"Bluebeard is the title character in a famous fairy tale about a violent nobleman and his curious wife. It appeared in Charles Perrault's "Les Contes de ma Mère l'Oye", first published in 1697.


Bluebeard was a wealthy aristocrat, feared because of his "frightfully ugly" blue beard. He had been married several times, but no one knew what had become of his wives. He was therefore avoided by the local girls. When Bluebeard visited one of his neighbours and asked to marry one of her daughters, the girls were terrified, and each tried to pass him on to the other. Eventually he persuaded the younger daughter to marry him, and after the ceremony she went to live with him in his château.

Very shortly after, however, Bluebeard announced that he had to leave the country for a while; he gave over all the keys of the chateau to his new wife, including the key to one small room that she was forbidden to enter. He then went away and left the house in her hands. Almost immediately she was overcome with the desire to see what the forbidden room held, and finally her visiting sister convinced her to satisfy her curiosity and open the room.

The wife immediately discovered the room's horrible secret: Its floor reeked of blood, and the dead bodies of her husband's former wives hung on the walls. Horrified, she locked the door, but blood had come onto the key which would not wash off. Bluebeard returned unexpectedly and immediately knew what his wife had done. In a blind rage he threatened to behead her on the spot, and so she locked herself in the highest tower with her sister. While Bluebeard, sword in hand, tried to break down the door, the sisters waited for their two brothers to arrive. At the last moment, as Bluebeard was about to deliver the fatal blow, the brothers broke into the castle, and as he attempted to flee, they killed him.He left no heirs but his wife, who inherited all his great fortune. She used part of it for a dowry to marry her sister to the one that loved her, another part for her brothers' captains commissions, and the rest to marry a worthy gentleman who made her forget her ill treatment by Bluebeard.


Although best known as a fairy tale, 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.

Another possible source stems from the story of the early Breton king Conomor the Accursed and his wife Triphine. 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 Triphine, 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 fall down and kill him. Conomor is a historical figure, known locally as a werewolf, and various local churches are dedicated to Saint Triphine and her son, Saint Tremeur. [Marina Warner, "From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales And Their Tellers", p 261 ISBN 0-374-15901-7]

Others regard both origins as unlikely and point to the blue beard as a symbol of his other worldly origins. [Maria Tatar, p 145-6, "The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales", ISBN 0-393-05163-3]


In no version of the tale is it made clear why the first wife was killed; she could not have entered the door and seen a wife he murdered. [Maria Tatar, p 151, "The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales", ISBN 0-393-05163-3]

According to the Aarne-Thompson system of classifying fairy tale plots, the tale of Bluebeard is type 312. [Heidi Anne Heiner, [ "Tales Similar to Bluebeard"] ] Another such tale is "The White Dove", an oral French variant. [Paul Delarue, "The Borzoi Book of French Folk-Tales", p 359, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York 1956] 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. [Stith Thompson, "The Folktale", p 36, University of California Press, Berkeley Los Angeles London, 1977]

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. [Francis James Child, "The English and Scottish Popular Ballads", v 1, p 47, Dover Publications, New York 1965]


The part when, while waiting for her brothers to save her, the wife asks repeatedly if they are coming has been reused and even parodied in film. The following all refer to adaptations of the full plot.


At least thirty operas have been written about Bluebeard, [Pierre Cendars: "Sept compositeurs pour un Barbe-Bleu" in "Le Chateau de Barbe-Bleu" L'avant scene Opéra, Paris 1992] including the following:

*"Raoul Barbe-Bleue" (1789) by André Grétry, libretto by Sedaine

*"Barbe-Bleue" (1823) by Fréderic & Brazier

*"Le Chateau de la Barbe-Bleue" (1851) by Armand Limnander de Nieuwenhove & Saint-Georges

*"Barbe-bleue" (1866), an Opéra-bouffe composed by Jacques Offenbach, with a libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy.

*"Barbe-Bleue" (1898), a choral" ballet pantomine" by Charles Lecocq & O'Monroy

* "Ariane et Barbe-Bleue" by Paul Dukas (1907) after the play by Maurice Maeterlinck

*"A kékszakállú herceg vára "or" Duke Bluebeard's Castle" (1911-17), an opera composed by Béla Bartók, with a libretto by Béla Balázs.

*"Blaubart" (1977), a companion piece to Bartok's opera by Camillo Togni after poetry of Georg Trakl

in addition, Maurice Jaubert wrote a "petit opéra cinématographique" for René Bertrand's 1935 animated film "Barbe-Bleue".


*Andrew Lang included a variant in "Blue Fairy Book" (1889).

* Bluebeard is the subject of the play by Maeterlink, "Ariane et Barbe-Bleue" (1901), set as an opera by Paul Dukas (1907)

*The character of Florian de Puysange in James Branch Cabell's novel "The High Place" (1923) is based on Bluebeard.

*In 1979, Angela Carter published an updated version of the Bluebeard story, the eponymous story in her collection, "The Bloody Chamber".

*A feminist interpretation is given by Suniti Namjoshi in her short story "A Room of His Own"

*Blaubart is the name of a novella, published 1982, by the Swiss writer Max Frisch.

* Margaret Atwood used the tale for the title story of the collection "Bluebeard's Egg" (1983).

* Joyce Carol Oates' short story "Blue-Bearded Lover" (1987) is a sequel; this bride remains naïve and obedient, and ends up mothering Bluebeard's children.

*The narrator of Kurt Vonnegut's novel "Bluebeard" (1988) is host to a writer who continually tries to find out what is in the Potato Barn.

*German author Karin Struck's novel "Blaubarts Schatten" (1991) focuses on the issue of abortion.

*Donald Barthelme also wrote a characteristically brief, surreal parody of the tale, set in 1910. It is included in "Forty Stories" (collected 1987).

*Feminist author and Psychologist Clarissa Pinkola Estés dissects the story of Bluebeard for symbolism in "Women Who Run With the Wolves" (1996).

*Francesca Lia Block writes of a modern Bluebeard, in her fairy-tale anthology, "Rose and The Beast", in this version however, the girl goes because of an invitation to a party rather than being invited to live with Bluebeard (here: a young, handsome, and successful photographer), the story is also modernised however, and along with many other subtle changes the heroine is openly shown the forbidden closet. Also, Block establishes quickly that the girl must find her own escape; no sister or brothers are present to help her. Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype" ISBN 0-345-40987-6

* In L. M. Montgomery's "The Blue Castle", the heroine is told, before marrying the hero, that she must not go into a room in his house. She calls it "Bluebeard's Chamber" thereafter, although assuring him that she doesn't care if there are dead wives in there, as long as they are really dead.

* In Stephen King's novel "The Shining" (1977), this story is recounted by the main character Jack Torrance. It is also alluded to in King's short story "I Know What You Need".

* "Bluebeard: The Play" by Charles Ludlam is a comic melange of Grand Guignol and Theater of the Ridiculous.

* Several popular Victorian era burlesques and pantomimes were based on the Bluebeard story.

* In Charlotte Brontë's Victorian novel Jane Eyre, Jane comments in Chapter 11 that the third floor of Thornfield is "looking, with its two rows of small black doors all shut, like a corridor in some Bluebeard's castle."

* Bluebeard is also - in a slightly altered form - adopted in the Dungeons & Dragons Ravenloft accessory "Darklords".

* Neil Gaiman's books of short stories, "Smoke and Mirrors" and "Fragile Things," both contain stories based on the Bluebeard tale.

* Bluebeard is a secondary character in the play "Saint Joan" by George Bernard Shaw, in which he is identified as Gilles de Rais, aged 25

* Alice Hoffman's novel "Blue Diary" is a variant of the Bluebeard story.

* Jack Brennan refers to the Bluebeard legend in Larry Niven's novel "Protector" when he asks Roy Truesdale not to open any doors on the artificial planetoid Kobold.

* In Seamus Heaney's poem "Blackberry-Picking" the poet likens the experience of blood from the thorns of blackberry bushes to Bluebeard's fairytale, stating 'Our hands were peppered / With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.'

* Robert Coover's short story 'The Last One', available in the volume "A Child Again" (2005), presents a version of Bluebeard's story from Bluebeard's point of view.

*John Ringo's novel Ghost contains a scene where the main character Mike tells two women he is dating not to enter a room on his boat where he keeps various illegal weapons.

* In Kaori Yuki's manga, Ludwig Revolution, Bluebeard's beard is fake, hiding his true, pathetic nature.

* Bluebeard's 'grave' can be found just outside Disney's Haunted Mansion, on it inscribed are the marriage dates/death dates of seven "winsome" wives the eighth having 'did him in'.

* In Nancy Madore's Enchanted- Erotic Bedtime Stories for Women, Bluebeard marries the eldest daughter of a widowed neighbour. They are content until one day he must leave on business and leaves the castle's keys in her possession. He warns her against entering one room, and she meekly agrees. When he has left she decides that she must know what is in the room, and opens the doors. They key turns bright red, and her husband returns home and sees that the key has changed colour. He tells her she must be punished, he takes her to the room, whips her, then has sex with her. The room becomes a punishment room from that day on. Neither is killed.

* Bluebeard is a secondary character in the comic book series Fables published by Vertigo. He is portrayed as a well-off nobleman who has apparently turned over a new leaf after arriving in Fabletown. He is killed off in a sword fight with Prince Charming in part 3 of the "Storybook Love" story line. He later appears (as a ghost) in "The Good Prince" arc. He has a much shorter beard these days, and shaves his head.

Movies and Television

* "Barbe-bleue" (1902) by Georges Méliès
*René Betrand's 1935 animated film "Barbe-Bleue".
* "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife" (1938) by Ernst Lubitsch Comedy with Gary Cooper as a millionaire seeking his eighth wife in Claudette Colbert, who does not wish to be discarded so carelessly.
* "Bluebeard (1944 film)" by Edgar G. Ulmer for PRC. Starred John Carradine as Gaston Morrell, a painter who kills women after they pose for portraits.
* "The Night of The Hunter " (1955 film) The crowd at the courthouse chants "Bluebeard" as Harry Powell is on trial for the murder of his wives.
* "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" episode Ted (Buffy episode) includes the Bluebeard story as a man named Ted (played by John Ritter) who starts dating Buffy's mother. Suspicious, Buffy and friends break into his house and find the bodies of his four former wives in a closet. As a further twist, Ted turns out to be a robot.
* "Bluebeard (1972 film)" is loosely based on the legend. It takes place in the 1930's. Bluebeard is a Germanic aristocrat who is sexually frustrated by beautiful women. Richard Burton takes the title role, with Joey Heatherton and Raquel Welch as two of the beauties he romances, though only Heatherton survives.
* "Perry Mason (TV series)" makes reference to Bluebeard in " [ The Case Of The Fiery Fingers] ". In this episode, a woman named Louise Gordon died after being poisoned with arsenic, leaving her million dollar estate to her husband, George. After learning that George's previous wife, Grace, had supposedly died of food poisoning and had left him $53,000, Perry Mason and staff suspected that Mr. Gordon was responsible for both incidents. In a private conference, Della Street asked Perry, "Do you think we're dealing with a Bluebeard?" Perry replied, "Della, one thing about Bluebeards; they generally have their next wives picked out before they put away their present wives."

A number of films about wife murderers do not specifically refer to Bluebeard:

* "Gaslight" (1944 film)
* "Rebecca" (1940) by Hitchcock – a close adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's novel – has the forbidden chamber, the past wife (the unseen title character) and the curious new wife.
* "Monsieur Verdoux" (1947) a black comedy where Charlie Chaplin plays a post-WWII Bluebeard character.
* Beauty and the Beast (1991 film) A similar story (an ugly man and beautiful woman in 'love') but entirely different plot. In this film version the beast allows her free roam of the castle (after some imprisonment), but specifically forbids Belle (beauty) from entering the west wing. Curiosity gets the better of her and she investigates. The beast catches her and flies into a rage.


External links

* [ Legendary Scottish bluebeard Sir John Cathcart]
* [ SurLaLune Fairy Tale Pages: Heidi Anne Heiner, "The Annotated Bluebeard"]
* [ Variants]
* [ "Bluebeard and the Bloody Chamber" by Terri Windling]
* [ Leon Botstein's concert notes on Dukas' "Ariane et Barbe-bleue"]
* [ Glimmerglass Opera's notes on Offenbach's "Barbe Bleue", the Bluebeard fairy tale in general, and operetta in the time of Offenbach] .
* [ A Shakespeare reference]

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