CINDERELLAGAME BY PAUL-EERIK RUMMO AS COMPARED TO SONG GAMES
Estonians are ardent theatre-goers.
The dozen professional theatre companies in a small country with
population scarcely a million, and the numerous amateur groups both
st home and until recent years also in the Diaspora refer to the
popularity of organised theatre. Despite the keen public support to
theatre, very little of significant merit has emerged in original
native Estonian dramaturgy. The situation with prose writing and
poetry is quite the opposite for since the appearance of the first
original Estonian belles-lettres, many prose writers and
poets, both male and female, have proven themselves as world class
writers. The most recent example of this is Jaan Kross with his
meteoric rise to the international renown.
According to the opinion of the
author of the present article, among the very few original Estonian
plays that can claim to be of international stature, Cinderellagame
(Tuhkatriinumäng, 1969) by Paul-Eerik Rummo should be
regarded as one of the truly outstanding works in Estonian
dramaturgy. In the following essay, I will briefly analyse one of the
reasons for the destitute state of the original Estonian dramaturgy
and then view one of the aspects of the structure of Paul-Eerik
Rummo's remarkable play in this context. A proficient English
translation of the play by Andres Männik and Mardi Valgemäe
is available in Alfreds Straumanis' anthology of Baltic plays
Confrontations with Tyrrany (1977). All quotes from the play
below are taken from this publication.
While any play can move beyond
simple entertainment by embodying messages of universal significance,
ultimately, the primary purpose of theatre is nonetheless
entertainment. The origin of secular theatre for entertaining
purposes, however, is usually found in religious rituals. The birth
and development of classical Greek theatre from Dionysian fertility
rituals is a well-known example. The same phenomenon can be traced in
the development of modern Western theatre as well. Early in the
history of the organised Catholic Church it was customary for the
priests to perform simple re-enactments of biblical stories in front
of the altar as part of the liturgy. The ritual drama was perhaps
also useful as a way of instilling biblical knowledge to the
illiterate masses. These simple liturgical pieces gave rise to more
complex ones. The religious pieces soon moved from the inside of the
church to the outside and, eventually, priests were replaced by
professional actors. This gave rise to mystery plays which in turn
inspired early morality plays. All this finally developed into
secular types of theatre such as Shakespeare's plays and the
subsequent myriad of plays in western tradition. Thus, the important
point here is that both the classical Greek theatre as well as the
modern western theatre developed in its eternity out of religious
We yet lack knowledge of the nature
of the ritual re-enactments of the pre-Christian Estonians. While we
compile certain facts about the various facets of Estonian life prior
to the conquest and final capitulation to foreign invaders in 1227
from contemporary chronicles, but there is no information available
on the rituals of Estonians. We can only compare the extant
traditions of the Estonians and other Finno-Ugric peoples, and
specualte on that. We can presume, for example, on the grounds of the
extant materials collected from the Karelians, that some sort of bear
cult may have been practiced in early Karelian folk religion. The
lively and extensive ritual drama refers to the Khanty Bear Wake. The
Khanty are quite distant linguistic relatives of the Estonians and
Karelians. Today they live primarily on the coasts of the Ob River in
Western Siberia and they were the last of the Finno-Ugrians to be
converted to Christianity (only in the eighteenth century). This fact
helps to explain why pre-Christian elements have been so well
preserved in their traditions.
Whatever the nature of ritual drama
among the pagan Estonians was, it was almost totally wiped out by the
eager Christian missionaries determined to save the eternal souls of
the native population - with force if necessary. The Estonians
eventually accepted Christianity. Certain elements of pre-Christian
beliefs etill survived and were in many cases incorporated into
Christian rites. Remnants of an earlier time have survived, such as
the sleighing down the slopes, a form of sympathetic magic,
accompanying the rituals associated with Christian Shrovetide or
St. John's Day's customs. Both are heavily imbued with elements
clearly deriving from pre-Christian fertility rites. Pre-Christian
dramatic elements have also survived in several wedding and mumming
rituals. Nuptial rites have their roots in fertility rites. Mumming
was a ritual dressing in disguises and other costumes accompanied by
wandering from door to door begging for alms. It is a popular
practice today as well. Mumming has its origins in fertility rituals
as well as in ancestor worship. Other pre-Christian rites were also
sporadically preserved, but have remained practically undeveloped.
But such rituals associated with pre-Christian fertility rites are
not theatre in the common sense of the word, however strong the
dramatic element may be.
Due to the historical process in the
eastern littoral region of the Baltics, the native population found
itself nominally Christian, but in reality excluded from the church
rule. While natives theoretically might have become priests, all
evidence points to the fact that the majority of the priests and
later Lutheran pastors were members of the ruling German population.
Thus the organic growth necessary for the development of a dramatic
tradition from church liturgy was denied to the Estonians as well.
The original ritual drama was dropped and replaced by the foreign
religion which rule lasted for centuries. All attempts to promote
dramatic art ended due to the lack of encouragement and thereby
failed to develop national theatre.
Theatrical activity in Estonia is
relatively young. The first records about Shrovetide carnivals date
back to the 15th century. Presumably, some sort of theatrical element
may have been present in these celebrations. Records indicate that
travelling troupes performed here and there in later centuries but
these were mainly German troupes performing for Germans. The earliest
record of real theatre performance in Estonia date back to 1529. It
was the staging of Andria by Terence by Tallinn schoolchildren
and was performed in Latin. Its purpose was primarily to provide a
lesson in Latin rather than entertain the audience. In 1784 the first
amateur theatre was established in Estonia but the actors performed
in German and the theatre was intended for Germans. One of the
organisers was a well known Baltic-German writer August von Kotzebue,
a prolific playwright, who was remarkably enlightened for his time.
He donated the profits of his plays to the poor and for publishing
literature in the Estonian language. He sponsored, for example, the
publishing and free distribution of 10,000 copies of Arvelius'
handbook on health, housekeeping and husbandry Joseph Ramma's
Handbook for Emergencies and Aid (Ramma Josepi Hädda- ja
Abi-Ramat). But as the Germans controlled almost everything, the
native Estonians played only an insignificant part. The native
theatre tradition in Estonian was established only with the
encouragement and active participation of Johann Voldemar Jannsen and
his daughter, the wellknown poet, Lydia Koidula by the inauguration
of Vanemuine Song and Play Society (Vanemuise Laulu- ja
Mänguselts) in 1865. The first Estonian dramaturgy emerged
as a fully formed imitation of German theatre and was not rooted in
the Estonian traditions. However, the Baltic German theatre imitated
by the Estonian theatres was undoubtedly provincial and, at its best,
second-rate as is the contemporary theatre reviews imply. In short,
during the period of national awakening in the 19th century a
relatively weak theatre tradition was artificially implanted into
Estonian culture. Although it seems to have been a false start from
A significant exception hereby is
Paul-Eerik Rummo's 1969 play Cinderellagame (Tuhkatriinumäng,
1969). The play is ineresting because its structure is based on the
only extant element of original drama found in Estonian native
culture. This native form of drama, consisting of the three elements
required in theatre - actors, conflict and audience - is
found in a variety of games called song-games (laulumängud).
The song-games figured prominently
in the social pastimes of the Estonian peasant until very recently.
Although song-games were played outdoors, such as nukumäng
(the doll game) at St. John's Day celebrations (24 June - the
Christian replacement for the rituals associated with the summer
solstice), the song-games were mainly played during the winter season
between Martinmas (11 November) and Candelmas (2 February). One of
the popular names for December is recorded as mängukuu
(the month of games) which can only prove the fact that the playing
of games was considered to be a particularly popular activity. After
all of the outdoor activities concerning harvest were completed, life
retreated indoors for the remaining dark winter period. The maidens
and women of the village would gather for spinning and weaving and
other needlework or perhaps just to pass time on the days when work
was forbidden as on Christmas Day and the following St. Stephen's
Day. Young men would also come to visit maidens on these occasions
bringing liquor with them. While waiting for them, the maidens made
certain that there was enough food available and the long dark
evenings would be spent playing and singing. Pagan rituals, the
remnants of a pre-Christian past, were often performed at these
events. These evenings were usually organised in advance.
The Church tried in vain to suppress
these practices as particularly pagan and licentious ones. At one
period in the seventeenth century the authorities went so far as to
illigimate such game evenings, but people nonetheless came secretly
together. Similar to many other things that were declared unlawful it
simply went underground. Many people, however, were prosecuted for
organising such evenings of playing or taking part in them. The first
records of old Estonian folk-songs are found in court records from
such trials in the 17th century. The first recorded folk song in
Estonian is found in the records of the trial against Ralli Hans from
Audru Parish in Pärnu District (Southwest-Estonia), who was
prosecuted for organising a play evening at his farm. This evening,
certain pagan rites had been performed. Among other things he was
accused of performing a ritual with a Metsik. The Metsik was a
human figure made of straw. By means of certain rituals, the Metsik
is believed to absorb all the evil from the surroundings and
afterwards it is taken outside and left somewhere or burned. It is
recorded that at this event, Ralli Hans' daughter Ello sang the
following song, which is today commonly known as Needle Game Song
(Nõelamängulaul). She is said to have learnt it in
the neighbouring parish of Mihkli.
The Needle Game Song was recorded in
court protocols in the following way (all the translations of
folklore are made by the author of this paper):
Eiß Kaddi tubediß
Bob up and
down sweet needle
Bob up and
down needle maiden
needle got lost
did not get lost while sleeping
got lost while sewing
steel one [got lost] from the hand.
The comparison with a version of the
same song recorded from Kuusalu Parish (the northern coast of
Estonia) in 1913 can only indicate the wide popularity of the game
all over the country and throughout the centuries.
neula ja silmikäne.
Bob up and
down sweet needle,
Bob up and
down eye of the needle!
needle got lost,
The needle and its eye got lost.
The needle did not get lost while sleeping
lost while working.
Very likely, such games were popular
even before they were recorded, as they include several pre-Christian
motives. Certainly they were practised until the very recent past.
The success of the games relies strongly on the players'
improvisational skills and a strong sense of drama necessary to
participate in the game.
The games are all similar in
structure. They usually consist of three parts; the first part is the
song which sets the atmosphere for the game but does not contribute
to the substance of the game. The second part is a dialogue between
the protagonists of the game where the central conflict is
established. The third part is the denouncement of the conflict,
often in the form of a chase where one player (usually male) tries to
catch another player (usually female) while the rest of the players
try to prevent the former from achieving his goal. A typical example
of a song-game is Chicken Hawk Game (kullimäng) as
described and sung by Liisa Kümmel (born in 1888) from Ore
village in Tori parish, Pärnu District. It was recorded by
Herbert Tampere from Estonian Literary Museum in 1961. The following
is mostly based on Liisa Kümmel's version of the Chicken Hawk
One of the young men plays the part
of the chicken hawk. He sits in the middle of the playing area and
pretends to be digging a hole or is engaged in some other unspecified
activity. The other players, mostly female form a chain by holding
onto the waist of the person in front. The first player is the mother
hen, followed by all her chicks. The chickens enter singing the
following song describing a chicken hawk who has come to stay in the
siis kulli meile tulli?
otsib küla kanusid,
dear sweet hawk,
this hawk come to visit us?
The hawk's looking for the village chickens,
the farm's geese,
of ducks from the manor,
turkeys from the inn.
hawk's little head like?
manor's big bushel.
the hawk's little eyes like?
little golden boxes.
hawk's little beak like?
spigot of the ale keg.
the hawk's little nails like?
hook for the well.
hawk's little tail like?
manor house's weathervane.
By the end of the song the chicken
have formed a long line in front of the chicken hawk with the mother
hen facing the hawk. The conflict between the chickens and hawk
develops through a dialogue similar to the one below. The more
improvisation is included and the more each character/actor enters
into the role, the more fun the game is for the participant and those
standing around watching (after all, all people present did not
Kana: Tere, tere,
miis, mis auku sa kaevad?
Kana: Mis sa süte
Kull: Panen paja.
Kana: Mis sa paja
Kull: Panen vee.
Kana: Mis sa veega
kuke-kana karva võtma.
kuked-kanad sulle kurja tegid?
Kull: Või ei
teind? Sõid ära kõik isanda oad, emanda ernid,
neitsi läätsid, toapoisi tubakad, seapoisi sibulad ja
Kana: Noo, kus sa
siis isi olid?
Kull: Metsas aida
Kull: Teibid kätte
Kana: Kui pikk sii
Kull: Siit senna.
Kana: Kui kõrge?
Kull: Maast taeva.
Kana: Kui lai?
Kana: Kui tihe?
Kana: Ah, sa
valelik! Isi olid ahju peal, koorekirn olli kõhu peal,
konnareis olli pius, kastsid konnareit koore sisse ja tõmmasid
läbi suu limps ja limps.
Kull: Kui sa
sedasi edasi räägid ma söön su lapsed ära!
Hen: Hi there,
fellow! What's that hole you're digging?
Hawk: A coal pit.
Hen: Watcha gonna
put on the coal pit?
Hawk: Gonna put a
Hen: Watcha gonna
put in the pot?
Hawk: Gonna put
Hen: Watcha gonna
do with the water?
Hawk: Gonna pluck
the hens and roosters.
Hen: What did the
hens and roosters do?
Hawk: They ate up
all the master's beans, the mistress' peas, the maiden's lentils,
the kitchen boy's tobacco, the swineherd's onions and the
Hen: and where
were you all this time?
Hawk: In the
forest, making a fence.
Hen: And your wife
Hawk: They were
handing me the pickets.
Hen: How long was
Hawk: From here to
Hen: How high?
Hawk: Up to the
Hen: How wide?
Hawk: Like the
blade of an axe.
Hen: How tightly
spaced were the pickets?
Hawk: Like a
Hen: You liar! You
were sitting on the stove with a jug of cream on your belly and a
frog's leg in your fist. You were dipping the frog's leg in the
cream and pulling it through your mouth, smack, smack.
Hawk: If you keep
this talk up I'll eat up your kids!
Upon this threat the mother hen
demands to know which of her chicks the hawk is going to eat up. The
first chick behind the mother extends her leg out from behind its
mother for the hawk to look at. The hawk rejects this one. This is
repeated down the row with each chick in turn showing her leg and the
hawk rejecting her until the very last chick shows her leg. This is
the one that the hawk wants and he tries to catch her. Meanwhile the
other chicks and their mother, without letting go of one another must
prevent the hawk from catching the chick. Once the hawk has caught
the chick or she has managed to escape, one round of the game is
finished. It can be repeated with new players or some other game will
In this game the three parts are
quite distinctive. The song with its vivid description of the hawk
sets a certain atmosphere but otherwise has no relevant part in the
conflict or its resolution. The dialogue reveals the relationship
between the hawk and the chickens and justifies the aggression of the
hawk against the chickens. Finally, the chase scene attempts to
somehow resolve the original conflict. In various song-games, all
these parts do not necessarily need to be as clearly developed as
they are in this game, nonetheless the general features are usually
These song games ceased being
popular forms of entertainment at the end of the 19th century.
However, the Estonian intelligentsia in the late 1960s must have been
aware of their existence despite the fact that they were no longer
performed. A collection of old Estonian folk-songs edited by the
folklorist and musicologist Herbert Tampere was published in 1958,
only 10 years prior to Rummo's play. Most Estonians were familiar
with this collection. We can assume that Rummo knew about the song
Now if we look at Paul-Eerik Rummo's
play, we can perceive a remarkable structural similarity to the
song-games. All of the component parts of the game are present, also
the fact that the title of the play suggests its affinity to the
song-games is no coincidence. All such games are called «game»
preceded by a determiner, such as laevamäng (Ship Game),
kassimäng (Cat Game), väravamäng (Gate
Game), etc. Just as the Chicken Hawk Game is a game that revolves
somehow around a chicken hawk, Rummo's play is a game that somehow
revolves around Cinderella.
Rummo's play begins where the
original Cinderella fairytale left off. After nine years of marriage,
the Prince begins to have doubts about the Cinderella. When the play
opens, it is February and the Prince and Cinderella are on their way
to the yearly visit to Cinderella's old home. The Prince, however,
secretly leaves his entourage and arrives before others early in the
morning only to discover that there is another Cinderella in the
kitchen. The Kitchen Cinderella's foot seems to fit the «Cinderella
Slipper» that the Prince has managed to bring along. But it
turns out that the Palace Cinderella (the Prince's wife) had secretly
substituted the original slipper with a cheap imitation. The Prince
also encounters two step-sisters who both in their own way try to
lure the Prince. The Prince's dilemma is which of these four is the
real Cinderella, his wife, the drudge in the kitchen who calls
herself Cinderella or one of the two step-sisters. Conversations with
the Master, presumably Cinderella's father, prove to be inconclusive.
The Prince's frantic and ultimate encounter with the stepmother,
called the Mistress in the paly, a «monumental matron» in
a wheelchair, reveals that he is merely one Prince among many, all of
whom are married to Cinderellas. All of the Cinderellas in turn are
merely the agents of the Mistress. The Mistress cannot even remember
which of the Cinderellas that she has sent out as a consort to some
Prince may have been the original Cinderella.
Rummo's multi-faceted work exhibits
a clear and complete connection to original Estonian drama embodied
by song-games. This adds an additional layer to an already
outstanding play. The three structural elements of the song-game are
clearly distinctive in the structure of the play. Let us discuss
The song element is subtly included
in the opening scene of the play in what is in fact an inner
monologue of the Prince. It is a rambling monologue interspersed with
snatches of song sung by the Kitchen Cinderella. It has no real
connection with the rest of the play which could easily exist on its
own. But it does add a certain atmosphere to the play with its
description of February and the bleakness.
The Prince has just been let in the
kitchen by a Cinderella. It is only five a.m. and the Prince has had
to get up much earlier to get ahead of the others. He looks at his
pocket watch and begins to ponder on the season:
The short passages at the very
beginning of the play are of a totally different nature from the main
body of the play. One cannot help but notice the deep lyrical quality
of the monologue which is not found in the Prince's other speeches.
Moreover, nothing in these lines adds anything to the movement of the
play itself. The Prince's comments «Exactly nine years ago it
was February, too» followed by Cinderella's «Exactly nine
years from now it will be February, too» is like a refrain
woven into the text. This is further emphasised by Cinderella's
tuneless hum that accompanies the whole monologue. The song ends when
the Prince abruptly wakes up again.
on her part, gets more and more deeply in what she is doing and soon,
without particularly developing a melody, begins to sing, while
paying no attention to the PRINCE.)
What a storm! February, February! Can't see the tip of your nose, but
you must keep moving. Hungry wolves watch and wait beside the road...
Exactly nine years ago it was February, too.
(singing to herself): Exactly nine years from now it will be
(continues by himself; his observation pauses are not determined
by CINDERELLA'S singing, which he does not even seem to notice):
Push on! Downwind? That's too much to ask for. Then at least let it
be into the wind! Oh, no! First it whips from here, then from there.
It lashes against one cheek, then under the other side of your coat,
then it coils your body like a vine. February, February! Wolves scent
you; (Observation pause.) you, hungry, scent the thaw; you can
scent the thaw through this cacophonic fury. The wolves stalk after
you, and you stalk after hope, hoping that the storm will cover the
old tracks. Exactly nine years ago it was February, too.
before): Exactly nine years from now it will be February, too.
before): The thaw, the thaw. Where can it be? It has to come. Let
the year be what it will, February is always the same. You can taste
its rage. It taste of hope. Just walk and breathe; you can taste that
soon all this will crack apart, that soon all these roads now cloaked
with snow (Observation pause.) - stalking and cracking
roadbanks - and the wolves' starved cadavers will crack on the
road and on the roadbanks. The thaw! You run around as if drunk. How
everything drips with joy!... (Quite tired by now.) How
everything oozes and drips and splashes and sloshes... how wet the
world is then; there isn't a dry spot on your body... you go to the
fire, wanting heat... some go home, some to the pub, some to the
royal castle... (Nodding off to sleep)... home castle, or
royal pub... works wet.... (Talking in his sleep)... rusty...
workhouses... royal works... (The PRINCES sleeps. Continuing to
hum, CINDERELLA looks up from her activity for the first time and
throws a fleeting glance at the PRINCE, then at her work. She leans
back in order to see better, falls on her backside. The PRINCE
awakens, jumps up.)
From this point on, the Prince's
dialogues with other characters are attempts to work out what is
happening in the world around him. The central conflict is revealed
through the ensuing dialogues between the Prince and the other
characters of the tale. I do not need to comment on this middle
section since in its very nature it is the parallel of the dialogue
in the song-games. It provides the dramatic body of both the games as
well as the play. Through the dialogues the Prince learns that all
threads seem to lead to the Mistress. The Prince decides to confront
In the song-games the initial song
and dialogue tend to be static, not imbued with any frantic movement
or activity, the actual chase provides an unexpected and radical
change. The same occurs in Rummo's play. If up to this point the
action and emotional pitch has been relatively subdued, from this
point on there is a marked change in the atmosphere of the dramatic
confrontation scene between the Prince and the Mistress; the stage
opens up and the Prince earnestly begins to chase the Mistress in her
wheelchair around the stage. The author's stage directions at this
point reveal how strongly the play has followed the pattern of the
song games. The one-dimensional body of the play which matches
the line-up of participants in the song-games; the chickens in a line
in front of the hawk for example, all of a sudden becomes
don't go away. I must find out... I must at least hear what you have
MISTRESS: I am
not going anywhere. I am just moving around a bit.
MISTRESS rides in an illogical, unfounded pattern with unexpected
turns and stops about the stage, which acquires for the first time
during the play its third dimension... So far, all props have been
placed in one line, fairly far downstage, and there the action has
also been carried out lineally. Exaggerating slightly, one could say
that up to this point the stage has been one-dimensional, because
also the height of the stage has been unlit and unused and all
scenery and props have been, at most, no higher than the actors. Now,
during the MISTRESS' moving about, the pipes begin to move up and
down at random. Both the PRINCE and the MISTRESS tire as the result
of moving about. From time to time some pipe will drop between them
unexpectedly like a barrier. Then the PRINCE jumps over it or crawls
under it; sometimes he swings from a pipe and propels himself after
the MISTRESS. After a while he learns to react more quickly to her
sudden turns. In the interest of more natural play, the movement of
the pipes could be different at each performance, unexpected for the
To further differentiate the chase
scene from the rest of the play, the dialogue in this scene is in
blank verse. The rest of the play is in regular prose. The game-like
quality is further emphasised by the author's directions which
require that the pipes should be dropped differently at each
performance, which makes the Mistress as well as the Prince react
In the following chase scene, the
Mistress reveals that the world is an absurd totalitarian place,
where everyone is merely one of her puppets. She makes up the rules
and can change them at will. The Prince, still not satisfied with the
Mistress' answer and in a final desperate attempt to make the good
Fairy Godmother appear, who would reveal the real truth, savagely
beats the Kitchen Cinderella. But there no Fairy Godmother apppears.
There is no real truth. Only the arrival of others signalling that it
is time for the Prince to go now prevents him from punishing the
Kitchen Cinderella any further. The Prince and the Palace
Cinderella depart. The Mistress wins this time. Again. As always. The
Mistress is left alone with the Kitchen Cinderella and the cycle is
at its start. Another Prince is expected that evening and another
transformation of a Cinderella takes place. Just as in the song-game,
if one set of protagonists has resolved one round of the game, new
characters are assigned their roles and the game begins anew. Only in
the case of Rummo's play, the Mistress remains in her role for ever.
I do not want to suggest that the
play's affinity with the Estonian dramatic folklore is what ensures
the lasting greatness of the play. The play has merits on a large
number of levels. At the same time no other original piece of
Estonian dramaturgy embodies native material so successfully to the
extent that Rummo's play does. Perhaps modern Estonian playwrights
could use the pre-Christian elements in the Estonian folk tradition
even more effectively than Rummo, so that the Estonian dramaturgy
would be transformed from a mere copy of Western European traditions
into something truly connected with Estonian culture.
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