In today’s lesson, we will consider the scene from Into the Woods in which the Baker and his wife are looking for Jack while a Giantess rampages through the land. The Baker’s Wife decides that they will go in separate directions for five hundred paces; the Baker thinks it’s dangerous to separate, but she insists and he follows her lead, as he does on multiple occasions in the film.
As she is walking at some distance from her husband, she is come upon by the Prince on horseback, who proceeds to seduce her.
We will examine the seduction in detail in another post, but for today, let us consider only the Baker’s Wife’s response and the consequences of her actions.
At first she resists him, but eventually she gives in and they engage in passionate kissing.
When they have finished their romantic encounter, the Prince declares that he must leave, telling her in a sultry voice,
I shall not forget you, how brave you are to be alone in the woods, how alive you’ve made me feel.
He then gallops off, leaving the stunned Baker’s Wife looking longingly after him. She then sings to the audience the following lyrics, which I’ve interspersed with some of my commentary:
What was that?
Was that me?
Was that him?
Did a Prince really kiss me?
And kiss me?
And kiss me?
And did I kiss him back?
Here we have admission by the Baker’s Wife of her direct participation in the encounter. There is no sin in being tempted by sexual attraction to another man, nor did she sin when the Prince stole the first kiss. But when she kissed him back, she made the choice to give in to temptation instead of walking away from it.
Was it wrong?
Am I mad?
No, you are not mad. You are an adulteress.
Is that all?
Does he miss me?
No. He got what he wanted and now all he wants is to get away from you and on to the next conquest.
Was he suddenly
Getting bored with me?
Yes. You were fooling yourself if you thought you would keep his interest by giving up that kiss.
Notice how emotionally attached she has become in just a few moments of physical intimacy, wondering what he’s thinking about now, if he might be missing her. But of course he isn’t missing her, as he symbolizes the Wolf’s counterpart. The Wolf is the alpha bad boy; the Prince is the alpha high-status male. She continues by giving herself some very good advice which she does not want to follow:
Wake up! Stop dreaming.
Stop prancing about the woods.
It’s not besseming.
What is it about the woods?
Back to life, back to sense,
Back to child, back to husband,
You can’t live in the woods.
There are vows, there are ties,
There are needs, there are standards,
There are shouldn’ts and shoulds.
Why not both instead?
There’s the answer, if you’re clever:
have a child for warmth,
And a Baker for bread,
And a Prince for…whatever–
It’s these woods.
It is clear from this part of the song that she knows right from wrong and that she has knowingly violated her wedding vows of fidelity. The last stanza shows a temptation to engage in the mercenary spirit that women are capable of: she wishes aloud that she were clever enough to figure out how to have the Baker to give her a child and support her but the Prince for romance and sex; if you are listening to the music, you will notice the lecherous way in which she sings the word whatever.
Face the facts, find the boy,
Join the group, stop the Giant-
Just get out of these woods.
Was that him? Yes it was.
Was that me? No it wasn’t,
Just a trick of the woods.
Just a moment,
One peculiar passing moment…
Must it all be either less or more,
Either plain or grand?
Is it always “or”?
Is it never “and”?
That’s what woods are for:
For those moments in the woods…
Oh, if life were made of moments,
Even now and then a bad one!
But if life were only moments,
Then you’d never know you had one.
First a Witch, then a child,
Then a Prince, then a moment-
Who can live in the woods?
And to get what you wish,
Only just for a moment-
These are dangerous woods…
Let the moment go…
Don’t forget it for a moment, though.
Returning to the Baker while telling herself always to remember her illicit encounter is basically telling herself to continue to commit adultery with the Prince in her heart.
Just remembering you’ve had an “and”,
When you’re back to “or”,
Makes the “or” mean more
Than it did before.
Now I understand-
And it’s time to leave the woods.
At the end of the song, the fog of lust clears from her face, she gives herself a shake, and she begins to move about purposefully, seeking the path back to her husband the Baker. She realizes now that he is real life and the Prince is not; her husband and child mean much more to her now that she has nearly thrown them away for nothing.
But alas, it is too late; she cannot find the path back to them.
Little Red Riding Hood was saved from the consequences of her straying and only ended up with a scary story to tell because she was still a child. We expect children to make mistakes and to need to be drawn back onto the narrow path. But once we are adults, we are responsible for our actions, and the Baker’s Wife ultimately pays for her sins despite realizing that she was being foolish and despite her decision to return to her husband.
Once she strayed off the path, she could not find her way back and there was no man there to save her. She had sent her husband away and gone off on her own and the Prince with whom she had had her dalliance had left her with a flourish, never to be seen again. She ought to have known better. As she frantically searches for the path back to her husband and child, the earth beneath her feet begins to shake…it is the approaching Giantess.
The trees begin to fall as the Giantess lowers her foot toward the Baker’s Wife…and thus she meets her demise, crushed to death.
The moral of the story: a woman who has a child for warmth, a baker for bread, and a prince for “whatever” is a mercenary. She is a danger to the stability of family, kith, kin, and community. Do not be this woman if you want to have a stable, happy life. Learn from the Baker’s Wife’s fate: choose a good man who desires to husband a wife rather than being a passive wife-follower and then stick with that man loyally and faithfully, through thick and thin, and do not stray even for a moment.