Quick write: in light of the upcoming Beauty and the Beast live-action musical hitting theaters soon, I want to post my thoughts on the story. If you haven’t seen the stunning trailer, watch it here. I’m excited for the movie, but do you know how extensively the Beauty and the Beast plot has changed over the centuries?
It’s hard to track down an “original” version of this tale, because many people published a similar one around the same time. The published story comes from France around the 1750s– that much is agreed upon. For more background, click here.
When Disney released the animated version, they notably added a character to fill in as the villain. Gaston is introduced as a self-serving, egotistical masochist who acts as a counterpart to the Beast. Comparatively, the Beast is sweet, refined, and contienous of Belle and her feelings.
Before Gaston, the story’s obvious villain is the beast. After all, he locks up an old man and then his daughter for the transgression of picking a flower (of which he has plenty in his enchanted garden). We eventually learn the beast was cursed with his animalistic form by a woman scorned by his past actions as an entitled young man. To undo the spell, he needs a lady to fall in love with him. Beauty appears, through whatever means, clandestinely.
If you take away the curse, it is easy to forgive the beast for the actions of his past. Maybe he was having a bad day. Maybe he doesn’t like to let creepy old women he doesn’t known into his castle. Beauty is only skin deep, right?
So in this tale of yesteryear, who is the villain if not Gaston or The Beast? It is Beauty.
Depending on the version you read, she has various levels of atrocious behavior AFTER her captor has allowed her free reign of his royal grounds, provided her with fine clothes and food, and proclaimed his love to her every evening with a proposal (of marriage, to sleep with him, to never look at his face, etc.). And when Beauty refuses the requests night after night, he accepts her answer and tries again, patiently, the next day. Or, in the last example–the case in Cupid and Psyche– is banished and punished. That is how the earliest version of the tale ends.
In the 1700s artifacts, after this proposal situation goes on for a while, Beauty learns through a magic mirror or ring provided by the Beast that her father is gravely ill. She begs to go see him one last time. Knowingly it will likely mean his death, the beast lets her go home for a visit, sending her off with lovely things for her family. Once there, her sisters convince her to stay beyond the appointed timeframe even when her father is healthy. This causes the beast literal damage and only upon seeing his dying, prone form does Beauty tearfully exclaim that she loves him after all.
The angels sing, the clouds part, the spell is broken and the prince is restored! Instead of meeting the untimely demise of many villains (e.g. dancing to death in red- hot iron shoes or plummeting off a tower to your death) she gets a happily ever after. Even though she toyed with a kind and generous man, lead him in for quite a while, broke his heart and left him, and finally gave up all that in his final hour or turn around and say she wants to marry him after all. Yikes.
I bet Beauty would get a kick out of this song from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
Disney’s Belle is kind, loyal, and bright, but she comes from iterations of crafty women who are easily persuaded to take advantage of the man/beast she claims (eventually) to love. Perhaps the newest tale will hint at her villainous past.