The Tale of Scheherazade
“The Tale of Scheherazade” is commonly called a “frame tale” because it is a story with many more stories within it. It's a device that keeps the reader wanting more and, as you'll see in this case, the king wanting more too!
Once upon a time in a land far away, there was a king who had been so brutally betrayed by his wife that he made a promise to himself. Each night King Shahryar required his grand vizier to bring him a new bride, each night he was married, and each morning, he ordered the bride's head cut off.
This horror continued for many years until one day, the vizier's eldest daughter, Scheherazade, came to her father to ask for a rather unusual favor.
“Oh, Father,” she cried, “how long will you allow this killing to go on? I think I can stop the killing. I have a favor to ask. Will you grant it to me?”
“Please, my Daughter,” said her father. “I can't deny you anything that is fair. What is your favor, dear?”
Scheherazade was a very smart woman. She had read every book in the royal library. She knew the stories of kings and the works of the poets. Not only was she well-read, but also she was well-mannered, able to tell a good story, and kind-hearted.
“I would like you,” Scheherazade paused, “to give me in marriage to King Shahryar. I have a plan to keep myself and the other women from being killed.”
“No!” cried the vizier. “I have worked for years to keep you away from him.”
“You must make me his wife,” Scheherazade said. “It's the only way.”
The vizier cried and begged his daughter to rethink her plan, but in the end it was of no use. At last he agreed to her wish.
The evening of the wedding, Scheherazade spoke in confidence to her sister, Dunyazad. “Pay attention to what I am going to tell you. After the wedding, I will ask the king to send for you so that we may spend my last few hours together. You must not be sleepy. Ask me to tell you a story. I will tell you a story that will save our kingdom.”
Dunyazad bowed her head and agreed to this plan.
That evening King Shahryar was married to Scheherazade. When the ceremonies were complete and they were in the royal bedroom, Scheherazade dropped to her knees and began to weep.
“Oh, great and powerful King,” Scheherazade said. “I have a younger sister, and I would like to say good-bye to her before I die.”
The king agreed and sent for Dunyazad. The young girl sat at the foot of the bed.
“Oh, Sister,” Dunyazad said, “tell me a delightful story to while away the last few hours of our waking life.”
“That would please me,” Scheherazade said. “If our wise king will permit me, then I will begin.”
“Tell on,” said the king, who for once was having trouble sleeping.
Scheherazade rejoiced, for this was part of her plan. And on this, the first night of the Thousand and One Nights, she began to tell her stories.