In Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff is as cruel vengeful as he is wounded and tormented. There is little softness to him as he seeks revenge upon those whom he believes have wronged him, and those whom would keep from him his beloved Cathy. Now that sounds like our Rumple. But like Rumple, Heathcliff doesn't he doesn't start out that way.
An orphan, he is taken in by a kindly man (perhaps his natural father), but soon thereafter, the young boy is treated cruelly. Humiliated, beaten, and kept filthy, his is as trampled upon as anyone might be. The only light in his life is Cathy, the daughter of the Earnshaw household, with whom he makes a pact to love they will love each other into eternity. But she grows up, goes off to become a lady, and he is left alone and in despair. She marries for wealth, and he disappears, off to war, only to return years later a wealthy man, now more educated and powerful than those who so abused him a child. He has returned to claim his lady, but at the same time make those who humiliated him suffer his own hands.
We don't know what has made Rumple into the terrified, defeated man we meet in this week's episode "The Crocodile" whether he's always been that way, or beaten down by circumstance. There is history and backstory here yet to be learned by us, and I wonder about his origins. But it is in this way that his story parallels Heathcliff's.
In the years between Heathcliff fleeing the Earnshaw household and when we meet him again years later, he has acquired not only wealth, but elegant manners and an education. He has become a gentleman.
We've seen little of Rumple's history in the early years following his transformation. But somewhere along the way he has become refined, possessing grace and an education. He is learned and well mannered (when it suits him), evident both in the way he speaks and acts. Or are these traits something he has possessed all along, but had been lost to him after so many years as the "town coward?"
I keep going back to the king's knight in last season's "Desperate Souls" and what he says to Rumple in the forest. Leaving the battlefield, the knight reminds him, turned the tide of the Ogre War. How can one weak and powerless man--indeed a self-confessed coward--fleeing a war have any sort of an impact at all? If Rumple had no influence even then, if he was simply that meek, cowering peasant, why is he remembered by the knight? This, to me, is a fascinating question, and one I hope will some day be explored.