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Sleeping Beauty Story

Updated on May 22, 2010

Folktale Fairytale

Sleeping Beauty is a traditional folktale. The main source is La belle au hois dormant from Charles Perrault's Tales of Mother Goose (1697). In this tale the king and queen invite seven fairies to the christening of their daughter, but another is left out and in revenge vows that the princess shall prick her finger on a spindle and die. The seventh fairy mitigates the sentence to 100 years of sleep. When, on her 16th birth­day, the princess pricks her finger, she and everyone in the palace fall asleep, and a hedge of briars grows around the palace. After 100 years a prince penetrates the hedge and awakens the princess with a kiss. In the Perrault version, the story goes on to an episode of an ogre mother-in-law, but in Dornroschen (Little Briar-Rose), from Grimm's Fairy Tales (1812-1815), it ends with the awakening of the princess.

The Friedrich Max Miiller school of folklorists relied heavily on Sleeping Beauty to support their thesis that all fairy tales are nature myths. The motif of the discontented fairy occurs as early as the 13th century in Le jeu Adam ou de la feuillee (The Play of Adam or of the Bower) by the French poet Adam de la Halle.


Sleeping Beauty is a ballet based on Charles Perrault's fairy tale La belle au bois dormant. Re­garded as one of the finest examples of classical ballet, it has been a popular favorite since its premiere at the Maryinsky Theater, St. Peters­burg (now Leningrad), in 1890. Its magnificent score, by Tchaikovsky, is matched by Marius Petipa's brilliant choreography.

The libretto, by Petipa and Ivan Vsevolojsky, tells how, at Princess Aurora's christening, the curse of the wicked fairy Carabosse, an uninvited guest, condemns her to die at 16. The benevolent Lilac Fairy changes the augury of her death to a sleep of 100 years. On Aurora's 16th birthday the prophecy comes true, but a century later the Lilac Fairy leads Prince Florimund to the sleep­ing princess and his kiss restores her to life and happiness.

At the premiere the leading dancers were Car-lotta Brianza, Paul Gerdt, and Enrico Cecchetti. The ballet has been revived many times. It was first presented in western Europe by Diaghilev at the Alhambra Theatre, London, in 1921. Its first American production, in 1937, was choreo­graphed by Catherine Littlefield for the Phila­delphia Ballet. The Sadler's Wells (now Royal) Ballet of England staged The Sleeping Beauty in 1939, with Margot Fonteyn and Robert Helpmann, who also appeared in it at the company's American debut ten years later.


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