Into the Woods
Into the Woods is a play intertwining some of society’s favorite fairy tales and creating a new and profound story. This story combines Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel using a frame story about a baker and his wife that desire a child. Each of the heroes in the different tales begins with a desire and must make a journey into the woods to fulfill their quests. The tales follow their normal courses to their happy endings, but naturally there is more to it. A giantess ravages the land to seek revenge for her dead husband and the characters must look within themselves to overcome this new challenge. The story utilizes the fundamental archetypes in all fairy tales but gives them a new twist. This unique use of archetypes in Into the Woods brings a reversal of conventional gender roles.
The heroes in this story all fit the fundamentals of the hero archetype, but certain aspects of each character do not follow the normal path. The baker and his wife can both be considered heroes, for they embark on this quest together. The baker, though the male figure, starts out very cowardly and indecisive. Though he chides his wife often and tries to prevent her from entering the woods, she is obviously the stronger of the two. The baker is afraid and perpetually nervous about going into the woods and acquiring the items he needs. However, his wife has no qualms about cutting Rapunzel’s hair or stealing Cinderella’s shoe. As the quest progresses, the baker begins to acknowledge that his wife is a resourceful person and is necessary to completing their quest. By the end of Act I, man and wife realize that they need each other in order to succeed and have learned to trust in each other. The couple again defies their gender roles at the end of Act II. Usually, in relationships, it is the man who leaves home and is exposed to other women and the wife who remains at home helpless. In this story, the baker is loving, faithful, and concerned for his wife, but she succumbs to lust and a desire for something more. She is punished with death for breaking her faith with her husband. In the end, the baker triumphs over his own fear and cowardice, returns to the survivors, and defeats the giantess.
Cinderella is the heroine of her story as opposed to merely filling the princess/fair maiden archetype. She is not helpless nor does she swoon for the prince whenever she lays eyes on him. She has a mind of her own and is willing to use it. In this portion of the story, there is no mention of any limits on the wishes granted by her mother but rather she runs from the prince at of her own volition. She runs due to fear; fear that the prince may find out about her past and shun her forever. She makes her own decision whether or not she wants to marry the prince. She does not jump blindly into the marriage but hesitates before making her decision. The princes in this story are portrayed somewhat as buffoons. All they think about is their own desires and beautiful women. Cinderella soon finds this out and is no longer content with her life. When the giantess ravages the land, it is Cinderella that steps up to return to the wood and try to help her people. The princess is independent and strong in comparison to the prince that is cowardly and shirks from his responsibility.
Little Red Riding Hood and Jack are two very contrary characters. Instead of being the sweet, innocent, and completely mindless little girl, Little Red Riding Hood is the exact opposite. She starts out by trying to steal bread from the baker and eats all of the sweets meant to be taken to her grandmother. She does not willingly submit to the wolf but is wary and tries to get away several times. After she is eaten and freed from the wolf, she becomes cynical and paranoid, carrying a knife and brandishing it everyone and anyone. Jack on the other hand, at times seems more feminine than Little Red Riding Hood. His main focus throughout the first act is to reclaim his cow. The affection that he has for Milky White, as his cow is named, is motherly and almost unnatural. He will do anything to get her back and weeps when she dies. In Act II, he matures as all heroes do and learns to calm his vengefulness at the man who killed his mother but also shows the audience that he is still a child. He shows his vulnerability and his fear at living alone without his mother. Little Red Riding Hood, though only a child herself, steps up to play the role of mother for Jack. Both Jack and Little Red Riding Hood have within them two sides, one that fulfills their archetypal role as a little girl or a brash boy and also the side that surpasses themselves in their ability to weather difficulties and come out a better person than they were before.
Perfect archetypal heroes are all well and good in that they provide entertainment for the audience and a lofty goal for which we might strive though never attain. The heroes in Into the Woods are only human and have many character flaws. The mistakes they make are punished but the ultimate triumph of Little Red Riding Hood, Jack, Cinderella, and the baker teach us valuable lessons and give us hope that we also can overcome in the face of adversity. The age old archetypes have been modified for this story to give it a new dimension and to better relate to the current audience. It accounts for the changes in gender roles that are beginning to take place in our society. Into the Woods is a perfect example of the old meeting the new, the creation of an entertaining yet inspirational experience for the audience.