Sarah Jessica-Parker plays the thin-skinned princess in Once Upon a Mattress.Her mattress role may have morphed into Sex and the City,but in the musical she portrayed the life of privilege that comes from being pretty and pea-conscious (no pun intended ).The original story,which came from Hans Christian Anderson in 1835,was also full of double entendres: There's this prince who can't seem to find a suitable partner.Something is always wrong with those he meets and he always seems to be in a tizzy about their pedigree.
Then one stormy night,the rain blows in a young woman,drenched to her bonnets,into his castle.Claiming royal descent,she demands a suitable room.Then the prince's mother decides to test their unknown guest by placing a pea in the bed she is given for the night,covered by 20 mattresses and 20 featherbeds.
In the morning in a highly ambiguous speech,the guest tells her hosts how she spent a sleepless night with something hard in the bed keeping her awake (which she was certain had bruised her).The prince rejoices.Only a real princess would have the sensitivity to feel a pea through such a quantity of bedding.The two are married,and the pea is placed in the royal museum.
Many reviews attacked the story upon its debut.Not only was it indelicate,wrote one critic,but it was indefensible for propagating the false idea that great ladies must always be so terribly thin-skinned.Obviously they hadn't got Anderson's joke about the pea being ensconced in the royal museum in the happy'ending.Somadeva's 11th century Kashmir version in the Kathasaritasagara has a human hair instead of the pea,which leaves an angry welt on the prince's back.That makes for a bigger parody of life of privilege.
Psychologists have grown progressively sympathetic to the myth.Earlier,high sensitivity was conflated with numerous other traits,most of them negative.The highly sensitive person was therefore labelled as shy,fearful,or even neurotic'.The trait was also confused with anxiety and social phobia and equated with introversion.The pendulum has now swung to the other end: With 15% to 20% of the population displaying it,the trait is now believed to be too widespread to be dubbed abnormal'.High sensitivity supposedly conditions people to crave for contact with what Carl Jung called numinous' or inexpressibly sacred to touch.
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