The Nightingale by Hans Christian Andersen Summary

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Everyone loves the fair songbird until an impostor shows up. Hans Christian Andersen's 'The Nightingale' tells the tale of a nightingale that enchants a kingdom. In this lesson, we'll summarize the story.

A Song So Fair

Ever heard a song so great you just couldn't stop listening to it? You play it in the car, through your headphones at the game, even on a wireless speaker while you're cooking dinner. You just can't get enough of it!

The characters in our story, ''The Nightingale,'' are likewise smitten with not only a song, but the songbird who delivers it. That is, until they perceive a better option has come along. Let's dive into the story.

What is ''The Nightingale'' About?

The Chinese emperor, or ruler, has a lot of great stuff, including a beautiful palace and row after row of never-ending flowers, all surrounded by a noble forest.

Unbeknownst to the emperor, in that noble forest lives a nightingale, whose songs enchant everyone who hears them. Travelers from around the world, fishermen, and all sorts of people enjoy the songs of the nightingale as they pass through the forest.

One day, the emperor is reading about a recent traveler's experiences in his kingdom when he encounters a tale of the songbird: ''...the nightingale is the most beautiful of all...'' the writing said. As the emperor has not heard of this nightingale, he becomes curious.

A Royal Invitation

The emperor tells his servants to find the bird and invite it to sing for him that evening, or else the entire court will be trampled. His servant sets about to find out where the bird lives, and discovers the answer from a servant girl in the kitchen of the emperor's castle. She leads the emperor's men to the bird in exchange for the promise of constant employment and an invitation into the castle.

As they journey to where the bird lives, the party encounters a variety of wildlife, including a cow and a frog, each time mistaking it for their prized guest. When they finally reach the nightingale, they are impressed by the bird's song: ''It sounds like tiny glass bells, said the lord-in-waiting, and see how her little throat works. It is surprising that we have never heard this before; she will be a great success at court.''

The Gift

The nightingale agrees to sing for the emperor at his castle, which has been splendidly decorated for the occasion. The emperor is so pleased with the song that he is moved to tears and gives the nightingale its own cage and servants at the castle.

It's all anyone in the town can talk about - the beauty of the nightingale's song. Until one day, the emperor receives a mechanical nightingale made of diamonds, rubies and sapphires. Not only is the mechanical nightingale able to sing a lovely, familiar song over and over, but looks beautiful doing so. The people want the birds to sing duets, but they cannot because the real nightingale sings in a natural way, while the mechanical bird can only sing waltzes.

As the castle fawns over the mechanical bird, the real nightingale flies away and returns home. He is banished from the kingdom.


From that moment on, the mechanical nightingale takes the place of the real bird aside the emperor, sitting on a silk cushion near the emperor's bed.

A year passes before the mechanical bird stops singing, and after being fixed, it is determined it can only be played once each year. Five more years pass, and the emperor has become gravely ill. In fact, he is near death: ''The poor emperor, finding he could scarcely breathe with a strange weight on his chest, opened his eyes, and saw Death sitting there.''

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