About this Recording
NA302912 - BURTON, R.: Arabian Nights (The) (Abridged)
English 

Sir Richard Burton

Sir Richard Burton

The Arabian Nights

The Book of a Thousand Nights and a Night

 

The tales of The Arabian Nights first became known in Europe in the early 18th century through the French version by Antoine Galland, and were translated into English soon after. John Payne’s 1882 edition gave the complete text, but it is Sir Richard Burton’s translation (1885-8) which offers the most colorful and interesting version of this remarkable work, and which we have used in this recording.

 

Many English readers will be familiar with Andrew Lang’s sanitized edition for children, and it comes as quite a shock to encounter the bold relish with which Burton retells these tales of adventure, sexuality, violence and the supernatural. The stories have a varied provenance, deriving from Middle Eastern and Indian sources, and being collected together over many hundreds of years, the earliest possibly dating back to the 8th century. It is perhaps worth noting that The Arabian Nights are not normally granted the status of classical Arabic literature: they have nevertheless exerted an extraordinary power over the Western imagination.

 

The framework for the tales is the story of Scheherazade. King Shahryar has discovered the infidelity of his wife and, having had her beheaded, he vows to wed a new wife every day, consummate the marriage, and slay her the next morning. After three years of this slaughter, Scheherazade offers herself as the next wife, but cleverly prevents her own death by keeping the King spellbound night after night through the art of her storytelling — hence the 1001 Nights, after which the King relents and cancels his murderous vow. What makes the storytelling richer and more complex, however, is the succession of ‘tales within tales’ which Scheherazade relates: in this collection, for instance, the three Barber’s Tales all fall within the larger setting of The Hunchback’s Tale — which is itself imagined as being told to the great Harun al-Rashid, Caliph of Baghdad, in the 8th century.

 

Further, the tales vary greatly in style and content — hardly surprising, given the way in which the collection grew over eight centuries. The Barber’ s Tales, for instance, reveal a world of strict social hierarchy and harsh mockery of those who aspire to a sexuality beyond their sphere, while the stories of Sindbad’s voyages are full of supernatural terrors (monstrous birds and serpents), miraculous escapes and acts of ruthless self-preservation (Sindbad clubbing to death the other wretched souls who are buried alive). Even that old favorite, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, is a tale in which murderous and thieving ingenuity is rewarded by wealth untold. Clearly the moral world of The Arabian Nights is an uncomfortable one — notwithstanding the ostensible emphasis on pious Islamic values — yet the stories are told with a beguiling artistry that fascinates and compels the reader (or listener), especially in Sir Richard Burton’s definitive version.

 

Sir Richard Burton (1821-90) was a remarkable man. Educated at Trinity College, Oxford, he served in the army in India, studying oriental languages and gaining an intimate knowledge of Muslim culture. He is supposed to have been the first white man to make the pilgrimage to Mecca — in disguise — and embarked on a further career as an explorer, discovering Lake Tanganyika in 1858. He was able to continue this as a diplomat serving in many locations. Later he devoted himself mainly to literature, publishing translations from various languages. He was also, incidentally, something of an erotologist — an interest revealed in the numerous foot notes he provides in his edition of The Book of a Thousand Nights and a Night.

 

Notes by Perry Keenlyside

 

Philip Madoc

 

Philip Madoc was born in Wales and, after studying languages at university, and a period as an interpreter, turned to drama. His extensive theater work has encompassed many principal Shakespearean roles, including Iago and Antony as well as 19th and 20th century drama. His film and TV work is equally varied, including The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, the BBC TV’s Fortunes of War and, most recently, his own detective series, A Mind To Kill.

 

The Music

 

The music on this cassette is taken from the NAXOS catalog

 

RIMSKY-KORSAKOV SCHEHERAZADE 8.550726      

     Philharmonia Orchestra, London, Enrique Bátiz


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