The well known German fairy tale is set deep in a forest. An unborn child is promised to an enchantress, Dame Gothel, as payment for a debt. When the child, Rapunzel, turns 12 years old, the witch shuts her away in a one-room tower in the middle of the woods with no stairway or door and only one window. Whenever the witch wished to enter, she would command Rapunzel to drop her long hair from the window so she could climb up.
One day, a wandering prince hears Rapunzel singing from the tower. He visits often and one day sees how the witch enters. After the witch left, the prince asked Rapunzel to lower her hair, and he climbed up and proposed marriage. But the witch finds out about the prince, angrily cuts off Rapunzel's hair and evicts her from the castle, taking her place instead. When the prince returns, the witch lowers Rapunzel's hair below and he climbs up, only to be repulsed by the witch. In horror, he throws himself from the tower into a thorn bush, which blinds him.
Wandering through the woods one day, the prince hears Rapunzel's singing and the two lovers meet once again. Rapunzel's tears of joy return the prince's lost sight, and the two return to his home and live happily ever after.
Like most folk tales, the story of Rapunzel is not realistically localized. Since it originated as a German folk tale, and the herb rampion was used in salads mainly in Europe, the forest setting is probably an idealized or abstract version of Germany. The people telling the story would have heard of deserts of the Near and Middle East and North Africa, but one should probably interpret the desert as a generic isolated space. The prince would have been from one of the many small kingdoms that comprised Germany before its unification.
The plot begins with a couple living in the woods next to an enchantress. The man steals some rampion (a leafy plant) from the enchantress's garden, and when he is caught, he agrees to give the enchantress the baby about to be born to them. The enchantress takes and raises the baby girl, Rapunzel. When Rapunzel reaches puberty, the enchantress imprisons her in a tower with no stairs or doors, which can only be accessed by Rapunzel's letting her hair down through a window. Eventually the prince discovers Rapunzel, gets her pregnant, and arranges to take her back to his kingdom. Before he can do so, the enchantress spirits Rapunzel off to a desert and lures the prince into the tower. The prince jumps out of the tower and survives but is blinded by thorns. He wanders for several years but eventually locates Rapunzel, marries her, and they return to his kingdom.