Dame Gothel is described as an evil witch who lives in a walled garden beside a lonely couple whose window looks over the garden. Her garden is described as the envy of all others, constantly healthy with many vegetables and flowers in perfect bloom. When her prized rapunzel plant (or, in most translated-to-English versions of the story, rampion) is stolen by the man to feed his pregnant wife, Dame Gothel captures him the second time and accuses him of theft. The man begs for mercy, and she agrees to be lenient, and allows him to take all he wants, on condition that the baby be given to her at birth. Desperate, he agrees. When the baby is born, Dame Gothel takes her to raise as her own and names her Rapunzel after the plant her mother craved. She grows up to be the most beautiful child in the world with long golden hair. When she reaches her twelfth year, Dame Gothel shuts her away in a tower in the middle of the woods, with neither stairs nor a door, and only one room and one window. When she visits her, she stands beneath the tower and calls out:
- "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair, so that I may climb the golden stair."
Upon hearing these words, Rapunzel would wrap her long, fair hair around a hook beside the window, dropping it down to Dame Gothel, who would then climb up it to Rapunzel's tower room.
While Dame Gothel visits Rapunzel only by day, a handsome prince sees her climb Rapunzel's hair one day and begins visiting the entrapped maiden every night, providing her with a piece of silk each time that she can gradually weave into a ladder to escape. Before the plan can come to fruition, however, Rapunzel foolishly gives the prince away. In the first edition of Grimms' Fairy Tales, she innocently says that her dress is getting tight around her waist (indicating pregnancy); in the second edition, she asks Dame Gothel (in a moment of forgetfulness) why it is easier for her to draw up the prince than her. In anger, the evil witch cuts off Rapunzel's hair and casts her out into the wilderness to fend for herself.
When the prince calls that night, Dame Gothel lets the severed hair down to haul him up. To his horror, he finds himself staring at her instead of Rapunzel, who is nowhere to be found. When she tells him in anger that he will never see Rapunzel again, he leaps from the tower in despair and is blinded by the thorns below. In another version, she pushes him and he falls on the thorns, thus becoming blind.
A version of the story ends with the revelation that Dame Gothel had untied Rapunzel's hair after the prince leapt from the tower, and it slipped from her hands and landed far below, leaving her trapped in the tower.
Dame Gothel is unique in the catagory of fairy tale witches as she wishes to raise the baby Rapunzel herself, while most other fairy tale witches (eg. the Blind Witch from "Hansel & Gretel") wish to eat young children. The act of Dame Gothel locking her away in a door-less tower in the middle of the forest could be considered her wanting to protect Rapunzel from the dangers of the world, while some versions focus on the themes of Rapunzel being trapped against her will and persecuted by the evil witch.
From a scientific interpretation the enchantress Dame Gothel is rather obviously a witch or medicine woman, who had mastered the use and production of a plant or drug capable of saving Rapunzel's mother from complications of pregnancy.