captured in the image of the mother “trembling for the fate of her child”.

The actions of Sheherazade also create tension in the story. The extended description of her many qualities creates tension in itself, because the reader knows that she is at risk of being murdered by the king. This tension is heightened even further when she actually requests to be married to the king. There is tension between her intelligence and bravery (highlighted by the alliteration in “clever and courageous”), and her inconceivable actions. Sheherazade’s manner is also in tension with our expectations of female characters in the patriarchal society in which this story is set. We expect her to be meek and emotional, but instead she is confident and brave: like a soldier, she wants to pay “a great service to [her] country”. This challenges our expectations of women.

The reader is encouraged to like and respect Sheherazade, and this creates tension when we are unsure whether she will succeed in her plan. When she describes her plan to her sister, she uses conditional structures with words such as “hope” and “if”. This shows that her plan is not certain to succeed, and if it fails, she will die. The plan also involves ‘begging’ the king; the plan thus depends on the kindness of the king, of whose cruelty we are well aware. The plan is successful, but the story ends with ultimate tension, as the reader is left unaware of whether she will be successful in ending the king’s murderous ways.

This story gradually builds tension throughout, and this tension is left unresolved at the end of the story. In the original context, this would have encouraged the reader to continue through the rest of the stories in the collection, hoping to find out about Sheherazade’s fate.

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