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Arabian Nights Series: The Use of Humor

The second story that Scheherazade tells to Shahryar is the story of the poor hunchback. After her near failure and execution in part one, Scheherazade changes tactics. Instead of doubling down with the fantasy stories, Scheherazade decides to lighten the mood with a comedy. To keep Shahryar’s attention she connects the story of the Poor Hunchback to the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves through the characters of Fasial and Safil. Fasial is a world-renowned tailor who had attended the wedding of Ali Baba and Morigana. Upon returning to Constantinople Fasial and Safil have dinner with Bac Bac the Sultan of Constantinople’s favorite jester. In a twist of fate, Bac Bac chokes to death on a fishbone and dies at Fasial table.

Fasial and Safil believe that the Sultan will kill them even though Bac Bac’s death was an accident. To shift the blame they bring him to the home of the Jewish Dr. Ezra Ben Ezra. Dr. Ezra goes to greet Bac Bac and trips down the stairs causing Bac Bac’s to fall with Dr. Ezra landing on top of him. Dr. Ezra upon realizing that the dead man is Bac Bac drops him down the chimney of Hi-Ching, a Chinese man who is well versed in martial arts. Hi-Ching karate chops Bac Bac thinking that he is getting robbed. Once again realizing that it is Bac Bac he places the body in an alleyway where the drunk Englishman Jerome Gribben is walking home. Jerome hits the body against the wall repeatedly and calls the guards thinking that he was being attacked. Jerome is arrested and then brought to trial for the murder of Bac Bac before the magistrate. The Magistrate sentenced Jerome Gribben to death but unable to bear the guilt Faisal, Dr. Erza, and Hi-Ching all confess to murdering Bac Bac. The Sultan enters and realizing it was an accident order all of the individuals free and muses that Bac Bac would be amused by the manner of his death.

This story seems to lighten Shahryar’s mood and leaves him thinking about the meaning behind the story. Compared to the complex motivations of the characters in the first story the characters in the Story of the Poor Hunchback are simple and occasional stereotypical. The Jewish doctor is greedy and is only willing to people who pay him, the Tailor is vain and concerned about his reputation, the Chinese man knows martial arts. These are all old stereotypes but that is what makes the comedic sequence of events work. Shahryar would be familiar with these stereotypical characters and would understand their motivations easily.

Shahryar is clearly engaged throughout the story and even asked Scheherazade the meaning of the story. Scheherazade tells him that the meaning of the story is that people need to take responsibility for their actions. Shahryar’s muses that if the individuals in the story had taken responsibility for their actions then Bac Bac. For a moment they both have a laugh at the irony of people’s fates. Scheherazade begins telling him the next story which angers him because Shahryar and murders a poor pillow sitting next to her. While this seems like an outburst it is his armor cracking. He cannot comprehend why Scherezade cares for him and asks her why? To which she responds because she loves him and then begins the next story.

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