Petrosinella's Literary Beginnings
While most people know Rapunzel from bedtime stories and big-screen films, Rapunzel has a rich literary tradition spanning hundreds of years. It is this rich history that has made Rapunzel, what we know it as today.
Rapunzel made her first appearance onto the world stage through a man named Giambattista Basile, who is also famous for writing the early versions of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. Basile published a version of the Rapunzel story, ‘Petrosinella’, in 1634 which was picked up by a French novelist and poet Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force, who adapted it into the story, Persinette.
In the 19th century, the story was picked up and reworked into a folk tale collection published by the Brothers Grimm who brought the story into the world of modern literature. The story appeared in the German fairy tale collection ‘Children’s and Household Tales’ which was published in 1912. The Grimm’s additions and alterations to the story made it an instant favorite, and set in motion a literary tradition that would be revised and recycled for over 400 years.
The iconic nature of Rapunzel’s character went onto become a popular motif within the literary world, with stories appearing of a persecuted heroine in countries all over the world, and continuing to emerge today.
- Sexual Encounters
The Brother’s Grimm were known for adapting fairy tales, deliberately leaving out elements of the story line which were not suitable for children and Rapunzel is no exception. In the French version, Persinette invites the prince up to her tower in order to make love to him, a detail which is left out of the Grimm account.
In the earliest Grimm version of the tale, it is also revealed that Rapunzel is pregnant with twins, alluding that her daily encounters with the prince have resulted in pregnancy. This was, however, deemed to be inappropriate for children and was later removed from the story.
- Untimely Ends
In the French version, Persinette has a pet parrot which threatens to tell her secret (that she seduced the prince). In order to silence him, she sews up his rear end. In an ironic twist of fate, her own nose is turned into a rear end by an evil fairy who wants the punishment to fit the crime.
In one version of the story, at the end Gothel accidentally drops Rapunzel’s hair, trapping herself forever in the tower.
The evil fairy who casts a spell on Persinette in the French version is not seen in the Italian version. This edition, instead, has Petrosinella escaping form an ogress, but this is adapted to become an enchantress in the Grimm version.
The plot of Rapunzel, though adapted through time, is generally set in a small village, beginning with a focus one particular couple, and a witch.
The couple are depicted as lonely and unable to have children. When the wife finally falls pregnant, they are living next to a walled garden which is inhabited by an evil witch named Dame Gothel.
As the wife’s pregnancy continues, she starts excessively craving the roots of the Rapunzel plant (often translated to ‘rampion’). When she spies some growing in the garden next door, she desperately longs for it. One night, when she begins to look like she might die without it, her husband scales the wall to get some for her. He feeds her the salad with the roots but this only increases her craving.
Her husband returns to the garden the next night, only to get caught out by Gothel who accuses him of theft. Desperate for mercy, and worried for his wife’s health if he cannot access more rampion, the two strike up a deal in which the husband may take all the rampion he wants, but in exchange, he must give up the baby they are expecting, at birth.
When the baby girl is born, Gothel takes her and raises her, naming her Rapunzel after the plant that the mother craved. The girl grows, but in her twelfth year, Gothel shuts her in a tower in the woods, with no windows or doors, keeping her all to herself. When Gothel wishes to visit, she stands below the tower and calls out the iconic line:
“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair, so that I may climb thy golden stair.”
Gothel then climbs the hair and ascends into the tower.
One day, a prince happens across the tower and hears Rapunzel singing. He is instantly drawn to it and returns often. One day, while he observes from afar, he sees Gothel entering the tower, and learns how she gains access. When she leaves, he delivers the line and climbs the tower. In true fairy-tale style, this results in an engagement.
A plan is then set in motion: the prince will wait until Gothel leaves each night before climbing the tower and giving Rapunzel a piece of silk. Once she has enough pieces, Rapunzel is to weave a ladder which she will use to escape the tower. However, things go wrong when Rapunzel slips up while talking to Gothel and the prince’s plan is revealed.
Out of anger, the witch cuts off her hair and casts Rapunzel into the woods to fend for herself. Going even further, Gothel waits for the prince to call out that night and hangs Rapunzel’s severed hair down for him to climb up. When he reaches the top, Gothel pushes him into a forest of thorns which blind him.
For months the prince wanders in the wilderness and eventually comes across Rapunzel who is now living with twins she has given birth to, as a result of her relationship with the prince. They rush into each other’s arms and her tears restore his sight immediately. He then returns to his kingdom with her and the children where they live, Happily….Ever……After.
In Popular Culture
Since its first appearance, Rapunzel has inspired countless spin-offs, adaptations and revisions. The story line of Rapunzel had been adapted for various media and its famous line “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair, so that I may climb thy golden stair,” has become an idiom.
Here are just a few of the places we can see Rapunzel in pop-culture;
- Tangled, (Film), 2010
- Anne Sexton - ‘Rapunzel’, (Poem), 1971
- Marissa Meyer – ‘Cress”, (Book), 2012
- Timeless Tales, (Film), 1990
- Into the Woods, (Broadway Musical)
- Shrek the Third, (Film), 2007
- Once Upon a Time, (Television Series), 2013
- Ever After High, (Web Series and Merchandise Line)
Rapunzel is even a term used in the medical world. In medicine, ‘Rapunzel syndrome’, also known as ‘trichophagia’ refers to a rare intestinal condition which develops if a person ingests human hair.
In a world full of adaptation, nobody offers a more creative interpretation and fresh approach than that of The Walt Disney Company.
In 2010, Rapunzel, the fiftieth film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series, was released, rechristening the classic Grimm’s fairy tale accompanied by a Broadway style score by Disney Renaissance composer Alan Menken. The Disney retelling included several major changes including making Rapunzel the headstrong, center of the story and gave her a comedic, Errol Flynn-style love interest, instead of a prince. Featuring the voices of Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi, the story depicts Rapunzel as the lost princess of royal parents who is stranded in a secluded tower by her adoptive mother, who stole her as an infant. Flynn Rider, is a local petty criminal who is convinced by Rapunzel that he must help her escape from the tower in order to see the world.
The film was worked on over several years. In 1996, the film’s original director began work on the story, Rapunzel Unbraided, which was set to be a Shrek-like film which would parody the original fairy tale. After several years of development this idea was scrapped and a sincerer version of the story was proposed. The original inspiration for Tangled’s imagery is found in the Rococo paintings of French artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard, particularly ‘The Swing’. Tangled was mostly made using computer-generated imagery (CGI) but was made using a blend of animation styles in order to give the look of oil paintings on canvas.
Rapunzel’s character in Disney form has been celebrated for her relaxed, bohemian character. Rapunzel has also been set apart from the traditional Disney princess line-up since she spends the film not realizing she is a princess. The film was nominated for a number of awards and was followed by an animated short, Tangled Ever After. A television series spin-off is also set to be released in 2017.
Fast Facts About Rapunzel
- The film Tangled was originally going to be called ‘Rapunzel’ but was changed at the last minute in order to be titled something more gender neutral
- Tangled’s Rapunzel is the only green-eyed Disney Princess
- The ‘uneven bargain’ in the story is a common motif in fairy tales – it can be seen in Jack and the Beanstalk when Jack trades his cow for beans, and in Beauty and the Beast where Beauty comes to the Beast in return for a rose
- Tangled holds the record for the most expensive animated film ever made, and is the fifth most expensive film of all times
- Rapunzel’s hair is said to be 70 feet long. In real life, this would equate to over four kilos of weight
- In order to create Flynn’s look, female employees of the production were polled on what features make a man attractive. Flynn is a sum of those parts
- Tradition has often regarded Gothel to be a medicinal witch, as she appears to have mastered the growth and production of the rampion plant for medicinal use, which consequently saves the life of Rapunzel’s mother
- Tangled was made using blended art features including CGI, traditional animation and non-photorealistic rendering in order to make the film seem more like a watercolor painting
- The original Italian version had the mother craving parsley. The tale also had the mother stealing the plant, rather than the father
- Tangled’s composer, Alan Menkin, said the songs for the soundtrack were created by blending medieval music with a 1960s folk rock sound
- Kristin Bell and Idina Menzel (from Frozen) both originally auditioned for the part of Rapunzel
- Rapunzel is the first Disney Princess to have supernatural powers
- Flynn Rider is said to be 26, and Rapunzel only 18. This makes their eight year age gap the largest in Disney Princess history
- Tangled is the first Disney Princess film to receive a PG rating
- Zachary Levi was asked to use a British accent when he auditioned for the film. This was later dropped
- Tangled’s marketing team worked very hard to market the film as a gender-neutral film where Flynn had as much of a role as Rapunzel. This was in response to earlier research which suggested that Disney Princess films were declining in popularity among young boy audiences
- Rapunzel’s entrance into the marketplace was inspired by what visitors see when they enter Disney Parks
- Rapunzel and Flynn both appear in Frozen (2013) at Elsa’s coronation, as part of a Disney Easter Egg
- Mother Gothel’s expressions of love toward Rapunzel are always directed at her hair. For instance, she kisses Rapunzel on the head and touches her hair anytime she says she loves her. Flynn, on the other hand, always brushes her hair away when he is being affectionate with her
- The colors of the principal characters clothing is used to reflect their personalities. Rapunzel wears purple to symbolize royalty, Flynn wears blue and white to symbolize goodness and Gothel wears the villainous color red.
- Rapunzel’s parents do not speak in the film
- Items inside Rapunzel’s tower indicate Gothel’s true nature – a spinning wheel, an apple pattern and a green lantern. These are motifs from Disney villains past, indicating early on that Gothel is a villain
- Tangled is Disney’s first CGI fairy tale film adaptation
- The lantern that Rapunzel lifts back into the air is the one her parents sent off -it is the only one with the royal symbol on it
- David Schwimmer and Burt Reynolds were originally cast in roles that hit the cutting room floor
- At the end, the king has clearly aged, but the queen has not -this is likely due to her consuming of the flower liquid at the start of the film
- Viewers have noted a striking resemblance between Gothel and pop icon Cher
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