Sunday, January 20, 2013

Cinderella and midnight

Though the plot element that Cinderella must return before midnight is one that has become popularized due to Perrault's version and is not necessarily integral to the tale (see full blog post from July), there may be significance and symbolism in that image. I learned this interesting tidbit about masquerade balls from (of all things...) Timothy Keller's book, The Meaning of Marriage:
Errol le Cain

"There’s a passage in Søren Kierkegaard’s work where he likens all of us to people at a costume ball. “Do you not know that there comes a midnight hour when every one has to throw off his mask?”  At the time, the custom was to keep your mask on for the first part of festivities. During that time, you danced, ate, and talked with the other guests, but no one knew who anyone else was. But then at midnight all masks had to be stripped off and everyone’s true identity was revealed. In some ways, the Cinderella story is an extension of this theme, that an hour comes in which all the layers of glitter are taken away and the real, unvarnished you stands there, unfiltered for all to see."

(emphasis mine)
Though Cinderella isn't often portrayed as going to a masquerade ball, I think it's a poignant enough image to apply to understanding the tale and how it would have been interpreted in other contexts. Midnight is clearly the time of Cinderella revealing her hidden identity as a servant, but even there there's room to go even deeper, because her true identity is really her father's daughter, and rightful co-heir of his estate. So there's lots of layers and complexity (and a good reminder for us not to be hasty in assuming things about other people as well!).

Surlalune's annotations include this: "Midnight is the most common time given as a deadline in the Cinderella tale. Since midnight marks the beginning of a new day and the end of power in the old day, such a deadline is also reasonable. Midnight also marks the beginning of the witching hour." By the way, I've enjoyed reading about early Cinderellas over on the Surlalune blog recently, I hope you all have too!


  1. That masquerade ball sounds like a beautiful thing. We should host one.

  2. The movie Ever After makes the leap and makes the ball a masque ball.

    Valuable information, thank you.

  3. This explains a lot about Shakespearean balls too.

  4. It's not an extension of Kierkegaard's theme, it is the theme. :)