Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A childless couple who wanted a child lived next to a walled garden which belonged to an enchantress. The wife, at long last pregnant, notices some rapunzel planted in the garden and longs after it to the point of death. Her husband goes to gather some for her, and encounters the enchantress, Dame Gothel, who accuses him of thievery. He asks for mercy, and the enchantress gives him some rapunzel to take home on the condition that the child his wife is pregnant with be surrendered to her at birth. He agrees; the child is born; the enchantress appears, names the child Rapunzel, and takes her away. When Rapunzel reaches her twelfth year, the enchantress shuts her away into a tower in the middle of the wood. When she goes to visit each day with Rapunzel, the enchantress bids Rapunzel let down her long plaited gold hair, and then climbs up it into the tower.
One day a King's son hears Rapunzel singing from the tower, looks for an entrance, and leaves, finding no way in. He often returns to listen to her sing, and one day sees the enchantress visit, learning thusly how to gain access to Rapunzel. He bids Rapunzel let her hair down, and he climbs up, makes her acquaintance, and asks her to marry him. She agrees.
Together they plan a way to get her out of the tower: he will come each night, avoiding the enchantress, who visits in daylight: each night he will bring silk, which Rapunzel will gradually weave into a ladder.
The enchantress learns of the King's son's visits when Rapunzel asks why it is easier for her to draw him up. Dame Gothel cuts off Rapunzel's braided hair and sets her in a desert.
When the King's son calls that night, the enchantress lets the braids down, and he climbs up. She tells him he will never see Rapunzel again. He leaps in despair from the tower and is blinded by the thorns below.
He wanders about for some years before he hears Rapunzel's voice, and finds her with twins to which she has given birth. Her tears restore his sight, and he leads her to his kingdom, where they lived contentedly for some years.
As with other readings in folklore, a variety of interpretations are possible.
Eating otherworldly food often puts you in the otherworldly power (compare Persephone and the pomegranate seeds, the tale of Circe, and many Celtic legends), and in exchange for as much of the rapunzel as his wife demanded, the husband found himself bound to deliver up the child, when it came into the world. When the wife came to term, the witch duly appeared and took away the girl-child, whom she named Rapunzel.
Rapunzel grew into a beautiful child, the most beautiful girl in this particular tale, and was raised in luxurious but protected isolation, cloistered in the manner of aristocratic females in medieval and early modern Europe. The sorceress was not truly wicked, so much as blindly old-fashioned. She believed, as many still do, that the virtues of virginity could be combined with utterly ignorant innocence. (Compare Prospero and his daughter Miranda in Shakespeare's The Tempest.) When Rapunzel came to be twelve, (and so at the moment of puberty) she was locked at the top of a lonely tower deep in the forest, which had neither stairs nor door.
Rapunzel's reaction at seeing the prince was not unlike Miranda's: "Oh brave new world! that has such people in it!"
In cultures where women cut their hair when they marry, long hair was an emblem of virginity. In the myth of Lady Godiva, Godivas's long hair, is an emblem of her chastity. Thus the sorceress grabbed a pair of shears and cut Rapunzel's tresses.
The story of Rapunzel is an example of Aarne and Thompson's (see link) type 310 The Maiden in the Tower. It contains many fairy tale fragmentary themes: the Forbidden Fruit, the Womanly Wiles, a Hard Bargain, the Changeling Child, Enchanting Singing, the Unseen Watcher, the Princely Rescue, and Healing Tears.
What is "Rapunzel"?
It is difficult to be certain which plant species the Brothers Grimm meant by the word Rapunzel, but the following listed in their own dictionary are candidates.
- Valerianella locusta, common names: Corn salad, mache, lamb's lettuce, field salad. Rapunzel is called Feldsalat in Germany, Nusslisalat in Switzerland and Vogerlsalat in Austria. In cultivated form it has a low growing rosette of succulent green rounded leaves when young, when they are picked whole, washed of grit and eaten with oil and vinegar. When it bolts to seed it shows clusters of small white flowers. Etty's seed catalogue states Corn Salad (Verte de Cambrai) was in use by 1810.
- Campanula rapunculus is known as Rapunzel-Glockenblume in German, and as Rampion in Etty's seed catalogue, and although classified under a different family, Campanulaceae, has a similar rosette when young, although with pointed leaves. Some English translations of Rapunzel used the word Rampion. Etty's catalogue states: "Noted in 1633. A highly esteemed root for salad. ... should be sown (in the open air) in April or May...". Other sources describe the root as edible.  has: "CAMPANULA RAPUNCULUS Roots are extremely tasty. First year roots and tender basal leaves are edible. Blue bell-flowers in June or July."
- Phyteuma spicata (picture), known as Ährige Teufelskralle in German.
Sources for Grimm "Rapunzel"
An influence for Grimm's Rapunzel was Petrosinella , written by Giambattista Basile in his collection of fairy tales in 1634, Lo cunto de li cunti (The Story of Stories), or Pentamerone. This tells a similar tale of a pregnant woman desiring some parsley from the garden of an ogress, getting caught and having to promise the ogress her baby.
- Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Household Tales (English translation by Margaret Hunt), 1884: Rapunzel
- Annotated version of the Grimm brothers' Rapunzel, with bibliography of Rapunzel variations
- 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 between 1812 and 1857 versions
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