Dramaturg Digest: Tale As Old As Time

This edited post was originally published in full on The 4th Wall, a blog about dramaturgy run by the BYU Department of Theatre and Media Arts. We’ve partnered with the cast and crew of an upcoming BYU musical production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast to examine the history behind this classic fairy tale and it’s depictions ranging from the Broadway stage to the television in your living room. In this blog we’ll show the overlap between our data from television history and BYU dramaturg Kasey Kopp’s research for the upcoming stage production.

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In order to more fully appreciate the legacy and scope of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, it is important to realize that this story existed long before Disney set it to music. This week we reflect on this tale as old as time and learn more about the original fairy tale, upon which the musical is based.

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While it is difficult to trace its origins, we see roots of the story in the ancient Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche. We also see incarnations of the tale in the early civilizations of India and Africa. The story was first codified and published in France in 1740 by Madame Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve. This tale, however, contained many complicated subplots and a lot of information about the early lives of both Belle and the Prince. We learn, for example,  that Belle’s mother was a fairy and that she is a child of both worlds.

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In 1756, French author Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont published her far more simplified version of the tale under the title La Belle et la Bête. Following is a brief retelling of her story. (To read Beaumont’s full story, click here.)

While Beaumont’s version remains the most-well known of the primitive tales, the adaptations don’t stop there—numerous variations of the story exist throughout Europe. Next week we will explore a timeline of events, tracing the history of the various adaptations that have spanned the centuries. Stay tuned.

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Many thanks to Kasey for his work. In addition to learning about the history of the tale itself, our group of scholars has been collecting data on the trends of televised adaptations or appearances by Beauty and the Beast characters or themes. One of the trends we track is the genres in which these different fairy tale figures appear. Here is a visualization of the television genres that have featured Beauty and the Beast. bb Here is how to make sense of this graph. On the right side of the circle are the different kinds of fairy tale figures and the left side is broken down into their appearances in specific TV genres. For this graphic only the Beauty and Beast’s connections appear accented. (Visit this page and select “Fairy Tale/Genre Relationships” under the Network/Relational Graphs tab to see the complete and interactive graph).

So what we can tell from this graph is that Beauty and the Beast stories exist and thrive far beyond Disney’s musical adaptation, as Kasey pointed out before. Though primarily adapted as or appearing in children’s programing either comedic or dramatic in nature, the Beauty and the Beast story has been told in disparate genres including horror and science fiction and featured in shows like a 1991 episode of an animated Beetlejuice series and the 1980s show about a teenage Superman, The Adventures of Superboy.

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