At first glance, Cinderella and King Lear don’t seem to have much in common, and also maybe shouldn’t. One’s a beloved children’s fairy tale about a downtrodden housekeeper becoming royalty thanks to magic, mice, and tiny feet, and the other is Shakespeare’s magnum opus about aging, being a dick to your daughters, and screaming at thunderstorms. But it turns out they’re two halves of the same story.

Fans of the original, foot-slicing Cinderella might be less surprised.

To modern audiences, Shakespeare and the Brothers Grimm can certainly seem pretty old already, what with their never once referencing TikTok or backward baseball caps, but the writers were nonetheless influenced by even older stories. Just, like, all the time. Shakespeare’s plays are full of classical allusions, and he occasionally retrofitted ancient myths for Elizabethan England – the story of Pyramus and Thisbe was an inspiration for both Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream – while the Grimm Boys basically just wrote down all the traditional stories they heard while they were out and about.

Cinderella and King Lear were no exceptions. Both stories were based on the same piece of folklore, a story called “Love Like Salt.” (Or some version of it, anyway; the same tale seems to have been told independently in numerous cultures, from India to Italy.)

In the story, a father asks his daughters how much they love him. The first daughter says more than sugar, the second more than honey, and the third says she loves him like salt, which makes him very, uh, salty. The father kicks the girl out of his house, she ends up scrubbing floors, but then she goes to a ball and falls in love with a prince.

Sound familiar?

No? Oh. Sorry. Sometimes I forget not everyone spent years studying centuries-old literature and drama in college.

King Lear famously begins with the king asking his three daughters how much they love him, and then him disinheriting the third because she wasn’t nice enough. This decision does not end well for anyone. The rags-to-riches bit is clearly Cinderella, which I hopefully don’t have to explain any more thoroughly, English major or not.

Brandy’s the only teacher the world really needs.

The folktale ends with the father being invited to the daughter’s wedding and being served meat without salt. The meal is so bland and terrible that he comes to understand that salt is great and that his daughter meant him no insult. So far, no one’s had the cajones to adapt this part, but maybe Big Seasoning could finance something and turn this tale into the eyeball-gouging, pumpkin-carriaging, meat-spicing trilogy that it’s always meant to have been.

Eirik Gumeny is the author of the Exponential Apocalypse series, a five-book saga of slacker superheroes, fart jokes, and assorted B-movie monsters, and he recently added werewolves and assassins to The Great Gatsby. He’s also on Twitter a bunch.

Top Image: Walt Disney

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