Sleeping Beauty: Enchanted Sleep or Repressed Sexual Prison

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Once upon a time, a charming and super naturally beautiful princess, graced with all the virtues that any noble woman should possess, fell into an enchanted 100 year long sleep. While all versions of the classic Sleeping Beauty tale depict a sleeping princess, and involve some sort of suspended animation, little (or no) information is given on the sleep itself. Throughout this essay, we will explore the symbolism behind the cursed princess’s enchanted slumber. Through comparisons, both sexualized and with an undertone of religious morality, the sleep takes on several different forms; however, it ultimately seems to bare an undeniable similarity to the start of menstruation, and the princess’s sexual maturity into womanhood. Beyond any doubt, her awakening from the cursed sleep is also a sexual awakening, where the once innocent princess makes her life as one man’s wife.

The Grimm Brother’s Little Brier Rose, Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty in the Wood, and Giamattista Basile’s Sun, Moon and Talia are three versions of this classic tale, all of which share the basic plot. Wise beings (wise women in the first, fairies in the second, and finally wise men in the latter), one of which foretelling an impending sleep (of variant lengths in these tales), a spindle, the ageless sleep in which the princess finds repose, a royal awakener, and ultimately a happily ever after. Beyond the glittering surface of these seemingly happy and innocent tales, lays the story of sexual desire and a fantastical fulfillment. However, before the princess can relieve herself of all the pent up desire, we must begin from the place of the start of all sexual desire, menstruation itself.

All three adaptations portray an elder woman spinning in a tower, which in many cases is previously unknown or forbidden to the young princess. We may picture the tower itself, strong and masculine, proudly standing above all the other rooms in the elaborate palace, but we often fail to wonder why the princess has failed to enquire or explore the tower until this point in her lifetime. It is clear that the princess’s start of menstruation influences a height in her sexual curiosity, explaining why this powerful and tall figure calls out to her, like it had never done before, inexplicably beckoning and tempting her to climb its stairs as she “climbed its narrow winding staircase, and came to a small door” (Grimm 696). It is interesting that the Grimm brothers mention that inside the tower, the passage was narrow, immediately following the revelation that this tower is unknown to our royal heroine. A curious sense of imagery tempting the reader to wonder if the author was referring to the tower, or what was brewing inside the princess herself. The unexplored tower foreshadows the princess’s awakening fate, a royal guest inviting himself within the walls of the tower, and ultimately the princess herself. While the princess’s appearance may represent the start of her sexual maturity, “climbing higher and higher” (Perrault 84), until ultimately reaching the first sign of the blood of menstruation, the prince’s arrival may symbolize the completion of this maturity. In the Grimm’s version of the tale, the young princess finally makes it to the top of this tower, and to a door, a door in which “a rusty key was stuck in the lock, and when she turned it, the door sprang open, and she saw an old woman sitting in the room with a spindle, and busily spinning flax” (Grimm 696). Now, two images are presented here, both leading to the princess’s destined sleep. First, the reader is drawn to the rusty lock and the old woman. At the end of the path in this tower, were the rusty door and old woman, clearly demonstrating an end to this stage in the princess’s young life. It is peculiar, that a young woman is met with a much older counterpart, seemingly of herself. Perrault’s tale makes it clear to the reader that this old woman shares the princess’s innocence of the world...
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