Cap-O-Rushes - Shakespeare's Storybook
As in King Lear, Cap-O-Rushes begins with the old king asking his three daughters how much they love him. The older two girls flatter him by saying that they love him more than gold, silver, gems and jewels, while the youngest tells him that she loves him as much as salt. At this, the king is so outraged that he banishes his daughter from his kingdom.
From here, the story parallels that of 'Cinderella.' In exile, the young girl becomes a poor kitchen servant but, after attending a royal festival, dressed in her dead mother's fine clothes, she is rescued from poverty by a handsome prince. Knowing that her father is to be present at her wedding to the prince, she orders that the banquet should be cooked without salt. This symbolism is not lost on her father. When he and the other guests taste the awful, saltless food, he realizes that as salt gives food its taste, so love gives life its meaning. As he weeps tears of repentence, his daughter reveals her identity and the two are joyfully reconciled.
We were able to relate the symbolism of salt, in this story, to the bible passage where Jesus tells his disciples that they are the salt of the earth. We spoke of how God made the world for mankind and how His people give flavour or meaning to the earth that He made. Bethany remembered her catechism question when she recited from memory that 'God made us to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him here on earth, and to be happy with Him forever in Heaven.'
We, also, spoke about the things that the daughters valued above all else. The eldest daughters compared their love to worldly riches. Not only were they flattering their father out of greed for his money, they aso made a direct statement about their materialistic values. The youngest daughter, in refusing to pander to her father's vanity, showed that she valued love more than riches, and honesty, as well. Perhaps, salt was symbolic, also, of Christian spiritual values, in her mind. It's interesting to reflect upon whether Shakespeare was drawn to the spiritual significance of this story. It has been speculated that he may have been a secret Catholic and, with the necessity for his plays to satisfy the rich, powerful and politically vulnerable sovereign of the day, I wonder whether the morals of the story, which opposed materialism and dishonesty, were quietly aimed at the religious oppression of the ruling classes.
It is, further, possible that Shakspeare's play was a simple adaptation of a true story bound together with a well-known fairy-tale, which was written in the popular style of his times - a tried and tested formula that had brought him success, in the past. The true story is that of a Londoner who was declared insane by his eldest daughters, who desired his riches. His youngest daughter, however, proved her love for her father, by defending him against the false accusations of her sisters.
Like all of Shakespeare's plays, this story has much in it to reflect upon and discuss. The characters are multi-faceted and the symbolism can be interpreted in many different ways. So, although the plot is quite simple, I am sure there is a lot more that can be drawn from this story to help us to analyse self and the world in which we live.