We all think we know the story of Cinderella. But to celebrate our new production of Rossini's operatic version of the story, La Cenerentola, we're checking out how much you really know about this classic fairy tale and its many incarnations.
Take our quiz below to find out more!
Excellent news – you were right, whatever you chose! .
Nice. No. What? But the beheading bit...?
For most of us, living here and now, Disney’s Cinderella – featuring two evil step sisters, a fairy godmother, a glass slipper and a forgiving heroine – is the most familiar version of the tale. But in reality, it is only one in thousands. Nor is it original. The detail of the glass slipper, for example, is the invention of the French fairy tale author and collector Charles Perrault (as are the pumpkin coach, the mouse horses and the lizard footmen). In another French version the slippers are made from red velvet and embroidered with pearls, while the Brothers Grimm, and many others, dress their Cinderella in golden slippers. One Egyptian heroine, in what is thought to be the oldest version of the tale, loses not a slipper but a (Greek) sandal – and then there’s the Nigerian story in which the lost golden boot, on spotting Cinderella, grows legs, comes running and puts itself back onto her foot. With shoes like that, who needs a prince!
Making Do Without the Shoe
Other variants of the tale abandon the idea of footwear altogether. In many Danish accounts, for example, the heroine loses one of her gloves (in church, mind, not at some frivolous ball), and in another Egyptian version, the prince finds Cinderella with the help of a diamond bracelet – a bit like in Rossini's La Cenerentola. One Philippine tale makes a ring the key piece of jewellery. In a twist on the theme, this ring sits not on Cinderella’s finger but on that of the son of the wealthiest man in the area. He finds it growing on a pair of chicken legs that Cinderella has planted in her little garden (It’s a long story.), takes it and puts it on. But as soon as he gets home, his finger begins to swell and the ring gets stuck. Not one of his highly-paid physicians can help, nor can any of the girls in the town – except, of course, for Cinderella.
With a Little Help from Her Friends
The variation in “slippers” is matched, if not surpassed, by the range of Cinderella’s helpers. There’s fairy godmothers, yes, but also alabaster and earthenware jars, hazel trees and date trees, a little white dog (don’t trust him – he’ll only help in return for your two first-born sons!), fish and frogs, crabs, doves, a yellow cow and a red calf, and even a mountain troll. The list goes on. Often, these helpers are reincarnations of Cinderella’s dead mother. Often, too, they are in some way responsible for the less than salubrious fates of Cinderella’s (step) sisters. For not all of her siblings are let off the hook as easily as those in Disney’s version...
Down With the Wicked Sisters!
In the Grimms’ account, for instance, the stepsisters are encouraged – by their mother – to hack off their heel and toe respectively, to allow them to fit their feet into the slipper. Entirely in vain, of course, because the doves that have been helping Cinderella all along not only tell on the sisters to the prince but then proceed to peck out their eyes (think Sondheim's Into the Woods). But at least they escape with their lives, which is more than can be said for the Chinese half-sister who is stoned to death, or the Icelandic step sister who is not only killed and incinerated, but whose ashes are then made into a porridge for the delectation of her own mother. It is also more than can be said for the Scottish sister who ends up beheaded by Cinderella herself.
Cinderella: Axe Murderer
In Cinderella’s defence: her mother, father and sister do put the axe into her hands and order her to kill her best friend, the red calf. What else can she do then, really, but to follow her friend’s advice and let the blade come down, instead, on her sister’s neck --- before quickly riding off into the sunset on the back of the calf. This isn’t the only tale with a murderous Cinderella, either. In one old Italian version, she beheads her first stepmother, this time using the heavy lid of a trunk, in order to pave the way for a second. Sadly, step-mum number two turns out to be no better than the first – not a huge surprise, considering the idea and instructions for the murder were hers. But even this particularly evil step-mama cannot keep Cinderella from her prince. One may question Cinderella’s judgement (and her methods), but not her resolve: She will always, always have her happy ending.
Curious for more? Most of the tales referred to above are from Heidi Anne Heider’s (humongous) book Cinderella: Tales from Around the World (2012), in which you’ll find hundreds of different versions of this much-loved fairy story.
Written by Sophie Schuenemann
PhD Student in Creative Writing, Keele University
Find out more about our production of Rossini's Cinderella (La Cenerentola).
Rehearsal photography by Tom Arber