The Shaving of Shagpat opens with three paragraphs that attempt to create an effect of archaic exoticism in the manner of the Arabian Nights:

It was ordained that Shibli Bagarag, nephew to the renowned Baba Mustapha, chief barber to the Court of Persia, should shave Shagpat, the son of Shimpoor, the son of Shoolpi, the son of Shullum; and they had been clothiers for generations, even to the time of Shagpat, the illustrious.

Now the story of Shibli Bagarag, and of the ball he followed, and of the subterranean kingdom he came to, and of the enchanted palace he enetered, and of the sleeping king he shaved, and of the two princesses he released, and of the Afrite held in subjection by the arts of one and bottled by her, is it not known as 'twere written on the finger-nails of men and traced in their corner robes? As the poet says:

Ripe with oft telling and old is the tale,
But 'tis of the sort that can never grow stale.

Now, things were in that condition with Shibli Bagarag, that on a certain day he was hungry and abject, and the city of Shagpat the clothier was before him; so he made toward it, deliberating as to how he should procure a meal, for he had not a dirhem in his girdle, and the remembrances of great dishes and savoury ingredients were to him as the illusion of rivers sheening on the sands to travellers gasping with thirst. [Chapter 1, "The Thwackings"]

Questions

What role does stylistic parataxis play in creating this effect — look up parataxis if you find the term unfamiliar — and how does it relate to fantasy, romance, and ancient epic? What does it imply, for example, about logic and causation?

What literary traditions and genres does the second paragraph invoke? What does the fictional reputation of this story imply, and why here and throughout the text does Meredith quote supposedly commonplace literary authorities (all of whom, one assumed, he invented)? How, incidentally, does this habit of citation of authority tie in to the motifs of spoken language, story-telling, and power?

What effect does this opening produce by making a barber and a clothier the chief subjects? How does the text rely upon its audience's attitudes toward class and status?


Victorian
Overview George Meredith

Last modified 2002