Edexcel English IGCSE: King Schahriar and his brother

Q2. How is the character of Sheherazade presented in ‘King Schahriar and his brother’?

In your answer, consider:

  • her relationship with her father;
  • the portrayal of women in the rest of the story;
  • her behaviour towards the sultan;
  • the 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

Sheherazade is a surprising character in ‘King Schahriar and his brother’. In a society clearly dominated by men, in which women are expected to be meek and obedient, she is strong and stands up for what she believes in.

Although Sheherazade has a good relationship with her father, she is able to stand up to him. She is described as her father’s “delight and pride”; the assonance in this phrase creates an open tone, suggesting happiness and joy. She is also polite, referring to him as “my father”, and respectfully asking for him to marry her to the sultan. Despite initially saying that he will “never consent” to this, Sheherazade’s composure and determination causes him to give in. This is described strikingly in almost physical terms: he was “yielding to her” and was physically “bowed down with grief” as a result. This makes Sheherazade seem more powerful than her father.

Sheherazade’s strength is particularly striking in the context of the patriarchal society of the time. Particularly under the king’s new barbaric policy, women are not seen as individuals: he believes that all women are as wicked as his wife, and the wives are described as “fresh”, as if they are pieces of meat to be enjoyed and discarded. Sheherazade’s language when describing her intentions makes her seem like a soldier or saviour, who will “deliver” the women of the town. The soldierly language, such as my death will be a glorious one” and “great service to my country”, is more traditionally associated with masculinity. She is the only person who is willing to stand up to the king and challenge his murderous ways. This challenges our expectations of women, and makes us even more impressed with Sheherazade’s bravery.

Disgusted by the king’s policy of marrying and murdering women, Sheherazade is determined to do something about it. She describes his actions as “barbarous”, which is very emotive; it has connotations of uneducated, uncivilised action, which is in stark contrast to his kingly heritage. As an extremely intelligent woman who has received the best education possible, Sheherazade comes up with a plan to stop the king. The plan involves making use of stereotypically feminine traits, which again challenges our expectations of women and femininity. She fakes emotional vulnerability, thus tricking the king into following her demands of having her sister with her and being able to tell a story. It shows that she is able to outsmart the king, who is concerned when he sees “her eyes full of tears”.

The strength of Sheherazade’s determination is a striking element of her character. She is an unusual heroine because of her femininity, but this gives her the unique advantage of being able to manipulate and outwit the king, who underestimates her intelligence.

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