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Edexcel English IGCSE: King Schahriar and his brother

Q4. Discuss the presentation of Sultan Schahriar in the story.

In your answer, you should think about:

  • the sultan before the death of his wife;
  • the sultan’s behaviour after the death of his wife;
  • the extent of his power;
  • 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

Sultan Schahriar begins as a good, benevolent king, but becomes twisted and angry when his wife betrays him. The story teaches a lesson about the danger of absolute power.

Before he discovers his wife’s deceitfulness, the king is portrayed as good and kind. He is upset that he cannot share his kingdom with his brother, and in an act of generosity, he gives him an entire country. The use of hyperbole and superlatives express the opulence and munificence with which he treats his wife: “loved more than all the world”, “greatest happiness”, “finest dresses” and “most beautiful jewels”. However, the author uses foreshadowing techniques to suggest that this period of peace and happiness will be short-lived; the use of vocabulary such as “grief” and “cut off” hints at future misery and violence.

The king’s character changes from kind to cruel when he discovers his wife’s duplicity. He is both sad and humiliated – he experiences “the deepest shame” – which perhaps explains the disproportionality of the punishment. He has his wife killed. The author ambiguously suggests that he goes almost mad because of the “blow”. This could refer to the emotional blow of learning that his wife was unfaithful, or to the physical blow which killed her. The king’s misogyny prompts him to extend this punishment to all women, as he fails to see women as autonomous individuals. He decides that “all women were as wicked as the sultana”; the alliteration in this phrase shows how inextricably linked he now considers women and wickedness to be. His new rule of marrying and killing a new wife every day is horrifying; the author encourages the reader to pity the victims with emotive language, such as with the agony evoked by the word “strangled”.

The king has absolute power in this story, which is extremely problematic. When he learns that he cannot share his kingdom with his brother, King Schahriar breaks the “laws of the empire” by giving his brother a country anyway. Although this is an act of love, it foreshadows the lack of regulation on his policies once his motives change from love to hate. Because of his absolute power, the king is able to implement the horrifying practice of murdering young women, and it seems that nobody is able to challenge him. Even the grand-vizier, who has a relatively powerful position in the kingdom, sees “no escape” from his terrible task of finding young wives for the king. Until Sheherazade decides to take action against the king, it seems that nobody is able to stop the king’s terrible actions.

This story highlights the dangers of leaders with absolute power. Although the ability to break and bend the rules can be relatively harmless when a leader is benevolent, this can turn into tyranny if the leader decides to use their power in an evil way.

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