400 YEARS OF SHAKESPEARE
Here are some folktales that may have inspired the Bard and their original endings. Some of them may turn out to be surprising, like tragedies originally having happy endings or comedies originally being rife with cruelty. Shakespeare may have changed some things for dramatic effect and/or assuming the audience knew the age-old folktales since their childhood or adolescence...
- King Lear: "Coat o'Rushes/Juana, the Princess of Salt/Marishka's Salt/The Turkey Girl" (the story unfurls just like King Lear, but with a happy ending: the youngest princess and her aged father, after recognizing one another and reuniting during a feast at her court, both survive their ordeal, he lives with her happily ever after).
- Hamlet: "Havelok" (the dethroned prince of Denmark is fully orphaned by the usurper and whisked away for his safety by sympathetic assassins to Saxon-era England; he is at first a "Cinderelliott" kind of abused manservant, but manages to marry a Saxon princess in his same plight, the fair Goldborough; the two young former royals return together to Denmark, defeat both usurpers, and become king and queen of both realms), Horus/Jason/Forseti/Krishna, "The Child Born from an Egg" (the rightful heir, raised in exile, learns about his heritage, comes of age, and, after a long struggle, successfully defeats the usurper, attaining the rightful place, usually a throne, that was wrested from him).
- Othello: "Genevieve de Brabant," "The Countess of Toggenburg" (a treacherous advisor manages to convince his married liege lord that his wife is unfaithful; the ostensibly killed wife survives and leads an ascetic life; the husband, upon learning the truth, punishes the treacherous advisor, then, having thought his wife dead for a long time, suddenly comes across her by chance, they recognize one another and she forgives his spouse, both leave the cloister and return to the castle hand in hand, reconciled), "Kuchisake-onna" (there is no Iago figure, but the husband accuses the innocent wife of adultery and punishes by slitting her mouth into a Glasgow grin from ear to ear, she dies from the bleeding and becomes a yókai [i.e. a supernatural spirit], haunting lonely streets at twilight, the lower half of her face covered in a surgical mask; she asks the lonely passer-by if she looks good, if the answer is "no," she kills that person on the spot... but if the answer is "yes," she unmasks herself and repeats the question; again, a "no" for an answer means instant death, while a "yes" means that she'll slit the victim's mouth from ear to ear, so that it looks like hers), "Satomi Hakkenden" (the Daikaku backstory subplot; reserved young toymaker Kakutaro marries noble heiress Hinagiku against his stepmother's wishes; Hinagiku swallows Kakutaro's magic rosary bead to protect it from her stepmother-in-law, which causes the young wife's belly to swell; subsequently, Kakutaro's stepmother convinces him that Hinagiku has had an affair and is expecting a bastard child; when Kakutaro confronts Hinagiku, she guts herself with a sword [commits seppuku] to prove her maidenhead and lack of pregnancy, thus proving her innocence at the cost of her life and making her husband retrieve the bead he had lost; after beheading the conniving stepmother, Kakutaro takes on the name of Daikaku and joins other warriors with the same birthmark he has and similar sob story backgrounds who were just passing through the village, since his destiny is intertwined with theirs). ACCORDING TO JACK ZIPES: Here, the plot generally concerns [···] the demonic power from whom she has escaped interferes with her life when [···] her husband is away fighting a war or taking care of some urgent business. She is forced to flee into a forest, [···] Her husband returns from his journey and learns how he has been deceived. He pursues his wife and is reunited with her.
- Romeo and Juliet: "Pyramus and Thisbe" (the star-crossed lovers live in ancient Mesopotamia; their elopement rendezvous goes pear-shaped when she loses her shawl, which is blood-stained by a passing-by lioness [there were Asian lions in those days], causing her boyfriend to believe she is dead and stab himself, which then, when the maiden returns and sees her lover with a dagger through his heart, causes her to stab herself as well; the blood of both lovers dyes some cherries, which hitherto had been white; that's why these fruits are red), "Layla and Maymun," "Farhat and Shireen" (the Middle East is full of stories about lovers whose parents oppose their marriage and who are only reunited in death: Farhat is told by the shah, Shireen's fiancé, the false news of her death and, brokenhearted, jumps off a cliff in despair; Shireen kills herself to avoid marrying the shah).
- Titus Andronicus: Tereus/Atreus/"Blancaflor and Filomena," "The Juniper"/"Peterkin and Little Mary" (innocent children are slaughtered like livestock by the villains, then cooked and served as meat dishes to their [the slain and cooked children's] unwitting parents, who eat the meat; the motivation is usually revenge).
- The Taming of the Shrew: "The Lad who Married a Wild Maiden" (the young husband commands several farm animals to give him water in a cup and kills them when they do not obey; then, upon giving his wife the same command, she, frightened, hastens to fill his cup), "The Wooing of Gerda" (cold-hearted, indifferent giantess Gerda is forced to marry fertility god Frey, being threatened at swordpoint with a life of loneliness and hardships if she refuses to marry him),"King/Haakon Thrushbeard" (as punishment for her conduct, the shrewish princess is forced to marry a minstrel, who takes her out of her kingdom into his own, then forces her to do manual labour to survive [first as basket-maker, then as kitchen-maid at court]. The minstrel she has married turns out to be the same prince whom she had mocked at her own court as one of her suitors at the start of the story, and they are reconciled), "The Nicky Nicky Nye" (Jamie's aunt Mary tells him to observe certain rituals to appease the titular freshwater spirit, his young wife Nora accidentally desecrates their water well, the green hand and head of the Nicky Nye emerge every now and then from the water and frighten her; only when the freshwater spirit threatens her baby does mother Nora confront and vanquish her fears).
- The Merchant of Venice: "The Three Caskets" (gender-flipped; a common girl chooses the plain leaden casket and becomes the crown prince's bride), "The Two Caskets/The Lady's Daughter and the Stepdaughter" (Scandinavian version of "Frau Holle": the kind stepdaughter, upon leaving the underworld, chooses a plain wooden casket that turns out to be full of treasure; while the spoiled heiress, her stepsister, upon leaving the underworld, chooses an ornate, jewelled casket that turns out to be full of vermin).
- Much Ado About Nothing: "Genevieve de Brabant," "The Countess of Toggenburg" (a treacherous advisor manages to convince his married liege lord that his wife is unfaithful; the ostensibly killed wife survives and lives an ascetic life; the husband, upon learning the truth, punishes the treacherous advisor, then, having thought his wife dead for a long time, suddenly comes across her by chance, they recognize one another and she forgives his spouse, both leave the cloister and return to the castle hand in hand, reconciled).
- Twelfth Night: "The Warrior Damsel/Belle-Belle/Fât-Frumos/Fantaghirò/Fa Mulan" (the heroine, heiress to a military family and raised as a boy, joins the army in her ailing father's place; she is hailed as a military hero; gender confusion and romance ensue, no twin brother [she is either an only child or the eldest/youngest out of many sisters]), "The Three Crowns/Fifine" (the heroine leaves her home in drag to escape a loveless arranged marriage; gender confusion and romance ensue, no twin brother [she is an only child]), "The Turkey Girl" (Spanish King Lear version [see under King Lear] in which the innocent youngest princess cross-dresses in exile), "The Twelve Huntsmen" (the heroine cross-dresses to be close to her fiancé, who has accepted an arranged marriage, without being recognized; gender confusion and romance ensue; in the end, he recognizes his ex-fiancée, they reconcile and marry for love, the intended bride forgives her fiancé and accepts his decision, no twin brother [she is an only child]), "Silverwhite and Littlebeau/The Twin Knights/Oliver and Arthur" (the estranged twin's fiancée/wife mistakes his twin brother, whom she does not know of, for her partner; he puts a sword in between them in bed to represent their chastity; when the betrothed/married twin is rescued, he jumps to conclusions and kills/seriously injures his single brother; only upon realizing the sword of chastity in bed does he realize the truth and manage to heal/resurrect his twin; all three are reconciled).
- The Comedy of Errors: "Silverwhite and Littlebeau/The Twin Knights/Oliver and Arthur" (the estranged twin's fiancée/wife mistakes his twin brother, whom she does not know of, for her partner; he puts a sword in between them in bed to represent their chastity; when the betrothed/married twin is rescued, he jumps to conclusions and kills/seriously injures his single brother; only upon realizing the sword of chastity in bed does he realize the truth and manage to heal/resurrect his twin; all three are reconciled).
- Pericles: "Snow White" (an innocent maiden persecuted by her envious stepmother/guardian, who commands that she should be assassinated; the maiden is sent by the sympathetic hitman into exile, where she winds up living among rough manly men [mining dwarves in the folktale, pirates in Shakespeare]; she wins the heart of a young prince and claims her rightful heritage).
- Cymbeline: "Snow White" (an innocent maiden persecuted by her envious stepmother/guardian, who commands that she should be assassinated; the maiden is sent by the sympathetic hitman into exile, where she winds up living among rough manly men [mining dwarves in the folktale, woodsmen in Shakespeare]; she wins the heart of a young prince and claims her rightful heritage), "The Trojan Trunk [motif found, for instance, in the Decameron]" (Othello version in which the villain manages to convince that he's slept with another man's wife/fiancée by producing a jewel of hers and/or knowing where she has a certain birthmark and/or what her bedchamber looks like; the villain had entered the couple's bedchamber in secret, concealed inside a trunk [hence my "Trojan trunk" designation]; the brokenhearted husband/fiancé commands that his partner be put to death, or leaves her to her fate; she survives and attains her former status; the estranged couple reunite when, once he is made aware of the truth, their paths cross once more by chance, they recognize one another and reconcile).
- A Midsummer Night's Dream: this one is a true confluence of fairytale traditions: beautiful and redoubtable fey king Oberon and his queen; trickster sprite Puck or Robin Goodfellow, who may be one of the inspirations for Robin Hood; love potions and the plants used to brew them, in particular the wild pansy (Viola tricolor), called by folk names "heartsease," "kiss me quick," and "love in idleness."