Time for some more Bookstr Trivia and this time we’re diving into a beloved and magical cliché. Fairy tales have taught us to never underestimate the power of true love. And this power has a habit of manifesting itself through true love’s kiss. Growing up, we have watched couples solve their curses or magical ailments through this powerful expression of love, and we can’t help but wonder where it originated.
Shakespeare Strikes Again
Shakespeare is responsible for coining a lot of popular phrases and tropes, but few realize that he is the creator of the phrase “true love’s kiss”. Although Shakespeare’s intentions for the phrase were not for it to become a magical cure for curses. Shakespeare’s Richard the III is recorded as the first work to use the phrase when Richard says to Queen Elizabeth, “Bear her my true love’s kiss,” when he is discussing the queen’s daughter. Although he may not be the mastermind behind this trope, it’s important to note his initial use of the phrase.
The Brothers Grimm and Briar Rose
The story of Sleeping Beauty has been retold by different authors over the years, varying from a dark and twisted tale to a light-hearted romantic story. Charles Perrault set the foundation for the Brothers Grimm’s Briar Rose through his story Sleeping Beauty in the Woods. The stories both contain the prince that awakens the princess, but the Brothers Grimm are the ones who brought the magic of true love’s kiss to the story. The Brothers Grimm can be credited with the creation of this trope, but the contributions of Perrault are vital as he helped set the stage for the first of many powerful kisses.
True Bride is another one of the Brothers Grimm stories that show the power of true love’s kiss. This story is less well-known because it was never adapted to the screen like Briar Rose or Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. The story is about a maiden who is abused by her stepmother before she is saved by the grace of a mysterious old woman. The maiden goes on to fall in love with a prince who suddenly disappears. The maiden then discovers that he has been cursed with amnesia. She breaks the curse by placing a kiss on his left cheek just like she did when she last saw him. Although this kiss was not on the lips, the power of this affection gesture is not diminished in the slightest. The trope has evolved over time to include kisses on the forehead or cheek and convey that love does not have to be strictly romantic.
Disney is responsible for popularizing many fairy tales and bringing true love’s kiss into the hearts of children and adults everywhere. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, for example, did not initially contain a true love’s kiss but instead a way more unromantic solution. As the prince’s attendants were transporting the glass coffin, a stumble caused a piece of the poison apple to dislodge from her throat and allow her to awaken.
This shows how true love’s kiss was used as a substitute for other writers’ plot points. Another example is The Little Mermaid’s use of the cliché. In the film, Ursula tells Ariel she must receive true love’s kiss from the prince to become human permanently. The original Hans Christian Anderson story declares that she must marry the prince to receive an immortal soul.
Although true love’s kiss is a beloved romantic cliché, it has not gone without criticism. Concerns have been raised about the lack of consent in fairy tales involved with this cliché. Both Snow White and Aurora were unconscious during the moment of true love’s kiss. Although the action awoke them from their curse, it is still viewed as a non-consensual sexual action towards the princesses.
I don’t believe that true love’s kiss will fade from popularity, as fairy tale retellings are constantly in production, but the motif has evolved more to just be acts of true love. This means true love does not need to be romantic or an act of physical touch. One of the moment prominent examples in pop culture is Frozen’s Elsa and Anna saving each other through their acts of sisterly love.