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"Bluebeard" (French: La Barbe bleue) is a French folktale, the most famous surviving version of which was written by Charles Perrault and first published by Barbin in Paris in January 1659 in Histoires ou contes du temps passé. The tale tells the story of a violent nobleman in the habit of murdering his wives and the attempts of one wife to avoid the fate of her predecessors. "The White Dove", "Mister Fox" and "Fitcher's Bird" (Also called "Fowler's Fowl") are tales similar to "Bluebeard".
Bluebeard is a wealthy aristocrat, feared and shunned because of his ugly, blue beard. He has been married several times, but no one knows what became of his wives. He is therefore avoided by the local girls. When Bluebeard visits one of his neighbors and asks to marry one of her two daughters, the girls are terrified, and each tries to pass him on to the other. Eventually he talks the younger daughter into visiting him, and after hosting a wonderful banquet, he persuades her to marry him. After the ceremony, she goes to live with him in his château.
Very shortly after, Bluebeard announces that he must leave the country for a while; he gives all the keys of the château to his new wife, telling her they open the doors to rooms which contain his treasures. He tells her to use the keys freely and enjoy herself whilst he is away. However, he also gives her the key to one small room beneath the castle, stressing to her that she must not enter this room under any circumstances. She vows she will never enter the room. He then goes away and leaves the house in her hands. Immediately, she is overcome with the desire to see what the forbidden room holds; and, despite warnings from her visiting sister, Anne, the girl abandons her guests during a house party and takes the key to the room.
The wife immediately discovers the room's horrible secret: its floor is awash with blood and the murdered bodies of her husband's former wives hang from hooks on the walls. Horrified, she drops the key into the pool of blood. She flees the room, but the blood staining the key will not wash off. She reveals her murderous husband's secret to her sister Anne, and both plan to flee the castle the next day; but, Bluebeard returns home unexpectedly the next morning and, noticing the blood on the key, immediately knows his wife has broken her vow. In a blind rage, he threatens to behead her on the spot, but she implores him to give her a quarter of an hour to say her prayers. He consents, so she locks herself in the highest tower with Anne. While Bluebeard, sword in hand, tries to break down the door, the sisters wait for their two brothers to arrive. At the last moment, as Bluebeard is about to deliver the fatal blow, the brothers break into the castle; and, as he attempts to flee, they kill him. He leaves no heirs but his wife, who inherits all his great fortune. All of Bluebeard's dead wives are buried and she uses part of his fortune for a dowry to marry off her sister, another part for her brothers' captains' commissions, and the rest to marry a worthy gentleman who makes her forget her horrible encounter with Bluebeard.
Although best known as a folktale, the character of Bluebeard appears to derive from legends related to historical individuals in Brittany. One source is believed to have been the 15th-century Breton nobleman and later self-confessed serial killer Gilles de Rais. However, Gilles de Rais did not kill his wife, nor were any bodies found on his property, and the crimes for which he was convicted involved the motiveless, brutal murder of children and not a punishment for perceived betrayal.
Another possible source stems from the story of the early Breton king Conomor the Accursed and his wife Tryphine. This is recorded in a biography of St. Gildas, written five centuries after his death in the sixth century. It describes how after Conomor married Tryphine, she was warned by the ghosts of his previous wives that he murders them when they become pregnant. Pregnant, she flees; he catches and beheads her, but St. Gildas miraculously restores her to life, and when he brings her to Conomor, the walls of his castle crumble and kill him. Conomor is a historical figure, known locally as a werewolf, and various local churches are dedicated to Saint Tryphine and her son, Saint Tremeur.
The character's blue beard is regarded as a symbol of his otherworldly origins.
For Iona and Peter Opie, the tale reads as a legend imperfectly recollected. For example, a gap occurs in the narrative between the wife's entrance into the forbidden chamber and Bluebeard's unexpected return, a time when her house guests vanish without explanation, and Bluebeard's willingness to wait a quarter of an hour before slaying his wife is out of character and poorly excused. Although no earlier retelling of the story has been discovered, it may be assumed one existed.
The fatal effects of feminine curiosity have long been the subject of story and legend. Lot's wife, Pandora, and Psyche are all examples of mythic stories where women's curiosity is punished by dire consequences. In an illustrated account of the Bluebeard story by Walter Crane, when the wife is shown making her way towards the forbidden room, there is behind her a tapestry of the Serpent enticing Eve into eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.
In addition, hidden or forbidden chambers were not unknown in pre-Perrault literature. In Basile's Pentamerone, one tale tells of a Princess Marchetta entering a room after being forbidden by an ogress, and in The Arabian Nights Prince Agib is given a hundred keys to a hundred doors but forbidden to enter the golden door, which he does, with terrible consequences. In the story of Prince Agib, the motive is clear: the forbidden door is a test. However, in "Bluebeard", the motive is less clear. It is not explained why Bluebeard would give a key to his wife that will reveal his horrific marital past. In an Indian story, an ogress looks after a prince while disguised as a beautiful woman and tells him not to enter the Tower, Pit or Kitchen, which will reveal her. In the Tower, an old man who has been tied up by her reveals who she is, in the pit are the bones of her victims, and the Kitchen contains three magical balls which the prince uses to escape the Ogress, with the final one a fire is caused which the Ogress runs into and burns to death in.
According to the Aarne-Thompson system of classifying folktale plots, the tale of Bluebeard is type 312. Another such tale is The White Dove, an oral French variant. The type is closely related to Aarne-Thompson type 311, the heroine rescues herself and her sisters, in such tales as Fitcher's Bird, The Old Dame and Her Hen, and How the Devil Married Three Sisters. The tales where the youngest daughter rescues herself and the other sisters from the villain is in fact far more common in oral traditions than this type, where the heroine's brother rescues her. Other such tales do exist, however; the brother is sometimes aided in the rescue by marvelous dogs or wild animals.
Some European variants of the ballad Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight, Child ballad 4, closely resemble this tale. This is particularly noteworthy among some German variants, where the heroine calls for help, much like the calls to Sister Anne in Bluebeard, and is rescued by her brother.
It is not known why Bluebeard murdered his first bride; she could not have entered the forbidden room and found a dead wife.
In the original 1812 Kinder- und Hausmärchen by the Brothers Grimm, Wilhelm Grimm makes a very interesting handwritten comment in the book on pg XLI of the annotations: “It seems in all Märchen of Blubeard, wherein his Blutrunst [flowing of blood] has not rightly explained, the idea to be the basis of himself through bathing in blood to cure of the blue beard; as the lepers. That is also why it is written that the blood is collected in basins.”
Maurice Maeterlinck wrote extensively on Bluebeard and in his plays names at least five former wives: Sélysette from "Aglavaine et Sélysette" (1896), Alladine from "Alladine et Palomides" (1894) and both Ygraine and Bellangère from "La mort de Tintagiles" (1894), Mélisande from "Pelléas et Mélisande" and Ariane from "Ariane et Barbe-bleue" (1907).
In Offenbach's opera (1866), the five previous wives are Héloïse, Eléonore, Isaure, Rosalinde and Blanche, with the sixth and final wife being a peasant girl, Boulotte, who finally reveals his secret when he attempts to have her killed so that he can marry Princess Hermia.
Béla Bartók's opera A Kékszakállú hérceg vára (1911) names "Judith", which places her as wife number four, whereas Ariane would be wife number six, but fails to take Judith into account. Bartók's version does not name any of the wives that appear in it.
Anatole France's short story "The Seven Wives of Bluebeard" names Jeanne as the last wife before Bluebeard's death.
Alfred Savoir wrote in the 1920s a play "La huitième femme de Barbe-Bleue" (Bluebeard's eighth wife) from which Sam Wood and Ernst Lubitsch produced two films, other than starting from the point of being a plus one wife of Bluebeard and that it considers Anatole France's count of his wives, this play or the films share nothing with a description or numbering of the duke's wives.
In Edward Dmytryk's film Bluebeard (1972), Baron von Sepper (Richard Burton) is an Austrian aristocrat known as Bluebeard for his blue-toned beard, and his appetite for beautiful wives. This film names an American beauty named "Anne", who discovers a vault in his castle filled with the frozen bodies of his previous wives.
Other versions of Bluebeard include:
In Charles Dickens' short story, the titular character is described as "an offshoot of the Bluebeard family", and is far more bloodthirsty than most Bluebeards: he cannibalises each wife a month after marriage. He meets his demise after his sister-in-law in revenge for the death of her sister, marries him and consumes a deadly poison just before he devours her.
In DC Comics' Fables series, Bluebeard appears as an amoral character, willing to kill and often suspected of being involved in various nefarious deeds. Bluebeard is also a character in the video game by Telltale Games based on the Fables comics, The Wolf Among Us.
In the Japanese light novel and recently adapted manga/anime Fate/Zero, Bluebeard appears as the Caster Servant, where his character largely stems from Gilles de Rais as a serial murderer of children.
Several film versions of the story exist:
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