Compromised Rulers in Literary Works


Modern societies long for democratic values including equality and the ability to make major decisions. People who lived centuries ago could only dream about democracy or any manifestation of this form of rule. People were to abide by the law and do whatever their ruler might ask them to do. Importantly, leaders were believed to have all possible virtues and the power given by the divine forces.

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The literature contains various accounts of this kind of relationship between the ruler and his people. Various literary works also address the notion of the compromised ruler and the ways thinkers found to make society better. This paper includes a brief analysis of the notion explored in such literary works as The Thousand and One Nights and The Prince as well as some pieces by De Montaigne and Tao Qian. It becomes clear that the rule of a compromised leader is questioned, which makes people look for a better world where different laws exist.

Born to Be a Ruler

It is possible to identify at least two types of compromised rulers who are described in the works mentioned above. One of such leaders is king Shahrayar from The Thousand and One Nights who has absolute power that “reached the remotest corners of the land” and “the country was loyal to him” (The Norton Anthology World Literature 1176). Here, it is clear that the man reigns by the right of his birth although he must have expanded his influence by war.

The author does not question the power or authority of the king, but his negative traits are outlined. The story related to Shahrayar’s wife or rather his actions show the darkest side of absolutism. He kills his wife and her lover with no remorse or thoughts concerning the value of human life. The reasons for the woman’s adultery (or, in other words, betrayal) are not provided and seem irrelevant to the author. This attitude can be a reaction to some immoral deeds of the ruler although this point is not properly explored. The author does not raise such questions; however, they can be easily read between the lines. The ruler is compromised by his own actions as he has no respect for a human life that is a divine gift, so people will soon raise their heads dreaming about another society.

Earned the Right to Be a King

Another ruler to be discussed is Cesare Borgia who was a true leader for many and earned a significant place in the history of Italy. From the very first lines of the text related to this historical figure, the writer states that the young man “gained his position through his father’s Fortune” (The Norton Anthology World Literature 1629). The ruler is compromised by his unroyal birth, but he is wise and courageous, which makes many people disregard his origin.

At the same time, the young ruler displays some negative traits as he deceives and makes wars. Many people betray him as well, which can be explained by the ill-nature of those individuals and reactions to his immoral acts. Clearly, these actions alongside his low position by birth compromise his rule, which leads to this prince’s defeat and death.

Laws Are Relative

The stories of the two rulers contributed to the shifts that took place in the societies and people’s minds. Many thinkers started questioning the authority of their leaders and dreaming about other forms of rule and societies. For instance, in his depiction of another society, Michel De Montaigne emphasizes that the belief that some nations are civilized while some other groups are uncivilized or lacking order is erroneous. The texts by this author can serve as an illustration of the outcomes of the reign of compromised rulers. The philosopher ironizes that people claim to have “the perfect government” although their kings or leaders are compromised in different ways (The Norton Anthology World Literature 1653). De Montaigne argues that more natural laws should be employed since they can help people build a better society.

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Tao Qian offers quite a unique solution that can be linked to Michel De Montaigne’s ideas. The Chinese poet who has a high position in society chooses to leave the social domain and focus on his personal life. Notably, Chinese society is based on the principles of hierarchy, and authority is highly valued there. Nonetheless, Tao Qian leaves everything and looks for a better future for himself claiming that he has not “gone far on the wrong road” (The Norton Anthology World Literature 1295). The man sees his service in the country’s government as something negative and unworthy. His poems can be regarded as a reaction to people’s dissatisfaction with the social order that had been in place for centuries since the stories of Shahrazad and the writings by De Montaigne.

When considering the works mentioned above, it is also apparent that all the authors except Tao Qian dream about changing the world order. Even the anonymous authors of the Arabian tales are didactic and teach morals stressing that any ruler should be virtuous. Tao Qian, however, is more concerned about being as distant as possible from society even living among people since with “the mind detached, one’s place becomes remote” (The Norton Anthology World Literature 1301). It seems that the former civil servant is absolutely disappointed with his country’s government and does not believe that anything can be changed. He acknowledges that the state has little respect for individuals’ rights, so being a recluse appears to be the only possible solution to feel liberated.


To sum up, it is necessary to note that the concept of the compromised ruler can be found in many literary works including the ones considered in this paper. Rulers often make decisions that can lead to their people’s dissatisfaction. Kings can be born to rule, while some noble persons can gain power and win a high position. Irrespective of the origins of their power, rulers need their people’s support, or they can simply be destroyed.

The betrayal of leaders is sometimes a consequence of their being evil or unwise. Sometimes, people betray their kings due to their own sinful desires, ambition, and inclinations. In any case, leaders should never be immoral even as a response to betrayal, since it will divert their people from them. In some cases, people would want to create a better society while some individuals would concentrate on their inner world. At any rate, it is clear that people’s reaction is an indicator of the nature of their ruler. Moral leaders inspire their people and win their love and even devotion while evil kings are deceived, betrayed, or even overthrown.

Work Cited

The Norton Anthology World Literature. Vol. 1, 3d ed., W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2013.

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