Mme de Beaumont’s version of Beauty and the Beast holds many similarities to the Greek “Cupid and Psyche.”
- I bet you didn’t know that the Beast also starred in “Cats,” did you?
Both Beauty and Psyche are sent to live with their respective “Beasts” as a punishment. For the Beauty, however, it was not a punishment for her own transgression, but rather for that of her father for stealing a rose. Psyche, on the other hand, has to be punished because she is too beautiful for jealous Venus’ taste. However, aong the same lines, while both are exiled (Beauty to the Beast’s castle, Psyche to the mountain) Beauty is actually sent to a Beast, while Psyche’s so-called “beast” is actually Cupid, a delightfully hunky winged god (I think Psyche got the better end of the deal).
Another similarity between the stories is the jealousy of the sisters of both heroines. Both sets of siblings are jealous of the riches that each beauty receives upon being wed (or imprisoned). That jealousy then incites each beauty to do something that ultimately harms their beast: Beauty stays away too long, while Psyche’s curiousity gets the better of her and she burns her man with some hot oil while peeking to see if he really is a beast.
Now the two stories diverge. All Beauty has to do is be loving and virtuous to revive the Beast and ultimately transform him into a man. Psyche, on the other hand, has to perform three nigh-impossible tasks to win the favor of her husband’s mother. Even then, she only succeeds with divine intervention on the first two. During the third task, Psyche’s curiousity gets the better of her for a second time, and it almost proves to be her undoing, until (guess who?) her husband decides he can’t live without her, and comes to her aid. Eventually, the gods persuade Venus to change her mind about Psyche, and then they change Pysche into a godess so that she and Cupid can finally be man god and wife. Thus, the transformation is in the beauty, who also happens to be the beast: while Belle never does anything wrong and eventually transforms her husband by way of her virtue, Psyche ruins her own marriage and has to be transformed by the gods (because her own virtue certainly isn’t getting her anywhere).
The two stories have many similarities in both plot and the theme of transformation; however, they are still very distinct.
(ps- the top photo is from the 1946 french film “La Belle et la bete.”)
Fairy tales and psychology have a very…interesting relationship. Many psychologists (in particular Freud, Jung and the students of their respective schools of thought) believe that fairy tales can be interpreted in a psychological manner to derive meaning from them. Freud, for example, might find a tree to be a phallic symbol, giving the tale a psychosexual connotation, while Jung might instead find archetypes such as the forest and find meaning through those. Many psychologists also believed that fairy tales can act as a sort of key to the past or to the unconscious of a patient. If this patient were to hear or read a particular fairy tale that applied to his/her fears, past, suppressed urges, etc., they may be able to identify for themselves what is ailing them and thus have taken the first step towards recovery.
Dr. Mazeroff’s lecture was very interesting. I would not have related Hansel and Gretel to Freud and his psychosexual ideas of oral fixation, but I can certainly see how Freud made this point. I also think it was helpful to go over the many archetypes that Jung presented, simply because it will make them more easily recognizable in future readings.
Fairy tale: A fairy tale is a story that always has an element of magic. Fairy tales are universal in several senses. First, many fairytales with similar plots, characters, and themes, have been found around the world, each originating in several different places at once. They are also universal in that the characters in the fairy tale are rather bland: they are archetypes (e.g. the hero, the princess, the villain, the father, etc.) rather than specific characters with unique features. Because of this, people from all over the world can identify with them, whether the story originated in France or China.
Folk tale: A folk tale is a story that always has an element of the supernatural. Folk tales are indigenous to the culture that produced them, and therefore any meaning behind them that would be picked up from an individual of that culture might be lost on an outsider. Because they are so culture- and history-specific, folk tales are unique, with characters that are well-formed and plots that are not often found in other places or cultures.