Rapunzel: Summary & History

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  • 0:04 Background & History
  • 1:17 Rapunzel's Upbringing
  • 2:33 The King's Son
  • 3:19 The Witch Learns the Truth
  • 4:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

Rapunzel is locked away in a tower with no means to escape by a witch who visits her by climbing her long hair. In this lesson, we will summarize and review the history of the fairy tale 'Rapunzel' as retold by the Brothers Grimm.

Background & History

Imagine being locked away from the world with no influences except for someone who does not have your best interests at heart. While we frequently think of fairy tales as children's stories, those that have been retold by the Brothers Grimm, like Rapunzel tend to incorporate some elements of evil and darkness. Let's examine the history and summary of this fairy tale.

This particular tale has been traced back to 1634-1637 to a fairy tale collection by Giambattista Basile entitled Il Pentamerone. In this Italian version, the girl, named Petrosinella, has already married before being locked away. Sixty years later, a French writer, Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force wrote the story Persinette. This version of this story involves more suffering for the young couple before they find their 'happily ever after.' In both of these versions, the title character's name means 'parsley.'

After the story was translated into German, the author, J.C.F. Schulz, changed the title character's name to Rapunzel. The Grimm Brothers appeared not to know that the stories appeared in writing and thought that their story came from an oral retelling.

Rapunzel's Upbringing

The story begins with a couple who want a baby, but have not been able to have one. They live near a witch's garden that is surrounded by a high wall. The wife regularly admires the rampion, which is a leafy green used for salads. When the man sees how much his beloved wife wants it, he climbs the wall to get some for her.

Once having tasted the forbidden fruit, the wife wants it even more. The man goes for more, but on the way out, the witch catches him. The man begs the witch's forgiveness to which she replies, ''If it is all as you say, you may have as much rampion as you like, on one condition - the child that will come into the world must be given to me. It shall go well with the child, and I will care for it like a mother.'' Without thinking, the man agrees.

When a child is born, the witch steals it away and names her Rapunzel, named after the rampion. Rapunzel is incredibly beautiful, so when Rapunzel turns 12 years old, the witch locks her away in a tower in the middle of the wood with no way in or out except for a very small window at the top. When the witch wants to see Rapunzel, she yells, ''Rapunzel, Rapunzel! Let down your hair!'' In response, Rapunzel tosses her long blonde hair out the window for the witch to climb up.

The King's Son

A few years later, the King's son happens to be riding through the wood when he overhears Rapunzel singing. He tries to enter the tower, but can't find an entrance. Each day he rides to the wood to listen to her voice. One day, he overhears the witch calling to Rapunzel. Having learned the trick, the King's son returns to the tower the next day and says, ''Oh Rapunzel, Rapunzel! Let down your hair.''

When the King's son climbs into the tower, Rapunzel's first reaction is fear since it is the first time she has seen a man, but she quickly grows to trust him. When he asks her to marry him, Rapunzel replies, ''I would willingly go with you, but I do not know how I shall get out. When you come, bring each time a silken rope, and I will make a ladder…''

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