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Annotations for Bremen Town Musicians

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The annotations for the Bremen Town Musicians fairy tale are below. Sources have been cited in parenthetical references, but I have not linked them directly to their full citations which appear on the Cinderella Bremen Town Musicians page. I have provided links back to the Annotated Bremen Town Musicians to facilitate referencing between the notes and the tale.

Special thanks to Christine Ethier, an adjunct teacher of English writing at both Community College of Philadelphia and Camden County College, for providing the annotations to this tale.

I have included the Grimms' notes to the tale as translated by Margaret Hunt followed by SurLaLune's textual annotations.

The Grimms' Notes For the Tale

From two stories heard in the district of Paderborn. A third from Zwehrn differs in this respect, that the four animals do not drive the robbers out of the house in a fright, but enter it peaceably, make music, and in return are entertained by them. The robbers then go out in search of booty, and when they return home at midnight the one who is sent first to light up the house meets with the same adventures that in the other stories befel the one who went to reconnoitre. In Rollenhagen's Froschmeuseler, book 3, chap. 8, we find our story with the title, How the ox and the ass together with their companions storm a hut in the forest.

In our tale the wild beasts of the forest have become robbers. The former is certainly earlier, for in the Latin Reinhart Fuchs (Isengrimus, 529, and following), is a fable according to which the goat, buck, fox, stag, cock, and goose go a-travelling, establish themselves in a hut in the forest, and play a trick on the wolf who comes to it; as is also related in a story from Transylvania, (See Haltrich, No. 4) with which No. 41 is closely allied. Especially is it to be observed that here the strong, wild, and powerful animals are deceived (as in No. 102,) where dwarfs overreach giants. Rollenhagen is more complete, inasmuch as in his version the ox and the goose also appear, and with regard to this latter, we must particularly notice the good incident of the frightened man's mistaking her beak for a pair of red-hot iron tongs. A Swabian story, the Robber and the Domestic Animals, is to be found in Meier, No. 3. Compare as a whole, the establishment in the Ragamuffins, No. 10.

Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. Household Tales. Margaret Hunt, translator. London: George Bell, 1884, 1892. 2 volumes.

SurLaLune's Annotations

1. The Bremen Town Musicians: The sources for the tale are Dorothea Viehmann and the von Haxthausen family (Zipes, Complete, 730).
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2. Donkey: Tatars states that the animals are not totally symbolic (150) but "seem to carry out a household function and are defined by their use to their owners" (Tatar 150). However, some aspects the symbolism attached to each animal do reflect the work together spirit of the tale and these aspects will be listed below.

While a donkey can be symbolic of stupidity, it can also be "humble and gentle" (Biederman 100).
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3. Mill: The mill can "represent the equalizing effect of fate, which provides equal justice in the same way that a mill grinds every grain without prejudice" (Biederman 221-222).
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4. His master: Tatar points out that the introduction of the tale sets up conflict between the master (humans) and slave (animals) (151).
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5. Bremen: Bremen is located in northwest Germany. It was a Free Hanseatic League City after the end of the Old German Empire and became part of the German Alliance in 1815 (Bremen Tourism, "Free"). It is a harbor city but couldn't serve large ships because of silt clogging the river (Bremen Tourism, "Free"). This lead to the creation of Bremerhaven in 1827 (Bremen Tourism, "Free"). The city is famous for its statue of Roland, which was erected in 1404 (Bremen Tourism, "Free").

The statue of the Grimms' Musicians is on the west side of the Rathaus (Bremen Tourism, "Bremen"). The statue is by Gerhard Marcks and was done in 1951 (Bremen Tourism, "Bremen"). There is also a Gerhard Marcks house/museum in the city.

The destination city could change depending on the location of the teller (Tatar 150), Bremen also "figures as a point of departure for life's final journey" (Tatar 150). Because it is a seaport, "Bremen represents a blend of the domestic and exotic" (Tatar 150). For the animals in the tale Bremen represents "the freedom that is usually associated with the wildness" (Tatar 153).
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6. Town musician: During the1600s there were "traveling animal bands, featuring cat vocalists and monkey or owl conductors" (Comfort 169) in Europe.
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7. Hound: Dogs are "associated primarily with loyalty and vigilance" (Biederman 97).
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8. I will play the lute, and you shall beat the kettledrum: A lute is a stringed instrument shaped like a pear with a long neck (Barnhart 727). A kettledrum is "a drum made up of a thin hemispherical shell of brass or copper with a parchment top" (Evans 603).
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9. Cat: While the cat is usually negative in symbolism (Biederman 59), in heraldry it can stand for liberty (Biederman 60). Furthermore, "the cat is tireless and cunning when going after its prey - the virtues of a good solider" (Biederman 60).

In his The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, Jack Zipes has the donkey call the cat, "Old Whiskers" (106). Tatar offers "Mr. Tidypaws" (152). According to the Oxford American Desk Dictionary and Thesaurus, a shaver is "a young lad" (767). Ivor Evans describes the related term shaveling as a young man usually a priest because of the shaved head and face (990). Shaveling is usually used as a term of contempt (Evans 990).

Spinning in fairy tales is often "associated with fate and death . . . and women" (Biederman 317).
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10. Cock: The rooster is associated with both sexuality and Christ (Biederman 288). It was believed that the crowing of the rooster (cock) would "drive off nocturnal demons" (Biederman 288). The crowing was also seen as a reference to Saint Peter denying Christi three times (Biederman 288). The rooster is also seen as a watchful guardian (Biederman 288).
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11. Our Lady washes the Christ-child's little shirts, and wants to dry them: Tatar writes of the saying, "The insertion of a reference to the Madonna anchors the tale in a culture where weather was described in religious terms" (152).
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12. You can find something better than death everywhere: you have a good voice, and if we make music together it must have some quality: All four of the animals have outlived their usefulness to the owners and face death. They become the unwanted of society.
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13. Forest: The forest is a place of change. A tree can be associated with "a life lived in accordance God's plan: its annual cycle refers to life, death, and resurrection" (Biederman 351).

The forest is a common setting in German fairy tales.
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14. Light: The light represents hope (Tatar 153).
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15. Robbers: Robbers ". . . may symbolize the rebellion of the young against authority and parental (especially paternal) power . . ." (Biederman 286).

In this tale, the robbers stand in contrast to the musicians:
Both beasts and robbers are social renegades, but whereas the beast exhibit egalitarian solidarity, the robbers remain locked in rigid hierarchies, with a captain heading the group who gives commands and jeopardizes the safety of individual members by sending them out on reconnaissance. (Tatar 150)

Sometimes the robbers are replaced with other animals, werewolves, or witches (Tatar 153).
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16. Upon the head of the cat: The formation of the animals ". . . signals their willingness to cooperate according to their strengths and turns them into the artists that they aspire to become in Bremen" (Tatar 153). The fact that the robbers are criminals "makes them far game for the animals" (Tatar 153). Jack Zipes writes that when fairy tale characters use hidden talents ". . . to attain due justice and recompense, the people are invincible" (Zipes, Breaking, 37). The animals here have been slighted because they are not allowed to live out their lives even after they have worked of their masters.

The formation that the animals used to scare off the robbers is what is depicted in Marcks' statue "The Bremen Town Musicians" (see above).

The fact that the robbers are frightened by such a tricks shows that they are cowards (Tatar 153).
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17. Sleeping-place: Tatar notes the similarity with the characters of Goldilocks and Snow White (155); all the animals are searching for "resting places that will be 'just right'" (155).
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18. Ordered one of them to go and examine the house: The robbers do not work together like the animals, and "the captain has no reservations about exposing a member of his band to danger" (Tatar 156). The animals, on the hand, work to protect each other, not only from the robbers but from the owners.
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19. Lucifer-match: Simply a match. A Lucifer match or friction match was invented in 1826 by John Walker (Evans 663). It was then "copied by Samuel Jones of the Strand and sold as the Lucifer (c. 1829)" (Evans 663).
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20. Judge: Cats are often associated with witches. The rooster is mistaken for a judge ". . . in part because the robber knows that he is an intruder, even if on his own domain, in part because the rooster is seen as a commanding presence in the barnyard" (Tatar 156).
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21. Is still warm: This is a signature of the storyteller. Tatar writes of it, "Functioning like a signature on a painting, the final line reminds us that the story was crafted by a raconteur with his own personal style" (Tatar 156).
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Special thanks to Christine Ethier, an adjunct teacher of English writing at both Community College of Philadelphia and Camden County College, for providing the annotations to this tale.


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Page created 1/2005; Last updated 7/4/07