(5/24/01 12:56:58 pm)
| Lou Harrison's "Rapunzel" opera|
Once again, I am requesting help with an e-mail inquiry I have received. I am not familiar with Morris' text. Any thoughts from anyone?
"I had a question about the text and am hoping you might have an answer! Harrison used as his libretto the psychological reinterpretation of the Rapunzel story by William Morris. You don't reference this source either. Morris omits most of the action in the story. Absent are:
"(1) the introductory material about Rapunzel's parents and the giving up of the child; and
"(2) the prince's blindness. He concentrates solely on the
interaction between the 2 principal characters.
"However, he also adds material that I did not find in the original tale. I'm wondering if these additions are Morris's own or whether there is a basis for them in other
literature. The one that particularly concerns me is the ending:
"Near the end, the prince tells Rapunzel that a minstrel had informed him he'd meet a golden-haired maiden named Guendolen. The prince had wrought his sword "with golden hair flowing about the hilts" as a result of this prediction. Rapunzel then responds that in fact her real name was Guendolen and that Rapunzel was the name of the witch. His love released her to resume her real identity. His name, by the way, is Sebald.
"This sounds to me like a confusion between Rapunzel and Rumpelstiltskin! Is there any basis for it that you know, or did Morris make it up?
"Thank you for your thoughts on this matter."
(5/24/01 11:23:04 pm)
| not much help|
I'm familiar with the Morris poem your correspondent talks about-
it's in one of Morris' early volumes- "The Defence of Gueneuvre
and other Poems" (1858), which was considered to be quite groundbreaking
at the time. It foreshadows the "medieval" vogue poetry
moved into in the 1860s. As far as I know, the detail about Rapunzel's
name is original to Morris- I'm not absolutely sure, but Morris
does have a tendency to alter the details of well-known tales, to
inscribe his own mark upon them- for instance, "The Earthly
Paradise" features a swan maiden tales in which the husband
manages to recapture his wife.
While Morris is principally concerned with the interaction between the central characters and not with recounting the original story (which would be a little pointless), he explores and undermines the authority and accuracy of the prince's gaze *constantly* throughout the poem- the issue of blindness is most certainly there, although never broached or addressed explicitly. The hair, in particular, serves as an obstacle to vision- a sun-drenched, golden mirror which richochets his own gaze back at the prince, or a veil which deflects his enquiries with one gentle swish. This is where the name issue comes in, I think- the poem has so little faith in its hero that it doubts whether he can tell the difference between witch and princess. As the witch herself says towards the end of the poem:
"Woe is me! Guendolen
Sweeps back her hair."
He is only able to "name" the girl (to "own" or "win" her) because she exposes herself to him. In one section of The White Goddess, Robert Graves suggests that sea monsters and dragons are really emanations of the chained princesses heroes fancy they rescue. Perhaps something similar is going on here.