"At first she saw nothing, for the windows were closed, but after a few moments she perceived dimly that the floor was entirely covered with clotted blood, and that in this there were reflected the dead bodies of several women that hung along the walls. These were all the wives of Blue Beard, whose throats he had cut, one after the other."
An old French Folktale (online version here
) written as La Barbe Bleue
("The Blue Beard") by Charles Perrault
in 1697, which later found its way into the Grimms'
first edition of 1812 as König Blaubart
("King Bluebeard"). (In various versions of the fairy tale the eponymous man is a king, sometimes a knight or other rich person.) The story starts with a rich gentleman, who is a widower, asking for the hand of a fair young maiden in marriage. After the wedding, he gives her a key-ring with the keys to all the doors of his mansion (or palace), with the request that if she loves him she must never, ever, ever
use the golden key to open a certain door in the house.
Then he leaves the house on business, sometimes for days at a time, and the woman gets bored and eaten up with curiosity about the door she is not supposed to open
, so finally she goes and opens it. (In some versions Bluebeard merely points out the key as forbidden, and the woman tries the key in all the doors of the house until she finds the right chamber.) When she opens the door, she finds the blood-spattered dead bodies of all the former wives of Bluebeard who he murdered for their money. She flees in horror and tries to act as if nothing happened, but when Bluebeard returns he invariably finds out what she has done, one way or the other (sometimes by finding traces of blood on her shoes or the key she dropped in fright), and threatens to kill her, too, for betraying his trust. Depending on the version of the tale, she is saved by the arrival of her relatives who kill Bluebeard, or, after having been locked up, manages to flee and alert the authorities.
A second Grimm variant, "Fitcher's Bird", indicates that the woman was only wrong insofar as she got caught. The heroine in "Fitcher's Bird" also "betrays his trust" to find the bodies of her sisters, but does so in a manner that he cannot detect, and therefore ultimately comes out on top.
An English version of the story, "Mr. Fox", has the heroine witness the villain murdering a previous bride, and confronting him at the wedding breakfast with the severed hand of the unfortunate lady. Shakespeare, in Much Ado About Nothing
, makes a reference to the recurrent rhyme in this version:
For it is not so, and it was not so,
And God forbid that it should be so!
This story has given name to a specific kind of Serial Killer
, "The Bluebeard
," who kills a succession of wives.
Is not a pirate
Bluebeard and variations contain the following tropes:
- An Aesop
- Affably Evil: The title character, though this demeanor quickly disappears when his wife betrays his trust.
- Beard of Evil: The title character.
- Big Damn Heroes: The relatives, if they arrive in the nick of time.
- Broken Aesop: Perrault tries to explain that the curiosity is a flaw...but the lady finds out her husband is a serial murderer, escapes him and ends marrying a better guy.
- The Bluebeard: Trope Namer.
- Captain Colorbeard: Bluebeard isn't a captain, but his beard is colored.
- Damsel in Distress
- Deus ex Machina: The woman's relatives seem to show up out of nowhere, to kill Bluebeard at the very last minute.
- In the Georges Méliès film version, a good fairy brings the dead brides back to life.
- Subverted in the "Mr. Fox" variation, where it makes sense that her relatives are there to save her. She waits to expose Mr. Fox until she, he, and the rest of her family and suitors are at her pre-wedding breakfast.
- Egg Sitting: In Fitcher's Bird, the sorcerer Fitze Fitcher carries young women and gives them an egg, then tells them to carry it everywhere except the sorcerer's room and to be very careful with it for a few days before he can marry them. Failure to pass the test results in the women getting dismembered.
- Family-Unfriendly Death: See the page quote.
- Forbidden Fruit
- Peek-A-Boo Corpse: Several of them.
- Rule of Three: In Fitcher's Bird, the heroine is preceded by her two sisters, both of whom are caught peeking and killed.
- Schmuck Bait: "You can open any door in the castle, but not that one." Right. Now, guess what she does next....
- Serial Killer
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Bluebeard may have been based on 15th century serial killer Gilles de Rais (or de Retz). When you can say that an adaptation in which someone has a roomful of dead wives and a basin full of blood in their locked-away torture room is Lighter and Softer...
- Wealthy Ever After: The wife is Bluebeard's only heir.
Adaptions of the tale or appearances of the character in other works: