Illustration of Rapunzel and the witch on a 1978 East German stamp
|Author||Unknown but collected by the Brothers Grimm|
Rapunzel (//; German: [ʁaˈpʊnt͡səl]) is a German fairy tale recorded by the Brothers Grimm and first published in 1812 as part of Children's and Household Tales (KHM 12). The Brothers Grimm's story is an adaptation of the fairy tale Rapunzel by Friedrich Schulz (1790) that was a translation of Persinette (1698) by Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force, which was itself influenced by an earlier Italian tale, Petrosinella (1634), by Giambattista Basile.
The tale is classified as Aarne–Thompson type 310 ("The Maiden in The Tower"). Its plot has been used and parodied in various media. Its best known line, "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair", is an idiom in popular culture.
The tale was published by the Brothers Grimm in Kinder- und Hausmärchen in 1812. Their source was a story published by Friedrich Schultz (1762–1798) in his Kleine Romane (1790). Earlier variants include Giambattista Basile's "Petrosinella" (1634/36), Mademoiselle de la Force's "Persinette" (1698), or Johann Gustav Büsching's "Das Mährchen von der Padde", published a few months before Grimm's version in Volks-Sagen, Mährchen und Legenden (1812).
A lonely couple, who long for a child, live next to a walled garden belonging to a sorceress. The wife, experiencing the cravings associated with pregnancy, notices some rapunzel (meaning, either a Campanula rapunculus (an edible salad green and root vegetable) or a Valerianella locusta (a salad green)) growing in the nearby garden and longs for it. She refuses to eat anything else and begins to waste away. Her husband fears for her life and one night he breaks into the garden to get some for her. When he returns, she makes a salad out of it and eats it, but she longs for more so her husband returns to the garden to retrieve more. As he scales the wall to return home, the sorceress catches him and accuses him of theft. He begs for mercy and she agrees to be lenient, allowing him to take all the rapunzel he wants on condition that the baby be given to her when it's born. Desperate, he agrees. When his wife has a baby girl, the sorceress takes her to raise as her own and names her "Rapunzel" after the plant her mother craved. She grows up to be a beautiful child with long golden hair. When she turns twelve, the sorceress locks her up inside a tower in the middle of the woods, with neither stairs nor a door, and only one room and one window. In order to visit Rapunzel, the sorceress stands beneath the tower and calls out:
- Let down your hair
- That I may climb thy golden stair!
One day, a prince rides through the forest and hears Rapunzel singing from the tower. Entranced by her ethereal voice, he searches for her and discovers the tower, but is unable to enter it. He returns often, listening to her beautiful singing, and one day sees the sorceress visit and learns how to gain access. When the sorceress leaves, he bids Rapunzel let her hair down. When she does so, he climbs up and they fall in love. He eventually asks her to marry him, which she agrees to.
Together they plan a means of escape, wherein he will come each night (thus avoiding the sorceress who visits her by day) and bring Rapunzel a piece of silk that she will gradually weave into a ladder. Before the plan can come to fruition, however, she foolishly gives him away. In the first edition (1812) of Kinder- und Hausmärchen (German: Children's and Household Tales, most commonly known in English as Grimm's Fairy Tales), she innocently says that her dress is growing tighter around her waist, hinting at pregnancy. In later editions, she asks "Dame Gothel", in a moment of forgetfulness, why it is easier for her to draw up the prince than her. In anger, the sorceress cuts off Rapunzel's hair and casts her out into the wilderness to fend for herself.
When the prince calls that night, the sorceress lets the severed hair down to haul him up. To his horror, he finds himself meeting her instead of Rapunzel, who is nowhere to be found. After she tells him in a rage that he will never see Rapunzel again, he leaps or falls from the tower, landing in a thorn bush. Although the thorn bush breaks his fall and saves his life, it scratches his eyes and blinds him.
For years, he wanders through the wastelands of the country and eventually comes to the wilderness where Rapunzel now lives with the twins to whom she has given birth, a boy and a girl. One day, as she sings, he hears her voice again, and they are reunited. When they fall into each other's arms her tears immediately restore his sight. He leads her and their twins to his kingdom where they live happily ever after.
Another version of the story ends with the revelation that her foster mother had untied Rapunzel's hair after the prince leapt from the tower, and it slipped from her hands and landed far below, leaving her trapped in the tower.
Themes and characterization
Many scholars have interpreted “Maiden in the Tower” stories, which Rapunzel is a part of, as a metaphor for the protection of young woman from pre-marital relationships by overzealous guardians. Scholars have drawn comparisons of the confinement of Rapunzel in her tower to that of a convent, where women’s lives were highly controlled and they lived in exclusion from outsiders.
Scholars have also noted the strong theme of love conquering all in the story, as the lovers are united after years of searching in all versions after Persinette and are ultimately happily reunited as a family.
The seemingly unfair bargain that the husband makes with the sorceress in the opening of Rapunzel is a common convention in fairy tales, which is replicated in Jack and the Beanstalk when Jack trades a cow for beans or in Beauty and the Beast when Beauty comes to the Beast in return for a rose. Furthermore, folkloric beliefs often regarded it as dangerous to deny a pregnant woman any food she craved, making the bargain with the sorceress more understandable since the husband would have perceived his actions as saving his wife at the cost of his child. Family members would often go to great lengths to secure such cravings and such desires for lettuce and other vegetables may indicate a need for vitamins.
The “Maiden in the Tower” archetype has drawn comparisons to a possible lost matriarchal myth connected to the sacred marriage between the prince and the maiden and the rivalry between the maiden, representing life and spring, and the crone, representing death and winter.
Mythological and religious inspiration
Some researchers have proposed that the earliest possible inspiration for the “Maiden in the Tower” archetype is to the pre-Christian European (or proto-Indo-European) sun or dawn goddess myths, in which the light deity is trapped and is rescued. Similar myths include that of the Baltic solar goddess, Saulė, who is held captive in a tower by a king. Inspiration may also be taken from the classical myth of the hero Perseus. Perseus' mother, Danaë, was confined to a bronze tower by her father, Acrisius the King of Argos, to prevent her from becoming pregnant, as it was foretold by the Oracle of Delphi that she would bare a son who would kill his grandfather.
Inspiration may come from the life of Saint Barbara of Nicomedia, who was a beautiful woman who was confined to a tower by her father to hide her away from suitors. While in the tower, she converted to Christianity and is ultimately martyred for her faith after a series of miracles delaying her execution. Her story was included in The Book of City Ladies by Chirstine de Pizan, which may have been highly influential on later writers, as it was popular throughout Europe.
The earliest surviving reference to a female character with long hair that she offers to a male lover to climb like a ladder appears in the epic poem Shahnameh by Ferdowsi. The heroine of the story, Rudāba, offers her hair so that her love interest Zāl may enter the harem where she lives. Zāl states instead that she should lower a rope so that she will not hurt herself.
The first written record of a story that may be recognized as Rapunzel is Giambattista Basile’s Petrosinella, translating to parsley, which was published in Naples in the local dialect in 1634 in a collection entitled Lo cunto de li cunti (The Story of Stories). This version of the story differs from later versions as it is the wife not the husband who steals the plant, the maiden is taken by the villain as a child rather than a baby, and the maiden and the prince are not separated for years to be reunited in the end. Most importantly, this version of the story contains a “flight” scene in which Petrosinella uses magic acorns that turn into animals to distract the ogress while she pursues the couple fleeing the tower. This “flight” scene, with three magic objects used as distraction, is found in oral variants in the Mediterranean region, notably Sicily (Angiola), Malta (Little Parsley and Little Fennel), and Greece (Anthousa the Fair with Golden Hair).
In 1697, Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force published a variation of the story, Persinette, while confined to an abbey due to perceived misconduct during service in the court of Louis XIV. Before her imprisonment, de la Force was a prominent figure in the Parisian salons and considered one of the early conteuses as a contemporary to Charles Perrault. This version of the story includes almost all elements that were found in later versions by the Grimm Brothers. It is the first version to include the maiden’s out of wedlock pregnancy, the villain’s trickery leading to the prince’s blinding, the birth of twins, and the tears of the maiden restoring the prince’s sight. The tale ends with villain taking pity on the couple and transporting them to the prince’s kingdom. While de la Force's claim that Persinette was an original story cannot be substantiated, her version was the most complex at the time and did introduce original elements.
Persinette was translated into German by Friedrich Schulz and appeared in 1790 in Kleine Romane (Little Novels). Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm included the story in their first (1812) and seventh (1857) edition publications of Children's and Household Tales and removed elements that they believed were added to the “original” German fairy tale. Although the Grimms' recounting of the fairy tale is the most prevalent version of the “Maiden in the Tower” in the western literary canon, the story does not appear to have connections to a Germanic oral folktale tradition. Notably, the 1812 publication retains the out of wedlock pregnancy that reveals the prince’s visits to the witch, whereas in the 1857 version, it is Rapunzel’s slip of the tongue to address criticism that the tale was not appropriate for children. It can be argued that the 1857 version of the story was the first written for a primarily child-aged audience.
Andrew Lang included the story in his 1890 publication The Red Fairy Book. Other versions of the tale also appear in A Book of Witches (1965) by Ruth Manning-Sanders and in Paul O. Zelinsky's Caldecott Medal-winning picture book, Rapunzel (1997).
Cress is the third book in the Lunar Chronicles, a young adult science fiction series written by Marissa Meyer that is an adaptation of Rapunzel. Crescent, nicknamed "Cress", is a prisoner on a satellite who is rescued and falls in love with her hero "Captain Thorne" amidst the story about "Cinder" a cyborg version of Cinderella. The Lunar Chronicles is a tetralogy with a futuristic take on classic fairy tales that also includes characters such as "Cinder" (Cinderella), "Scarlet" (Red Riding Hood) and "Winter" (Snow White).
Kate Forsyth has written two books about Rapunzel, one is a fictional retelling of the tale and of the life of Mademoiselle de la Force entitled, Bitter Greens, and her second book was nonfiction describing the development of the tale entitled, The Rebirth of Rapunzel: A Mythic Biography of the Maiden in the Tower. She described it as "a story that reverberates very strongly with any individual -- male or female, child or adult -- who has found themselves trapped by their circumstances, whether this is caused by the will of another or their own inability to change and grow".
In Nikita Gill's 2018 poetry collection Fierce Fairytales: & Other Stories to Stir Your Soul she has several poems that reference Rapunzel or Rapunzel's story including Rapunzel's Note Left for Mother Gothel and Rapunzel, Rapunzel.
- A live action version was filmed for television as part of Shelley Duvall's series Faerie Tale Theatre, airing on Showtime. It aired on 5 February 1983. In it, the main character, Rapunzel (Shelley Duvall), is taken from her mother (Shelley Duvall) and father (Jeff Bridges) by an evil witch (Gena Rowlands), and is brought up in an isolated tower that can only be accessed by climbing her unnaturally long hair. Jeff Bridges played the prince and also Rapunzel's father, Shelley Duvall played Rapunzel and also Rapunzel's mother, Gena Rowlands played the witch, and Roddy McDowall narrated.
- The story is retold in a second season (1987) episode of Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics, aka Grimm Masterpiece Theatre.
- A 1988 German film adaption, Rapunzel oder Der Zauber der Tränen (meaning "Rapunzel or the Magic of Tears"), combines the story with the lesser-known Grimm fairy tale Maid Maleen. After escaping the tower, Rapunzel finds work as a kitchen maid in the prince's court, where she must contend with an evil princess who aims to marry him.
- A 1990 straight-to-video animated film adaption by Hanna-Barbera and Hallmark Cards, simply titled Rapunzel featured Olivia Newton-John narrating the story. The major difference between it and the Grimm fairy tale is that instead of making the prince blind, the evil witch transforms him into a bird, possibly a reference to The Blue Bird, a French variant of the story.
- Into the Woods is a musical combining elements from several classic fairy tales, in which Rapunzel is one of the main characters; it was also filmed for television in 1991 by American Playhouse. The story depicts Rapunzel as the adoptive daughter of the Witch that the Baker (Rapunzel’s older brother, unbeknownst to him) is getting some items from who is later rescued by a prince. In the second half of the play, Rapunzel is killed by the Giant's Wife. The Witch then grieves for her and sings, "Witch’s Lament."
- A film adaptation by The Walt Disney Company was released late in 2014 where Rapunzel is portrayed by Mackenzie Mauzy. The difference from the play is that Rapunzel is not killed by the Giant's Wife. Instead, she rides off into the woods with her prince in order to distance herself from the Witch that raised her.
- In Barbie as Rapunzel (2002), Rapunzel was raised by the evil witch Gothel (voiced by Anjelica Huston) and she acted as a servant for her. She uses a magic paintbrush to get out of captivity, but Gothel locks her away in a tower.
- In Shrek the Third (2007), Rapunzel (voiced by Maya Rudolph) was friends with Princess Fiona. She is shown to be the true love of the evil Prince Charming and helps to fool Princess Fiona and her group when they try to escape from Prince Charming's wrath.
- Walt Disney Animation Studios' Tangled (2010), which is a loose retelling and a computer-animated musical feature film. Princess Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore) is more assertive in character, and was born a princess. Her long blonde hair has magical healing and restoration powers. A woman named Mother Gothel (voiced by Donna Murphy) kidnaps Rapunzel for her magical hair which would help maintain her youth. Flynn Rider/Eugene Fitzherbert (voiced by Zachary Levi) is an elusive thief who replaces the prince. Rapunzel also features in Disney's Tangled short sequel, Tangled Ever After. There is also a series based on the events after the movie and before the short named Tangled The Series/ Rapunzel's Tangled Adventure and a movie which leads to the series called Tangled: Before Ever After.
Live action television media
Sesame Street (1969-present) has a "News Flash" skit with Kermit the Frog where he interviews the Prince trying to charm Rapunzel with the famous line. However, she is having a hard time hearing him and when she finally does understand him, she lets all her hair fall down (completely off her head), leaving the prince confused as to what to do now.
The American television animated anthology series, Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child (1995-2000), the classic story is retold with a full African-American cast and set in New Orleans. The episode starred Tisha Campbell-Martin as Rapunzel, Whoopi Goldberg as Zenobia the Hoodoo Diva, Meshach Taylor as Woodcutter, Hazelle Goodman as Woodcutter's Wife, Donald Fullilove as Friend #1, and Tico Wells as Friend #2.
In the American fairy tale miniseries, The Tenth Kingdom (2000), the main character, Virginia Lewis is cursed by a Gypsy witch. As a result, she grows hair reminiscent of Rapunzel's and is locked away by the Huntsman in a tower. Her only means of escape is by letting her hair down through the window of the tower so that the Wolf can climb up and rescue her. Not before he asks the iconic phrase, in his own way, "Love of my life, let down your lustrous locks!". The character, Rapunzel is also mentioned as being one of the great women who changed history, and she was Queen of the sixth Kingdom before eventually succumbing to old age.
Rapunzel appears in the Once Upon a Time episode The Tower (2014), portrayed by Alexandra Metz. In this show, Rapunzel is a young woman who becomes trapped in a large tower for many years after she searched for a plant called "night-root" that would remove her fear of becoming queen following her brother's death. Because of this, she has extremely long hair. It is revealed that consuming the substance created a doppelgänger fear spirit who represents all of the person's worst fears. After Prince Charming begins to fear that he will not make a good father to his and Snow White's baby, Robin Hood tells him where to find the night-root. He then climbs the tower and eventually helps Rapunzel face her fears by facing what truly scares her, which is herself. Presented with her own doppelganger, she is encouraged by Prince Charming and cuts off her hair, killing the figure and allowing her freedom. She explains to Prince Charming that her brother died trying to save her, and she doubts that her parents will forgive her. Again encouraged by Prince Charming, she returns her to their palace where she reunites with her accepting parents.
A second iteration of Rapunzel appears as one of the main antagonists in the seventh season of Once Upon a Time (Season 7, 2018), portrayed by Gabrielle Anwar and Meegan Warner in flashbacks. In this season, Rapunzel is Lady Tremaine, the wicked stepmother to Cinderella. In the past, Rapunzel had two daughters, Anastasia and Drizella, and made a deal with Mother Gothel to be locked in a tower in exchange for the safety of her family. Six years later, Rapunzel frees herself and when she returns to her family, she discovers she has gained a stepdaughter named Ella. At some point, Anastasia dies and Rapunzel blames her husband for the incident while Ella blames herself. Gothel plans to put Anastasia in the tower, but Rapunzel managed to turn the tables and lock Gothel in instead. Rapunzel plots to revive Anastasia by using the heart of Drizella, whom she favors least of the two daughters. Drizella discovers this and decides to get revenge on her mother by casting the "Dark Curse". She allies with Mother Gothel and sends the New Enchanted Forest residents to Hyperion Heights in Seattle. Rapunzel awakens from the curse, but lives as Victoria Belfrey and is given new memories making her believe she cast the curse to save Anastasia, while Drizella lives as Ivy Belfrey, her assistant and daughter. Cinderella and her daughter are also brought over by the curse. Rapunzel/Victoria manages to lock Gothel away in Belfrey Towers.
Animated television media
Tangled: The Series (2017-2020) is a 2D animated TV show based on Disney Animation's computer animated musical feature film Tangled. Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi reprise their roles of Rapunzel and Eugene Fitzherbert. A new main character named Cassandra appears, who is Rapunzel's feisty lady-in-waiting. The series has a feature-length movie titled Tangled: Before Ever After released in 2017.
In one episode of Happy Tree Friends (1999-present) entitled Dunce Upon a Time, Petunia has very long hair that Giggles uses to slide down on as a brief Rapunzel reference.
The Japanese anime series Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics (1987-1989) features the tale in its second season. It gives more spotlight to Rapunzel's parents, who are the local blacksmith and his wife, and it makes Gothel more openly villainous.
- Ethniu, daughter of Balor
- Rapunzel syndrome
- Danaë, daughter of King Acrisius and Queen Eurydice, who was shut up in a bronze tower or cave.
- Maid Maleen
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- In the version of the story given by J. Achim Christoph Friedrich Schulz in his Kleine Romane (1790), which was the Grimms' direct source, the owner of the garden is a fairy ("Fee"), and also appears as such in the Grimms' first edition of Kinder- und Hausmärchen (1812); by the final edition of 1857 the Grimms had deliberately Germanized the story by changing her to the more Teutonic "sorceress" ("Zauberin"), just as they had changed the original "prince" ("Prinz") to the Germanic "son of a king" ("Königssohn"). At no point, however, do they refer to her as a "witch" (German: Hexe), despite the common modern impression.
- Rinkes, Kathleen J. (17 April 2001). "Translating Rapunzel; A very Long Process". Department of German: University of California Berkeley. Archived from the original on 24 September 2017. Retrieved 30 March 2020.
- In some variants of the story, the request takes a more riddling form, e. g., the foster mother demands "that which is under your belt." In other variants, the mother, worn out by the squalling of the child, wishes for someone to take it away, whereupon the figure of the foster-mother appears to claim it. Cf. the Grimms' annotations to Rapunzel (Kinder- und Hausmärchen (1856), Vol. III, p. 22.)
- In Schulz, this is caused by the fairy herself, who sprinkles the child with a "precious liquid/perfume/ointment" (German: kostbaren Wasser). Her hair according to Schulz is thirty ells long (112 1/2 feet or 34.29 meters), but not at all uncomfortable for her to wear (Kleine Romane, p. 277); in the Grimms, it hangs twenty ells (75 feet/22.86 meters) from the window-hook to the ground. (Kinder- und Hausmärchen (1857) Vol. I., p. 66.).
- In Schulz's 1790 version of the story, the purpose of the fairy in doing so is to protect Rapunzel from an "unlucky star" which threatens her (Kleine Romane, p. 275); the Grimms (deliberately seeking to return to a more archaic form of the story and perhaps influenced by Basile's Italian variant) make the fairy/sorceress a much more threatening figure.
- Schulz, "Rapunzel, laß deine Haare 'runter, daß ich 'rauf kann." (German: Rapunzel, let down thy hairs, so I can [climb] up.) (Kleine Romane, p. 278); Grimms, "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, laß dein Haar herunter! (German: Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let downwards thy hair!) (Kinder- und Hausmärchen (1857) Vol. I., p. 66.) Jacob Grimm believed that the strong alliteration of the rhyme indicated that it was a survival of the ancient form of Germanic poetry known as "Stabreim."
- This detail is also found in Schulz, Kleine Romane, p. 281.
- German: Frau Gothel. Rapunzel refers to the previously unnamed sorceress by this title only at this point in the Grimms' story. The use of Frau in early modern German was more restricted, and referred only to a woman of noble birth, rather than to any woman as in modern German. "Gothel" (or Göthel, Göthle, Göthe, etc.) was originally not a personal name, but an occupational one meaning "midwife, wet nurse, foster mother, Godparent" (German: Amme, Ammefrau; Taufpate). Cf. Ernst Ludwig Rochholz's Deutsche Arbeits-Entwürfe, Vol. II, p. 150. The Grimms' use of this archaic term was another example of their attempt to return the story to a primitive Teutonic form.
- Maria Tatar (1987) The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales, Princeton University Press, p. 18, ISBN 0-691-06722-8
- In Schulz, the fairy, relenting from her anger, transports the whole family to his father's palace in her flying carriage. Kleine Romane, pp. 287-288.
- Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (1884) Household Tales (English translation by Margaretmm Hunt), "Rapunzel"
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- D.L. Ashliman's Grimm Brothers website. The classification is based on Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson, The Types of the Folktale: A Classification and Bibliography, (Helsinki, 1961).
- Translated comparison of 1812 and 1857 versions
- The Annotated Rapunzel with variants, illustrations, and annotations
- The Original 1812 Grimm A web site for the Original 1812 Kinder und Hausmärchen featuring references and other useful information related to the 1812 book in English.