Universal Story: The History of Cinderella
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 and the sidebar “Cinderella: A Brief History,” La Cenerentola is one of dozens of versions of the Cinderella story that have been told, sung, acted, and filmed all over the world for several centuries. Your students may be familiar with classic modern versions like the Walt Disney animated film or the musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. They may have seen recent Cinderella movies such as Ever After (with Drew Barrymore) or Ella Enchanted (with Anne Hathaway.) Some may recall Chris Brown’s 2007 “Cinderella” remix of Rihanna’s song“Umbrella.”
Why do the story and character of Cinderella resonate so strongly across time and space? Beginning with the sidebar, “Cinderella: A Brief History,” students can research variations on the story, gathering evidence and forming their own interpretations about
- which elements stay the same in every Cinderella tale
- what changes
- ways that differences in retellings reflect culture, geography, politics, or some other aspect of the society or time when a particular version was created
- ways that similarities among versions reflect commonality across human culture and experiences
- ways that apparently similar characteristics may, conversely, have different meanings in different places
Note-taking is an important aspect of such research. Students should design charts and/or use digital spreadsheets to help them organize similarities and differences among the variants of Cinderella.
An excellent resource both for stories and their social-historical contexts is available online at surlalunefairytales.com/. This site includes a digital version of an invaluable book, published in 1893, 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 may enjoy creating their own 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?