The name of this character type comes from the old French fairy-tale. Bluebeard was a wealthy nobleman who marries a pretty young girl. When he goes away on a business trip, he gives her all the keys to his chateau, but warns her that she is forbidden to enter a certain room. Feminine curiosity being what it is, she eventually does; and discovers that the room contains the corpses off all her husband's previous wives, whom he has murdered. Of course, that's when Bluebeard comes home…
This can be taken on a variety of levels - most obviously the simple one that Bluebeard was given to uxoricide - and as a result the name has come to be applied to serial killers who murder their wives. Given, however, that this was a fairy tale, an alternative explanation would be that it is a cautionary tale to do with the obedience (and perhaps fidelity) expected of a wife to her husband. This reading would hold that Bluebeard had no intention of killing his wife until she disobeyed him (and/or cheated on him by allegory), making the locked room a secret test of character (and, again, a possible allegory of a temptation to adultery). By extension, the previous wives are also assumed to have failed the test (although there was, presumably, some initial bride who set him on this course). The fact that he has a room full of dead wives gives this interpretation distinct shades of the Arabian Nights1 and that either Bluebeard sets his standards far too high, or the originator of the tale took a very jaundiced view of female fidelity. Having said that, this reading also has a slightly optimistic tinge in that - in theory at least - a bride of Bluebeard could be entirely safe and happy for the rest of her life by obeying this one condition2.
A further interpretation may be to do with the dangers of a young bride delving too deeply into her husbands past - in this case, the locked door again becomes a metaphor and the dead brides a history of sex and/or violence3 about which she is better off not knowing4.
- Black Widow - more or less the female cognate of this trope.
- Conomor the Cursed
- Henry VIII of England
Game and Story Use
- The Bluebeard does not make a terribly good PC; not in a heroic campaign anyway; but he makes a nice, sinister BBEG.
- For added squick he may be cannibalising his wives, or at least sacrificing them to something.
- Or a "nice" bit of subcharacterization for the PCs patron, liege, ally or employer.
- The PCs are contacted by a young bride who has suspicions about her much-widowed husband. Can they uncover the proof of the husband's secret?
- In the original story, Bluebeard was a wealthy nobleman; he may have enough power to discourage people from poking their noses into his marital past.
- In a dowry culture, the parents of a prospective - or previous - bride may commission the PCs to investigate given the amount of money at stake. If Bluebeard is marrying from his own class, exposing him may lead to war … if he's marrying wealthy commoners, more direct action may be required from the aggreived parties.
- For true hilarity the PCs could set him up with a black widow and see who survives.
- In the alternate reading, a wealthy NPC could set a series of filters trying to strain out the gold-diggers from a genuine bride who actually loves him (although possibly not by killing them), up to and including tempting them with a pool boy (or whatever). Human social biology may make this rather difficult.
- The original character (at least the noble serial killer with a room full of bodies) may owe something to the real life Gilles de Rais, although in this case the template wasn't all that interested in adult women.
- Could make for a rather complicated mythago - a mysterious playboy who picks up young women (probably in some sort of fashionable holiday destination), marries them in awhirlwind ceremony and then murders them. Sprawling chateaux an optional extra.