1. How are we to understand Shahrayar’s madness? Does it make sense to you? That is, are male egos in macho societies that frail, or is his a special case?
I think we are supposed to understand Shahrayar’s madness as related to trauma, and yes it does make sense to me. While I do think that his behavior and level of trauma related to his wife’s infidelity portrays this character as a baby-man, when bad things happen to people their reactions are theirs and while those reactions can be judged, they cannot be changed. He was scorned, and it really hurt him bad. From where I stand, male egos in macho societies are ABSOLUTELY that frail, Shahrayar is no special case. Having been cheated on is a chronic and played out excuse for men to do wicked things across time and cultures. It is the most outstanding response men give in defense of themselves being abusive to women and I guarantee if you work a few shifts at any women’s shelter or read a handful of DV police reports you will see that this is true. It’s absurd and it’s been happening for centuries.
2. Both the vizier and his daughter, Shahrazad, tell tales that surround their human characters with important animals, but the animals play different roles in the imaginative worlds of father and daughter. Compare and contrast the powers attributed to the animal world in The Tale of the Ox and the Donkey and The Tale of the Merchant and His Wife with those described in The Story of the Merchant and the Demon. How may these differences reflect the contrasting visions of gender relations so central to The Thousand and One Nights?
In The Tale of the Ox and the Donkey, and The Tale of the Merchant and His Wife, the stories told by the vizier attribute powers to the animal world to have conversations amongst each other, to make plans and conceive of tricks and punishments. The donkey has an ability to foresee what actions a human might take if the ox takes his advice to not perform his oxen duties but, not knowing that the merchant understands the plan is unable to foresee himself being a victim. In the second tale told by Shahrazad’s father, the animals are simply conversing amongst each other, aware of what is going down in the larger household. The merchant is then able to take the incredibly misogynistic advise of the raping rooster. Whereas in the vizier’s stories the animals are animals by birth and simply have language amongst themselves, in Shahrazad’s The Story of The Merchant and the Demon, animals exist as having been previously human and are made animals as some sort of punishment. The animals in her story are either victims as in the merchant’s mistress and son, or perpetrators who have been caught in their bad act and are now living as deer and dog as punishment. I suppose when thinking about how these differences reflect the contrasting visions of gender relations in the stories, you sort have to look at the larger story. The vizier’s stories have animals coming up with tricks and acting badly, not foreseeing what the real consequences of their actions might be. Like women perhaps? In Shahrazad’s stories, animals are former people who are either victims of other’s crimes or have committed their own, however their punishments are not death even though it is suggested in most cases that death will be what happens to them. Instead, they have to live as animals. Maybe she is suggesting that there are punishments less severe than death.
3. Do you believe the penalties suffered are appropriate to the sins committed in Dante’s Inferno? Why or why not?
In one sense, no of course I don’t think the penalties suffered are appropriate to the sins committed in Dante’s Inferno because I don’t subscribe the worldview where these correlations are presented. I don’t believe in hell and don’t really believe in sin in the way that this story presents sin. I don’t think that suicide and being non-Christian or not baptized warrant any form of hell. On the other hand, I do appreciate the fact that the sins committed (being an unbaptized pagan vs. the sin of violence) have penalties residing in corresponding worse and worse realms of suffering (a lesser heaven vs. a river of boiling blood).