Beauty and the Beast is a traditional fairy tale. The first published version of the fairy tale was a meandering rendition by Madame Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, published in La jeune américaine, et les contes marins, in 1740. The best-known written version was an abridgment of M. Villeneuve's work published in 1756 by Mme Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, in Magasin des enfants, ou dialogues entre une sage gouvernante et plusieurs de ses élèves; an English translation appeared in 1757. Variants of the tale are known across Europe. Its enduring popularity is based on the fundamental relationship between men and women.
A rich merchant lived in the city with his three daughters. His youngest is named Beauty (sometimes Belle (French) or Bella (Italian), depending on the version), for she is both lovely to look at and her heart is pure. The merchant eventually loses all of his wealth, and he and his daughters must go live in the country. One day, he hears that one of his ships has come in, so he returns to the city. He asks his daughters if they want anything as a gift while he is gone. His two oldest daughters ask for jewelry and dresses, thinking that his wealth has returned, but Beauty only wants a rose. The merchant finds that his ship has not returned, and is upset about not being able to get his daughters their gifts.
On his return, he becomes lost in a forest. He sees a castle and enters it, seeking shelter. He finds a table laden with food and a note reading "eat" and a table filled with wine and a note saying "drink." The merchant eats and drinks and his heart is lightened. He prepares to leave, when he spots the most beautiful rose garden. He remembers that Beauty had requested a rose and decides that he should at least bring her one. Upon picking the most lovely rose there, a hideous Beast appears and tells him that for taking his most precious possession after accepting his hospitality, he must stay his prisoner forever. The merchant begs to be let free, saying he only picked the rose for his youngest daughter. The Beast agrees to let him go then—on the condition that he will have the girl who wanted his rose. The merchant is upset, but accepts this condition. He tries to hide the secret from Beauty, but she pries it from him and willingly goes to the Beast's castle.
Once there, the Beast does not treat her as a prisoner, but as a guest. He gives her lavish clothing and food and carries on lengthly conversations with her at every dinner. But at the end of every meal, the Beast asks Beauty to marry him, and at the end of every meal, Beauty refuses, saying she prefers him as a friend. Eventually, Beauty becomes homesick and begs the Beast to allow her to go to see her family. He allows it, if she will return exactly a week later, and not a day too late. Beauty agrees to this and sets off for home. Once there, her older sisters are surprised to find her well fed and dressed in finery. They grow jealous and, hearing that she must return to the Beast on a certain day, beg her to stay another day, even putting onion in their eyes to make it appear as though they are weeping. Beauty's heart is moved and she agrees to stay. When she returns to the Beast's castle late, she finds him dying in his rose garden, his broken heart killing him. Beauty weeps over him, saying that she loves him and when her tears strike him he is transformed into a handsome prince. The Prince tells Beauty that he had been enchanted by a fairy to be a Beast. Only her love for him, despite his ugliness, could break the spell over him.
Villeneuve's tale includes several elements that Beaumont's omits. Chiefly, the back story of both Beauty and the Beast is given. The Beast was a prince who lost his father at a young age, and whose mother had to wage war to defend his kingdom. The queen left him in care of an evil fairy, who tried to seduce him when he was an adult. When he refused, she transformed him into a beast. Beauty's story reveals that she is not really a merchant's daughter but the offspring of a king and a fairy; the same fairy who tried to seduce the prince also tried to murder Beauty to marry her father, and Beauty was put in the place of the merchant's dead daughter to protect her. She also gave the castle elaborate magic, which obscured the more vital pieces of it. Beaumont greatly pared down the cast of characters and simplified the tale to an almost archetypal simplicity.
The urban opening is unusual in fairy tales, as is the social class of the characters, neither royal nor peasants. It may reflect the social changes occurring at the time of its first writing.
Like all fairy tales, Beauty and the Beast might be interpreted in a number of different ways. One way is to see it as a young woman's coming-of-age story. Content with a pure love for her father, she finds sexuality bestial, and so a man who feels sexual desire for her is a beast. Only when she is capable of regarding the desire of sexual relationship as human is she capable of achieving happiness.
Another interpretation is that the Beast is actually bestial, but the woman's love is capable of transforming him into a handsome prince.
The tale has also been interpreted as a commentary on arranged marriages; the first known versions stem from upper-class ancien regime France, where such marriages were the norm. An arranged marriage, particularly to a much older man, could easily seem like marriage of a beast to a young daughter; the fairy tale argued that such marriages could be happy, and their "bestial" husbands could indeed prove to be good men, if the bride could look beneath the surface—or be transformed into good men from beast by their wives.
Closely related to them are tales of Aarne-Thompson type 425A. These include The Sprig of Rosemary, Cupid and Psyche, East of the Sun and West of the Moon, The Black Bull of Norroway, The Daughter of the Skies, The Enchanted Pig, and White-Bear-King-Valemon.
A common motif, often found in such tales, is that the transformation was accomplished by a thwarted supernatural lover—nereid, fairy, elf, or troll; the victim must live in that form until finding another love, as beautiful as the thwarted lover.
The tale has been notably adapted for both stage and screen several times.
A French version of La Belle et la Bête was made in 1946, directed by Jean Cocteau, starring Jean Marais as the Beast and Josette Day as Beauty, or Belle, the French word for "Beauty." This version adds a subplot involving Belle's suitor Avenant, who schemes along with Belle's brother and sisters to journey to Beast's castle to kill him and capture his riches while the sisters work to delay Belle's return to the castle. When Avenant enters the magic pavilion which is the source of Beast's power, he is struck by an arrow fired by a guardian statue of the Roman goddess Diana, which transforms Avenant into Beast and reverses the original Beast's curse.
A Soviet animated feature film called The Scarlet Flower, using a rotoscoping technology, was filmed in 1952, based on Sergei Aksakov's version. The story was set in a Middle-Age Slavic background, and the characters speak Old Russian in the vein of traditional tales. (Old Russian was the literary language of Kievan Rus' between the tenth and fourteenth century.)
In 1991, Walt Disney Feature Animation produced a musical animated film version of Beauty and the Beast, directed by Kirk Wise & Gary Trousdale, with a screenplay by Linda Woolverton, and songs by Alan Menken & Howard Ashman. It won Academy Awards for Best Song and Best Original Score, and is the only animated feature to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Like the 1946 version, the Disney version also names Beauty "Belle." Also, in this version, the servants have been transformed into anthropomorphic objects and much of the story has been changed. Belle's father is given a name, Maurice, and Belle is his only daughter. A handsome and popular, but crude and arrogant, man named Gaston wants to marry Belle, however, she does not want to marry him due to his boorishness. Gaston and his friends threaten Maurice and the Beast, but eventually Gaston is killed during a final confrontation with the Beast. This version also brought a strong redemptive quality to the story, as the perfect Belle loves the Beast enough to see past his outer ugliness. Although the storyline was heavily altered, like many of their films, Beauty and the Beast is now considered one of the Walt Disney Company's classic animated films.
Golden Films released an adaptation of the story directly to video that was distributed by GoodTimes Entertainment. GoodTimes' Beauty and the Beast relied on moderate animation techniques but stuck primarily to the original tale.
The Disney film was adapted for the stage by Linda Woolverton and Alan Menken, who had worked on the film. Howard Ashman, the original lyricist, had died, and additional lyrics were written by Tim Rice. Seven new songs, "No Matter What," "Me," "Home," "How Long Must This Go On?," "Maison des Lunes," "Human Again," and "If I Can't Love Her" were added to those appearing in the original film score in the stage version. "Human Again," a song written for the movie but eventually cut from the final release, was added back in for the DVD release of the movie, as well as the stage production. Later, another song, "A Change In Me," was added for Belle. There is a great deal of emphasis on pyrotechnics, costuming, and special effects to produce the imagery of the enchanted castle that was produced by Disney Theatrical. This version of Beauty and the Beast is often examined in gender studies because of the underlying female and male roles it presents to young audiences.
Also, in 2003, the RSC put a version on stage that was closer to the original story than the Disney version. It was so popular that the RSC repeated it in 2004, with additions and slight variations to their original script.
Beauty and the Beast is often performed as a pantomime in the UK; there are many versions by many different authors. Often the character of a witch is introduced who turns the Prince into the Beast because he refuses to marry her, and a good fairy (usually called the Rose Fairy) who intervenes to help the plot reach a happy conclusion. Also in the pantomime versions, the Prince often meets and falls in love with Beauty prior to his transformation (making the story more Cinderella-like). The traditional pantomime Dame figure (man dressed outrageously as a woman) can be either Beauty's mother or (again Cinderella-like) two of her sisters.
George C. Scott turned in a made-for-TV rendition in 1976, in which, early in the presentation, his Belle Beaumont, Trish Van Devere, spots him devouring some of the local wildlife in the style of a lion, only later to comport himself in his dialogs with her (still as the Beast) with the nobility and charm of a knight. Scott was nominated for an Emmy for his performance.
In 1984, Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre produced an adaptation starring Klaus Kinski and Susan Sarandon. The sets, makeup, and costumes were based on the 1946 film.
Beauty and the Beast, which owed as much to detective shows and fantasy fiction as to the fairy tale, originally broadcast from 1987 to 1989. This was centered around the relationship between Catherine, an attorney who lived in New York City, played by Linda Hamilton, and Vincent, a gentle but lion-faced "beast," played by Ron Perlman, who dwells in the tunnels beneath the city. Wendy Pini created two issues of a comic-book adaptation of the TV series.
Beauty and the Beast has been the subject of many novels, most notably in Beauty by Robin McKinley, the Newbery Award-winning author. McKinley's second voyage into the tale of Beauty and the Beast;; resulted in Rose Daughter.
Tanith Lee's collection Red As Blood, or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer included a science-fiction retelling, in which a wealthy merchant's daughter living in the far future falls in love with an alien.
Donna Jo Napoli wrote a young adult novel, Beast, centered around the Beast's point-of-view and his life before he met Beauty.
Nancy Holder wrote an entry in the Once Upon a Time series called Spirited, which is a loose retelling of the story with a young Englishwoman named Isabella Stevenson who falls in love with her captor, Wusamequin, a brooding Mohican medicine man during the French and Indian War.
The story was adapted by Mercedes Lackey into her Elemental Masters novel The Fire Rose, setting the story in early twentieth century San Francisco.
Megan Hussey's "Behold the Beauty," featured in Midnight Showcase's "Deities of Desire" erotic digest, is a feminist spin on the Beauty and the Beast tale. Hero Prince Beausoleil is a classically handsome young man who falls desperately in love with the healer Agnatha, an unconventional, often ridiculed woman who lives in the woods of Ravenshead; a mythical European province where Beau's family rules and many younger, more conventionally attractive women vie for his affections.
Two separate adaptations of the tale appear in Angela Carter's short story collection The Bloody Chamber, which reinterprets several different fairy tales.
Fantasy author Francesca Lia Block included a retelling of the story in her collection The Rose and the Beast, which features modern re-tellings and alternate endings for nine classic fairy tales including The Snow Queen and Snow White. In her version, called "Beast," Beauty comes to prefer the Beast as a monster and is saddened when he is transformed.
The story also served as a plot for the 10th issue of Serena Valentino's comic book, Nightmares & Fairy Tales. In this version, Belle is a lesbian and her lover, Rose, is taken away from her and transformed into the Beast. If Belle can discover who the Beast truly is, the curse will be broken.
All links retrieved May 25, 2016.
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