The narrative of a character or specific gender in a literary piece is heavily influenced by its era or culture and author of when it is written. In the modern world, women are equal to men and nowadays women can run for office, vote etc. Unfortunately, for centuries women were not always regarded as equals to men intellectually, socially or politically and were viewed as incapable of accomplishing anything of value, including through literary history. Due to this, women were treated as second class citizens in most societies.
Women have played a significant role for centuries and can be seen through different works of literature, including in One Thousand and One Nights by Mushin Mahdi and The India Play by Gil Vincente. Despite these two stories being set within different cultures and in different eras The India Play and One Thousand and One Nights have a common theme of adultery. Decidedly, after more research on this topic was conducted, the purpose of this essay is the comparison of Sharazard’s story from One Thousand and One Nights and Gil Vincente’s India Play on how adultery is perceived in both literary styles through the portrayal of women.
The India play begins with the protagonist of the story Costanca, the wife who was crying to herself about her husband’s departure, for an expansionary trip to India that had just set sail. The maid learns the reason for Costanca crying is not for the departure of her husband leaving but rather him arriving sooner than expected after consoling her. This burdens Costanca as she continues to moan and wail until the maid cheerfully assures her that his fleet has left. Upon hearing the news, Costanca’s mood and attitude immediately changed from grief to a shocking amount of bitterness all the while complaining and claiming her husband left her with nothing and was selfish.
The maid, however, reminds her of the three years worth of goods she left but yet she is ungratified. After a while, the two women hear someone walking up the stairs. It was the Spaniard who claims to have fallen in love with Constanca and claims that God was the reason for her husband’s departure in order for them to be together. Although unimpressed, Costanca still requests that he stays the night. Not long after, the squire who is her lover, Lemos, visits her home. She is ecstatic at his arrival but then recalls the Spaniard and excuses herself from the company of Lemos.
Throughout the day she tries to juggle both men’s company, ensuring they don’t learn of each other’s presence, notably, the husband arrives back home from India. Costanca changes her attitude by putting on a facade of the ideal wife, pretending to have been waiting for her husband and acts jealous towards any “beautiful Indian women'' and saying, “Since I see you alive, what do I want with more riches?” Since he assured her, he had brought back treasures and his devotion to her. With this facade, she leads him out of the house drawing them away from the two suitors inside. This play was written around 1510 CE in Portugal. This was a prosperous time during the expansion period in South Asia, North Africa and South Americal.
This was the time that Vincete who was a well-spoken poet as well as a musician often concerned himself with domestic households. Gil Vincente was convinced that around this period of men leaving their homes, women were most likely to cheat. Keeping this in mind, this is why he disapproved of men leaving their homes to go to other lands. Although, men were the sole offenders who were accused of committing adultery and making exotic girls as their slaves to fulfil their sexual needs. Earlier Costanca refers to this possibility but is denied by the husband. This is disregarded by the author as he, just like many other men, believes holding women far more accountable for her actions than that of the husbands is acceptable.
Consequently, the One Thousand and One Nights concept is similar. The story begins with King Shahrayar, ruler of Indochina and India. The King longed to see his brother King Shahzaman, Shazaman joyously accepted the invitation and got ready for his journey to his brother’s palace in India. Before he ventures out he decides to bid his wife farewell but in doing so finds his wife with cook having an affair. He becomes furious and decides to kill them both. Soon after he journeys towards his brother filled with rage, sorrowfulness and betrayal. From that point on he decides that “women are not to be trusted”. Upon his arrival, he is still filled with sorrowfulness at the betrayal he has faced, after days of staying in the palace, he witnesses the same fate he went through from his window but this time his wife was having an affair with ten of the servant girls.
Shazaman becomes joyous over his brother’s misfortune, then, later on, reveals to Shahrayar why, he becomes enraged upon hearing the news. Both brothers decided to go on a trip in search of any others who may be far more sorrowful than them and come across an enormous demon talking to a beautiful woman. A woman that the demon had carried away on her wedding night and was now going to rest for a little while. This woman notices the two Kings watching her and insists they sleep with her, they both refuse but end up sleeping with her because they had no say in the matter. The Kings learn after sleeping with her, that she had slept with 98 other men including the demon.
After this whole ordeal, they both realize that surely the demon’s life is more depressing than their own and shortly after they return back to the palace in India. Upon their return, King Shahrayar orders for his wife and the ten servant girls to be executed. Henceforth, vowing that each night he will take a new wife and kill her by morning. “There is not a single chaste woman anywhere on the entire” Shahryar states after there are only a few women left in his kingdom. Finally, after all the innocent bloodshed, the vizier’s daughter, Shahrazad, volunteers willing to be the King’s wife. Every night before the king falls asleep she tells him a story, purposely not finishing the story, so he would spare her life until the story is done. This genius plan of Shahrazad telling a never-ending story not only spared her life but the life of others as well as influencing the king and his brother to change their minds about women.
This story began in the ninth century CE after they found the title dating back the 879 CE in Egypt. Another edit of the original book around the fourteenth century in 1948 CE by Muhsin Mahdi was the most accurate version of the book until today. This was probably the second category of Arabic literature, which was edited religious elites of society around that era. In any former society, many elites writers in the fortheenth century of Islam shared similar views about women in their society. Women were viewed as inferior was not too far fetched from the opinions of other men in different eras and societies.
The representation and prejudice against women in The India Play and One Thousand and One Nights are very inherent throughout the theme of adultery. Both literary works portray women to have an insatiable urge to cheat. For instance, at the beginning of The India Play, the author establishes the husband to have a good character but, Costanca on the other hand, is unappreciative of the husband’s efforts. Even though he assured her that he brought back an abundance of riches just for her sake and before his trip he left her clothes, honey, wheat and oil that would last her three years but yet she is unsatisfied. This can also be seen in One Thousand and One Nights, for instance, a demon stealing the beautiful woman from her own wedding is not perceived as wrong but emphasizes her unfaithfulness which upsets the two kings.
Completely ignoring the fact of the two kings sleeping with that woman but yet again emphasizes and depicts women as adulterers throughout the narrative. A similar concept that was mentioned earlier on was dissatisfaction which can be seen with the two king’s wives who were married to the most powerful men in the kingdom but were unsatisfied and ultimately led to their unfaithfulness. Continuing the flow of unfaithfulness, the India Play has an unsettling way Costanca is portrayed. Apart from the apparent dissatisfaction, occasionally she tells the maid that the happiest thing that would happen is her husband’s death at sea, “I want to sew and sing sure that I’ll not see him again”.
She also goes on to talk about his long journeys to India as a perfect opportunity to continue her adulterous ways, “that she who's young and pretty should wait - oh damnation! If he goes fishing here half a league in the sea... that you know very well; how much more to Calicut! Who would wait so long?”. The most unsettling part of this portrayal is how unfaithful Costanca is to her husband and her lovers, the maid plotting along with her to keep those men under her control and also asking her, 'give me a good reward, ma'am... when he gets back to give me something he's brought you”. To top it off having Costanca put on a sudden facade of the loving wife who had been waiting for his arrival all along, “I swear to you that with longing I did not eat so much bread, sad little me, every day'. Interesting how these characteristics are a representation of men throughout history and especially now in modern times.
One thousand and One Nights stated earlier on, it is clear that adultery was not condoned due to Islamic society. The Islamic society views on women is bit harsher than most, their views of women were not to far from other societies but women were far more restricted than others in this era. Bearing in mind that these events occurred in the golden age of Islam, it upholds the sanctity and the divinity of women. The wife moreover, is expected to be obedient, loving and respectful of her husband. That purity of the wife solely belongs to only the husband and an adulterous act only brings shame to her entire family. Women back in this era were expected to be more submissive than logical or educated but Shaharazad oversteps those views of women.
However, The India play’s narrative is more of a comical genre, hence why it may appear to be condoning adultery it is not. This particular literary genre exaggerates the character’s traits as well as how coincidental certain situations are in daily life just for laughs. This genre of comedy is known as farce, it started around the fifteenth century BCE and was said to be the father of comedy. Later in the middle ages, the genre once again became popular in Europe. Gil Vicente uses the concept of farce, releasing tension from difficult and unfortunate situations that are not normally perceived well by society, for instance, In a farce, we see other people in such situations whether it be difficult or unfortunate.
The farce gives us that ease and comfort that pleases us that we are not in that situation ourselves, according to a classical studies professor. There is an imbalance of power between genders at this point in history which is portrayed throughout this play. Having a woman accused was ultimately left in the hands of the husband in the fifteenth century Portugal. Just as the story of the two kings, in this play the husband could kill their wives if needed giving the husbands full control and this can be seen throughout European literature.
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