Universal Story: A Look at Cinderella Throughout History
Students will enjoy starting the class with an open discussion of the Met performance. What did they like? What didn’t they? Did anything surprise them? What would they like to see or hear again? What would they have done differently? This discussion will offer students an opportunity to review the notes on their My Highs & Lows sheet, as well as their thoughts about the Met production—in short, to see themselves as La Cenerentola experts.
As discussed in the classroom activity “Tale Yes, Fairy No,” La Cenerentola is one of dozens and dozens of versions of the Cinderella story that have been told, sung, acted, and filmed all over the world for many centuries. The changes Gioachino Rossini and Jacopo Ferretti brought to the tale are analyzed in that activity. Your students may be familiar with classic modern versions like the Walt Disney animated film or the television musical written by Rodgers and Hammerstein—or they may have seen contemporary Cinderella movies such as Ever After (with Drew Barrymore) or Ella Enchanted (with Anne Hathaway). Many will have heard Chris Brown’s 2007 “Cinderella” remix of Rihanna’s song “Umbrella.”
What is it about Cinderella that resonates so strongly across time and space? Students can research variations on the story, determining for themselves:
What stays the same in every Cinderella tale
What elements change
How differences reflect the culture, geography, politics or some other aspect of the society or time when each version was told
How similarities reflect commonality across human culture
How similar characteristics may, conversely, have different meanings in different places
An important aspect of such research is designing formats to keep track of findings. Students should design charts or electronic databases to help them organize similarities and differences among the variants of Cinderella.
An excellent resource for both stories and their social-historical contexts is available online at http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/cinderella/index.html. This site includes an e-text of an invaluable book, published in 1893, called Cinderella: 345 Variants. Students with access to libraries or bookshops may also want to consult such texts as:
The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, by Bruno Bettelheim
The Classic Fairy Tales, edited by Iona and Peter Opie
From Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers, by Marina Warner
The Great Fairy Tale Tradition, edited by Jack Zipes
The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales, also edited by Zipes
As a follow-up, students can create their own contemporary Cinderella stories. What elements are essential? What would they change to make the tale relevant to their lives? How much change is possible before the story ceases to be “about Cinderella”?