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Comparison of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and Perrault’s “Cinderella” Essay

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Updated: Jun 19th, 2021

Introduction

This paper studies the ideas presented in the plots of Hamlet and Cinderella, or The Little Glass Slipper. The study provides an overview of the stories’ themes, settings, and conflicts and compares those features. The paper also includes the analysis of the narratives in accordance with the epic laws introduced by Axel Olrik. It identifies the concepts utilized in the stories and provides examples of them.

Stories’ Overview

Themes

Both stories feature the protagonists that encounter difficulties in their lives. However, the themes of the narratives vastly differ from each other. Hamlet’s story features the theme of revenge; it becomes one of its main conflicts. The protagonist faces his father’s death, is deeply affected by his emotions, and contemplates whether he should avenge his father. The famous phrase “To be, or not to be” reveals that Hamlet is hesitant to make a decision (Shakespeare 205). His indecisiveness results in the tragic end of his life, as well as the dreary fate of other characters.

Unlike Hamlet’s story, Cinderella’s narrative does not end tragically. On the contrary, her life becomes better as the story develops. Even though Cinderella’s family mistreats her, she does not desire revenge. Instead, the girl shows her sister and stepmother kindness and respect, helping them to dress up for the ball. Cinderella could have avenged her relatives, but she accepted her fate and was patient instead. The theme of this narrative is that kindness prevails over cruelty. It means that the stories of Hamlet and Cinderella share several similarities but are significantly different in their cores.

Settings

The settings presented in the narratives are different, even though both involve royal families. In Hamlet, the story progresses in medieval times. The characters belong to royal families, which creates an ideal environment for the tragic narrative as many conflicts arise between them. In Cinderella’s story, the presence of royalty is only limited to the prince. However, this setting helps to create a contrast between the girl’s regular life and the new circumstances that emerge when she meets the prince. The context becomes the authors’ tool to emphasize the main idea of the plot that is the good always conquers evil.

Conflicts

As described in Olrik’s law of consideration on a leading character, the authors arrange their stories around the main characters and only include what concerns them (49). Both narratives feature the disputes among families; however, the most prominent conflicts are the individual ones. As Hamlet’s story is built around the idea of revenge, the conflict of its protagonist is defined while he decides whether he should kill his uncle or not. In the end, the problem results in distress and Hamlet’s tragic end.

It is notable that both stories present mystical elements, but they play a different role in them. For example, in Cinderella’s story, the conflict is caused by the circumstances. The girl wants to attend the ball but is afraid that she would not belong there. The fairy resolves the conflict by helping her to dress up for the event. On the contrary, the ghost, a mystical element of Hamlet’s narrative, is a reason for the main conflict in the story as he reveals the significant details about the circumstances that Hamlet had not known.

Olrik’s Epic Laws of Folk Narratives in the Stories

Both stories can be analyzed according to Olrik’s principles of folk narratives. They represent the tendencies that exist in different storytellers’ traditions. Those practices appear in compositions regularly, which makes it possible to refer to them as epic laws. In Olrik’s perspective, those narrative conventions are not linked to particular genres. To him, the most meaningful aspect of storytelling is verbal folklore that helps awaken the audience’s memories and provides well-recognized concepts.

Olrik’s law of three that states that there is number three in all folk stories, which can also be observed in both narratives (52). For example, in Hamlet, the ghost appears three times; Laertes also talks to his sister about intimacy with Hamlet three times. In Cinderella, three sisters are featured in the story. The theory proposed by Olrik is also supported in other works. One of them suggests that the number is used as a method of comparison of the folk narratives and recognition of their common motive (Liabenow).

The law of contrast is also reflected in the stories. For example, in the cases when two characters appear in the same scene, there is a contrast between their personal traits or other features. For example, Cinderella’s Godmother is an old woman, while the protagonist is a young girl. In Hamlet, when the main character becomes angered with the terrible circumstances and his inability to make a decision, he is depicted as evil compared to Ophelia, the kind-hearted girl he once was in love with. Her voice is suppressed while Hamlet’s one grows stronger as he becomes blinded by his revenge (Günenç 165).

The law of opening can be traced in both narratives too. According to Olrik, at the beginning of a story, a character often moves from the ordinary to the unusual (55). Hamlet’s story is represented by the ghost’s unexpected appearance that casts light upon the death of Hamlet’s father. The protagonist quickly becomes overwhelmed by the idea that he should avenge his father. In Cinderella’s narrative, this concept is implemented as the prince decides to arrange a ball for everyone (Perrault 1). The girl’s ordinary life changes completely as she acquires a new purpose in life, a desire to go to the ball.

Olrik describes another characteristic of the stories in his law of closing. According to this law, the decisive scene closes the narrative, but there should be a concluding story to balance the event(55). This principle is well presented in Hamlet. His fate has an effect on others, as his actions cause everyone’s death. He unintentionally kills Polonius in rage, which provokes a sequence of tragic events. In Cinderella’s story, this law is implemented in the concluding story of the girl marrying the prince and forgiving her evil stepsisters.

Conclusion

Although the stories of Hamlet and Cinderella have different plots and present distinct circumstances, they share several similarities. Both of them are focused on protagonists’ emotions and feelings as key conflicts and ideas of the narratives. Hamlet is a story of a tragic fate that follows an unfortunate sequence of events. Cinderella, on the contrary, is a fairy tale that promotes the ideas of kindness and fairness. Both stories feature Olrik’s concepts of folk narratives. It means that the authors followed the common storytelling traditions to make their works recognizable to the readers.

Works Cited

Günenç, Mesut. “Ophelia and Gertrude: Victimized Women in Hamlet.” Journal of International Social Research, vol. 8, no. 41, 2015, pp. 164-172.

Liabenow, Alonna. “The Significance of the Numbers Three, Four, and Seven in Fairy Tales, Folklore, and Mythology”. 2014, Web.

Olrik, Axel. Principles for Oral Narrative Research.Translated by Kirsten Wolf and Jody Jensen, Indiana University Press, 1992.

Perrault, Charles. Cinderella, or, the Little Glass Slipper. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1954.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Edited by George R. Hibbard, Oxford University Press, 1994.

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IvyPanda. "Comparison of Shakespeare’s "Hamlet" and Perrault’s "Cinderella"." June 19, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/comparison-of-shakespeares-hamlet-and-perraults-cinderella/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Comparison of Shakespeare’s "Hamlet" and Perrault’s "Cinderella"." June 19, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/comparison-of-shakespeares-hamlet-and-perraults-cinderella/.

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