(Translated from the German Text of Ludwig Bechtstein)
There once lived a powerful knight who had such enormous amounts of money and vast properties, that all his subjects led marvelous and lovely lives in his castle. Because he had a blue beard, everyone called him Bluebeard, but his true name has been lost in time. This knight had been married more than once. Some folks whispered behind their hands that all of his wives had died in quick succession, one after another. But no one could ever find out what the actual illness or cause had been. Now Knight Bluebeard went out courting again because there was a noble woman in his neighborhood. She had two beautiful daughters and several chivalrous sons and these siblings loved each other dearly. When Knight Bluebeard wanted to marry one of these daughters, neither one really had any desire. They were afraid of his blue beard and didn’t want to live apart. But the knight invited the mother, the daughters and the brothers to his large and very beautiful castle and provided them with pleasant pastimes and amusements, like hunting, feasting, dancing, playing and other happy festivities. Finally the youngest sister plucked up her courage and decided to become Knight Bluebeard’s wife. Soon thereafter a very splendid wedding ceremony was held.
After some time, Knight Bluebeard said to his young wife: “I must go away and give you charge of the entire castle, house and court, and everything belonging to it. Here are the keys to all the rooms and chambers. You can enter these rooms at any time. But this small golden key locks the farthest and smallest room at the end of the large hallway filled with rooms. Into this chamber, my dear, I prohibit you from going, as dear as my love is for you and as dear as your life is. If you open this chamber door, the most horrible punishment would await your curiosity. I would have to separate your head from body with my own hands!”
After hearing this speech the woman didn’t want to take the golden key. But she had to take it to keep it safely. And so she took leave from her husband with the promise that she wouldn’t think of opening the chamber door or entering the room.
When the knight had departed, the young wife received a visit from her sister and brothers, who liked to go hunting. Now they enjoyed the many pleasant things in each of the many castle chambers. Finally, the sisters arrived at the small room.
The wife did not want to open the door even though she was needled by enormous curiosity. But her sisters laughed at her concern and thought that Knight Bluebeard was keeping the most desirable and valuable treasures locked within because of his own stubbornness. And so with some trepidation, the wife put the key in the lock and the door flung open with a deep thump. In the poorly lit room could be seen – how horrible and shocking – the bloody heads of all the previous wives of Knight Bluebeard. Like the current wife, they had all suffered from their insatiable curiosity, which they could not overcome. The evil man had cut off their heads with his own hands. Shook to the core, the wife and sister now retreated. But in her horror the wife dropped the key and when she stooped over to pick it up, she saw drops of blood on it that she could not remove. It was also impossible to open the door again because the castle was enchanted. Soon the sound of horns announced the arrival of the knight before the castle gate.
The wife breathed a sigh of relief and thought it was her brothers who were returning from the hunt. But it was Knight Bluebeard himself, who had nothing better to do than ask his wife what she had done. When his wife approached him pale, trembling and troubled, he asked for the key. She said she would fetch it and he followed on her heels. When he saw the red droplets on the key, his expression was transformed into a rage and he screamed “Wife, you must now die by my own hand! I had left all power to you! Everything was yours! Your life was rich and beautiful! Your love to me was so miniscule, you bad maid, that you could not grant my one little request, you could not follow my earnest command. Prepare to die! It’s over for you!”
Filled with mortal terror, the wife ran to her sister and asked her to quickly run up to the tower and look out for her brothers. As soon she saw them, she should give a sign of dire distress, while she threw herself on the floor and pleaded for her life. And in between she called out “Sister! Don’t you see anyone?” --- “No one,” came the hopeless reply. – “Wife! Come down here!” Knight Bluebeard screamed. “Your time is up!”
“Sister, don’t you see anyone?” the maid cried. “A cloud of dust – but that is sheep!” the sister replied. “Wife! Come down here!” Knight Bluebeard screamed.
“Have mercy! I will come at once! Sister! Don’t you see anyone?”
“Two knights are coming mounted on steeds, they see my sign, they are riding like the wind!”
“Wife! Now I will come for you myself!” Knight Bluebeard thundered and he ran up the steps. But his wife gathered her courage, threw shut the door and held it fast. She and her sister cried out with all their might for help. Their brothers hastened like lightening, stormed up the stairs and were just arriving as Knight Bluebeard broke open the doors and entered the room with raised sword. After a brief fight, Knight Bluebeard lay dead on the floor. The wife was redeemed but could not overcome the pangs of her curiosity for a long time.