Friday, September 19, 2008
"Women wish to be loved not because they are pretty, or good, or well bred, or graceful, or intelligent, but because they are themselves"
Henri Frederic Amiel-1821-1881, Swiss Philosopher, Poet, Critic
I found this quote a few days ago and the first story I thought of was the tale of Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell.
Hmmm...okay to be honest the FIRST story I thought of was the Wife of Bath's tale from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales THEN I thought of Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell.
The Wife of Bath's tale and The Marriage of Sir Gawain, sometimes titled the Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell, are very similar stories.
In both stories, a male character must look for the answer to the question "What is it that women most desire?" In both stories, if they can not find the answer to the question, they face death. Both characters get the correct answer from an old, not very attractive (understatement), woman.
In Chaucer's tale, a knight is asked this question by Queen Guinevere. If he can find the answer, he will not be killed for his crime (the crime was the rape of a maiden).
In Sir Gawain's story, it is King Arthur who is asked the question by his rival/enemy Sir Gromer.
I have chosen two versions of the story. The first is from Bullfinch's Mythology, The Age of Chivalry and the second is an anonymous text from 1450 translated from the original Middle English.
SIR GAWAIN’S MARRIAGE
Once upon a time King Arthur held his court in merry Carlisle, when a damsel came before him and craved a boon. It was for vengeance upon a caitiff knight, who had made her lover captive and despoiled her of her lands. King Arthur commanded to bring him his sword, Excalibar, and to saddle his steed, and rode forth without delay to right the lady’s wrong. Ere long he reached the castle of the grim baron, and challenged him to the conflict. But the castle stood on magic ground, and the spell was such that no knight could tread thereon but straight his courage fell and his strength decayed. King Arthur felt the charm, and before a blow was struck his sturdy limbs lost their strength, and his head grew faint. He was fain to yield himself prisoner to the churlish knight, who refused to release him except upon condition that he should return at the end of a year, and bring a true answer to the question, “What thing is it which women most desire?” or in default thereof surrender himself and his lands. King Arthur accepted the terms, and gave his oath to return at the time appointed. During the year the king rode east, and he rode west, and inquired of all whom he met what thing it is which all women most desire. Some told him riches; some pomp and state; some mirth; some flattery; and some a gallant knight. But in the diversity of answers he could find no sure dependence. The year was well nigh spent when, one day, as he rode thoughtfully through a forest, he saw sitting beneath a tree a lady of such hideous aspect that he turned away his eyes, and when she greeted him in seemly sort made no answer. “What wight art thou,” the lady said, “that will not speak to me? It may chance that I may resolve thy doubts, though I be not fair of aspect.” “If thou wilt do so,” said King Arthur, “choose what reward thou wilt, thou grim lady, and it shall be given thee.” “Swear me this upon thy faith,” she said, and Arthur swore it. Then the lady told him the secret, and demanded her reward, which was that the king should find some fair and courtly knight to be her husband.
King Arthur hastened to the grim baron’s castle and told him one by one all the answers which he had received from his various advisers, except the last, and not one was admitted as the true one. “Now yield thee, Arthur,” the giant said, “for thou hast not paid thy ransom, and thou and thy lands are forfeited to me.” Then King Arthur said:–
“Yet hold thy hand, thou proud baron,
I pray thee hold thy hand.
And give me leave to speak once more,
In rescue of my land.
This morn, as I came over a moor,
I saw a lady set,
Between an oak and a green holly,
All clad in red scarlet.
She says all women would have their will,
This is their chief desire;
Now yield, as thou art a baron true,
That I have paid my hire.”
“It was my sister that told thee this,” the churlish baron exclaimed. “Vengeance light on her! I will some time or other do her as ill a turn.”
King Arthur rode homeward, but not light of heart; for he remembered the promise he was under to the loathly lady to give her one of his young and gallant knights for a husband. He told his grief to Sir Gawain, his nephew, and he replied, “Be not sad, my lord, for I will marry the loathly lady.” King Arthur replied:–
“Now nay, now nay, good Sir Gawaine,
My sister’s son ye be;
The loathly lady’s all too grim,
And all too foule for thee.”
But Gawain persisted, and the king at last, with sorrow of heart, consented that Gawain should be his ransom. So, one day, the king and his knights rode to the forest, met the loathly lady, and brought her to the court. Sir Gawain stood the scoffs and jeers of his companions as he best might, and the marriage was solemnized, but not with the usual festivities, Chaucer tells us:–
“There was no joye, ne feste at alle;
There n’as but hevinesse and mochel sorwe,
For prively he wed her on the morwe,
And all day after hid him as an owle,
So wo was him his wife loked so foule!”
When night came, and they were alone together, Sir Gawain could not conceal his aversion; and the lady asked him why he sighed so heavily, and turned away his face. He candidly confessed it was on account of three things, her age, her ugliness, and her low degree. The lady, not at all offended, replied with excellent arguments to all his objections. She showed him that with age is discretion, with ugliness security from rivals, and that all true gentility depends, not upon the accident of birth, but upon the character of the individual.
Sir Gawain made no reply; but, turning his eyes on his bride, what was his amazement to perceive that she wore no longer the unseemly aspect that had so distressed him. She then told him that the form she had worn was not her true form, but a disguise imposed upon her by a wicked enchanter, and that she was condemned to wear it until two things should happen; one, that she should obtain some young and gallant knight to be her husband. This having been done, one half of the charm was removed. She was now at liberty to wear her true form for half the time, and she bade him choose whether he would have her fair by day and ugly by night, or the reverse. Sir Gawain would fain have had her look, her best by night, when he alone should see her, and show her repulsive visage, if at all, to others. But she reminded him how much more pleasant it would be to her to wear her best looks in the throng of knights and ladies by day. Sir Gawain yielded, and gave up his will to hers. This alone was wanting to dissolve the charm. The lovely lady now with joy assured him that she should change no more; but as she now was so would she remain by night as well as by day.
“Sweet blushes stayned her rud-red cheek,
Her eyen were black as sloe,
The ripening cherrye swelled her lippe,
And all her neck was snow.
Sir Gawain kist that ladye faire
Lying upon the sheete,
And swore, as he was a true knight,
The spice was never so swete.”
The dissolution of the charm which had held the lady also released her brother, the “grim baron,” for he too had been implicated in it. He ceased to be a churlish oppressor, and became a gallant and generous knight as any at Arthur’s court.
from Bulfinch's Mythology_Age of Chivalry,Legends of King Arthur
I. KING ARTHUR DEVELOPS A PROBLEM
Hark and listen to the life of a rich lord
Who, while he lived, was like no one else
In bedroom or in court.
In the time of Arthur this adventure was,
And he himself, the courteous and royal king.
Of all knighthood he bore away the honor,
Wherever he went.
In his country there was nothing but chivalry:
He loved all brave knights;
Cowards were always disgraced.
Now, if you will listen a bit to my talking,
I shall tell you of Arthur the king
And what once befell him
As he was hunting in Inglewood
With all his bold knights.
Listen to my tale:
The king stood at his deer blind,
Ready with his bow to slay a wild deer,
And his knights sat there beside him.
As the king waited, he became aware
Of a great and beautiful hart standing.
When the men saw the king,
They waited as still as they could.
Then the hart darted off
Into a fern thicket
"Hold still, everyone,
And I will go myself,
Stalking as best I can,"
The king said, taking bow in hand.
Like a good hunter he stooped
Low to stalk the deer.
When he got close,
The hart jumped into a briar patch.
But the king crept closer and closer,
And so it went, until the king had gone,
I would swear, half a mile.
No man went with him.
At last, Arthur let fly an arrow
And hit the hart squarely,
Such was the grace God had sent him.
Down the deer tumbled, wounded,
And fell into a large fern thicket.
The king followed quickly
And savagely killed the deer
As it chewed the grass.
While the king was alone with the deer
Suddenly there came to him a quaint fellow
Armed well and sure--
A knight strong and mighty.
He said these grim words to the king:
"Well met, King Arthur!
You have done me wrong many a year,
And woefully I shall repay you now.
Indeed, you have wrongfully given
My lands to Sir Gawain.
What say you, king, alone as you are?"
"Sir knight, what is your honored name?" said Arthur.
"Sir king," he answered, "Gromer Somer Joure,
I tell you now the truth."
"Ah, Sir Gromer Somer, think you well
that slaying me here will get you no honor.
Remember that you are a knight.
If you slay me now--in this situation--
All knights will refuse you everywhere.
That shame shall never leave you.
Let your anger go and follow reason,
And I shall fix what is amiss--
If you wish--before I go."
"No," said Sir Gromer Somer, "by heaven's king!
You shall not escape by lying.
I have the advantage now.
If I should let you go with mocking,
Another time you will defy me.
I shall not fail in my purpose."
Then said the king, "So God save me!
But, sir, spare my life and ask anything;
I shall grant it you right now.
Shame you shall have in killing my at hunting--
You armed and me like this."
"All this will not help you, surely,"
Said Sir Gromer Somer.
"For I want neither land nor gold, really.
Will you grant me, at a certain day--
Which I will set--to come again as you are?"
"Yes," said the king. "Here is my hand."
"Yes, but, abide, king, and hear me awhile.
First you shall swear
Upon my burnished sword
To tell me when next we meet
What women love best
In field and in town.
And you shall meet me
Here without my sending for you
At the end of twelve months;
And you shall swear
Upon my good sword--
And by the holy cross--
that none of your knights
Will come with you,
Neither friend nor stranger.
And if you fail to bring an answer
You shall lose
Your head for your trouble.
This shall now be your oath.
What do you say, king?
Let's get this over with."
"Sir, I swear to this. Now let me be gone.
Though it is to me very sad,
I swear to you as a true king
To come again at the end of twelve months
And bring you your answer."
"Go your way, King Arthur,
Your life is in my hand, I am sure.
You are not aware of your sorrow.
Yet, wait, King Arthur, a little while.
Be sure you are not beguiled today.
And keep all this in secret;
For if I knew, by the mild virgin,
That you would betray me anywhere,
You would lose your life now."
"No," said King Arthur, "that will not be.
You will not find me an untrue knight.
I would much rather die.
Farewell, sir, ill-met knight.
I will come on the day set,
Even though there be no escape."
Then the king blew his bugle.
Every knight recognized it
And rushed to him right away.
There they found the hart
And the king with a sad face and spirit.
He no longer felt like sport.
"We shall go home to Carlisle.
I don't feel like hunting anymore."
All the lords knew by his look
That the king had met with some disturbance.
The king went to Carlisle
And no man knew
The reason for his sorrow,
For his heart so heavy.
His heart was very heavy,
And in this heaviness he stayed
So long that his knights marveled.
Finally, Sir Gawain said to the king,
"Sir, I am much amazed
And wonder at what makes you sorrowful."
The king answered quickly:
"I shall tell you, Gawain, gentle knight.
In the forest I was today,
And there I met a knight in his armor,
And certain words he said to me
And charged me that I not betray him.
I must keep his council, therefore,
Or else I am a liar."
"Dread not, lord, by the Virgin.
I am not the man who would dishonor you.
Neither in the evening nor the morning,"
Said Sir Gawain.
The king said:
"Truly, I was hunting in Inglewood.
By the cross, you know I killed a deer.
I was alone and there
Met a well-armed knight.
His name, he told me,
Was Sir Gromer Somer Joure.
And therefore I make my moan.
That knight threatened me
And would have slain me in his anger
Except that I spoke well in return.
I had no weapons, so,
Alas, my honor is gone."
"What of it?" said Gawain.
Arthur said; "I do not lie.
He would have slain me without mercy,
He hated me so much. He made me swear
That at the end of twelve months
I shall meet him there again, unarmed,
And to that I pledged my faith.
At that time I must tell him
What women desire most.
Otherwise, I lose my life.
This oath I made to that knight,
And that I would not tell this to anyone.
I had no choice about it.
And I swore I would come in no other clothes
Than those I wore when first we met.
If I fail to answer the question,
I know I shall be killed then and there.
Blame me not for being a woeful man.
All this is my dread and my fear."
"Yea, sir, be of good cheer,"
Said Sir Gawain. "Let your horse be made ready
To ride into a foreign country,
And indeed everywhere
You meet man or woman
Ask of them what they have to answer.
And I shall also ride--another way--
And inquire of every man and woman
And learn what I may
Of every man and woman's answer.
These answers I shall write in a book"
"I grant," said the king quickly,
that this is well advised, Gawain the Good.
Even by the holy cross."
Soon were they both ready,
Gawain and the king.
The king rode one way, Gawain the other.
And they inquired of both men and women
What it is women desire most.
Some said women love to be well dressed;
Some said they love to be well courted;
Some said they love a lusty man
Who will clasp them in his arms and kiss them;
Some said one thing, some said another,
And so Gawain got many an answer.
Soon Gawain had spent many a day,
Having gotten so many answers
That he had a book large indeed.
So he went to the court again.
By that time the king had come back also,
With his book, and each looked
At the volumes the other had written.
"We shall not fail," said Gawain.
"By God," said the king, "I am afraid.
I see I must seek more in Inglewood forest.
I have but a month more to go.
Perhaps I will happen on good news.
This I now think is best."
"Do as you wish," said Gawain.
"Whatever you do, I will be satisfied.
It is good to be on this quest.
Some of these answers will be correct,
Otherwise would be very bad luck."
II. KING ARTHUR MEETS A REALLY UGLY WOMAN
King Arthur rode out his gate
The next day into Inglewood.
There he met with a lady.
She was the ugliest creature
That a man ever saw.
King Arthur surely marveled.
Her face was red, her nose running,
Her mouth wide, her teeth all yellow.
Her eyes were bleary, as large as balls,
Her mouth just as large.
Her teeth hung out of her lips,
Her cheeks were as broad as a woman's hips.
He back was as curved as a lute.
Her neck was long and also thick.
Her hair clotted in a heap.
In the shoulders she was a yard across.
Her breasts would have been a load for a horse.
Like a barrel was she made.
To recite the foulness of that lady
There is no tongue fit.
She had ugliness to spare.
Yet she sat upon a gaily outfitted horse,
With gold and many a precious stone.
This was an unseemly sight
To see so measurelessly foul a creature
Riding so well, I can tell you.
She rode up to Arthur and said:
"God speed, sir king.
I am well pleased
That I have met with you.
I advise you to talk with me
For your life is in my hand.
Only I can prevent your death."
"What do you want with me, lady?"
"Sir, I will gladly speak with you
And tell you good news.
All the answers you have now
Will do you no good.
By the cross you will know that.
What? Did you think I don't know
Your secret? I know all.
Without my help, you are dead.
Grant me, sir king, one thing only.
Then I will promise you your life.
Otherwise, you lose your head."
"Lady, tell me, in few words, what you mean.
I have contempt for your words.
I have no need of you.
In short, tell me what you want, fair lady.
What is your meaning?
Why is my life in your hand?
Tell me, and I shall grant all you ask."
"Truly," said the lady, "I am no villain.
You must grant me a knight to wed.
His name is Sir Gawain.
Then I shall make you a promise.
Tell me: will you save your life
Or is my desire in vain?
If my answer saves your life,
Let me marry Sir Gawain.
Think now, sir king. For it must be so,
Or you are dead. Hurry. Tell me.
Or lose your head."
"Heavens,," said the king,"
I cannot promise you
I will order Sir Gawain to wed.
That all depends on him.
But, since it must be, I will work
At saving my life by trying.
I will tell Gawain my predicament."
"Well," she said, "now go home
And speak nicely to Gawain,
For I may save your life.
Though I am foul, I am lusty.
Through me he can save you.
Or cause your death."
"Alas!" Arthur said, "woe is me
That I should cause Gawain to marry you,
For he will hate saying no.
I've never seen such an ugly woman
Anywhere on this earth.
I don't know what to do!"
"It doesn't matter," sir king, "that I am foul.
Even an owl finds a mate.
This is the only chance you get.
When you come again, for the answer,
I will meet you here,
Or else I know you will be lost."
"Now farewell, lady," said the king.
"Yes, sir," said the lady, "there is a bird
Men call an owl. And yet I am a lady."
"What is your name, I pray you tell me."
"Sir king, I am truly called Dame Ragnell,
Who never yet lied to a man."
"Dame Ragnell, have a good day."
"Sir king, God speed you on your way.
I shall meet you right here.
Thus they departed, fair and well,
And the king came soon to Carlisle,
His heart heavy and sad.
The first man he met was Sir Gawain
Who said to the king,
"Sire, how have you done?"
"Foresooth," said the king, "never as badly.
Alas! I am at the point of killing myself,
For I would be better off dead."
"No," said Gawain, "that must not be.
I would rather be dead myself.
This is very distressing news."
"Gawain, I met the foulest lady today,
Certainly the worst I've ever seen.
She told me she would save my life
But first she wants to have a husband.
Therefore, I moan. I am woebegone."
"Is that all?" said Gawain.
"I shall wed her and wed her again,
Even if she be a fiend.
Even were she as foul as Beelzebub,
I would wed here, I swear by the cross.
Otherwise, I wouldn't be your friend.
You are my honored king
And have done me good many times.
Therefore, I hesitate not
To save your life, my lord. It is my duty.
Otherwise, I would be a false coward.
My service is better than that!"
"Indeed, Gawain, I met her in Inglewood.
I swear, she told me her name.
It is Dame Ragnell.
She said unless I had her answer,
All my labor is in vain.
She said that.
But if her answer helps me,
Then she wants you.
That's what she said.
She promised me that.
"As for this," said Gawain,
"It will not stop me.
I will wed her at the time you set.
I pray you worry no more.
Though she be the foulest person
That ever has been seen on earth,
For you I will not hesitate."
"Oh, thank you, Gawain," said King Arthur.
"Of all knights, you are the best
That I have ever found!
You have saved my life and reputation forever.
I will never stop honoring you
As long as I am king of the land!"
III. ARTHUR GETS HIS ANSWER
Five or six days later,
The king was to make his answer.
The king and Sir Gawain rode out of town,
No men with them, far or near,
But all alone. When the king got to the forest
He said, "Sir Gawain, farewell.
I must go West. You should go no farther."
"My lord, God speed you on your journey.
I wish I could ride with you,
For parting ways makes me quite sad."
The king had ridden only a short distance,
No more than a mile, when we me Dame Ragnell.
"Ah! Sir king! You are welcome here!
I know you come with your answer
That will help you not a little."
"Now," said the king, "since it's the only way,
Tell me your answer and save my life.
Sir Gawain will marry you.
He has promised to save my life,
And you shall have your desire,
Both in chamber and in bed.
Therefore, tell me quickly,
At last, what will help me.
Hurry. I can't wait."
"Sire," said Dame Ragnell,
"Now you shall know
What women want most,
From rich men and poor.
I will tell you the truth.
Some men say we desire to be beautiful.
Or that we desire sex
With as many men as we can find.
Others say we want pleasure in bed.
Others say we want many husbands.
You men just don't understand.
We want an entirely different thing.
We want to be seen as young, fresh.
We want to be flattered cleverly.
Thus you men can win us always
And get what you want.
But there is one thing that is our fantasy,
And that is what you shall know now:
We desire most from men,
From men both rich and poor,
To have sovereignty without lies.
For where we have sovereignty, all is ours,
Though a knight be ever so fierce,
And ever win mastery.
It is our desire to have mastery
Over such a sir. Such is our purpose.
Therefore, go, sir king, on your way,
And tell that knight what I have told you
That we women want most.
He will be angry and harsh
And curse the one who asked you,
For he has lost the battle.
Go, king, and keep your promise.
Your life is safe now in every way.
That much I promise."
The king rode a long time
As fast as he could go,
Through mire and moor and bog,
To the place appointed
To meet Sir Gromer.
Stern words he said to the king:
"Come on, sir king, let's hear
What your answer shall be.
I am prepared."
The king pulled out two books.
"Sir, here is my answer, I dare say,
For some will help those in need."
Sir Gromer looked at each answer.
"No, no, sir king. You are a dead man.
You shall bleed."
"Wait, Sir Gromer," said King Arthur,
"I have one answer that can't miss."
"Let's see it," said Sir Gromer,
Or else, so help me God, as I say,
You death you will have, violently.
That is for sure."
"Now," said the king, "I have seen,
As I guessed, very little kindness, by God.
Here is the answer, the true one--
What women desire most,
From rich men and from poor--
I say that above all things,
Women desire sovereignty. That is what they want.
And that is their greatest desire.
They want rule over the manliest of men,
Then they are happy. This I have learned,
And you are beaten, Sir Gromer."
"And she who told you this, King Arthur,
I pray to God I shall see her burn in fire.
That was my sister, Dame Ragnell.
That old hag! God send her shame!
Otherwise I would have tamed you.
Now I have wasted all my work.
Go where you will, King Arthur,
For now you need not fear me.
Alas! That I ever saw this day!
Now I well know you shall be my enemy.
I will never get the advantage again.
My song shall ever be alas, alas."
"No," said the king, "that much I swear.
Some armor I will ever after have, to defend myself.
That much I promise to God.
You will never find me like this again.
If you do, may I be beaten and bound,
As would be your right."
"Have a good day," said Sir Gromer.
"Farewell," said Sir Arthur. "So may I thrive.
I am glad to have beaten you."
IV. DAME RAGNELL GETS HER MAN
King Arthur turned his horse toward the plain.
And soon he met with Dame Ragnell again,
In exactly the same spot as before.
"Sir king, I am glad we have won!
I told you exactly how it would be!
Now keep to what you have promised.
Since I have saved your life, me and no one else,
Gawain must marry me, Sir Arthur.
It's the only way to be an honorable knight."
"No, lady. What I promised I will not fail to do.
If you will heed my advice, keeping quiet,
You shall have all that you wish."
"No, sir king. I will not do so.
Openly I will wed, or I will leave.
Otherwise, I will be shamed.
Ride on, and I will follow you
To your court, King Arthur, sire.
I will take shame from no man.
Remember how I have saved your life.
Don't argue with me.
If you do, you bring shame on yourself."
The king felt very much ashamed,
But she rode on, despite him,
Until they got to Carlisle.
Into the court she rode, by his side,
For she would spare the feelings of no man.
The king liked it not at all.
All the people wondered greatly
At whence she had come,
Such a foul, ugly thing.
They had never seen such an ugly thing.
She rode right into the hall.
"Arthur, king, fetch me Sir Gawain quickly
Before these knights, that I may be certain
You intend to marry us, for richer or poorer.
In front of all your knights.
That was your promise.
Let's see that you do it.
Bring me my love, Sir Gawain,
As quickly as you can.
I don't want to wait any longer."
Then came forth Sir Gawain the knight.
"Sire, I am ready to do what I promised,
Ready to fulfill all my vows."
"God-a-mercy!" shouted Dame Ragnell.
"For your sake, I wish
I were a good looking woman,
Since you are such a good man."
Then sir Gawain pledged to her his troth,
For richer and for poorer.
He was a true knight.
And Dame Ragnell was happy.
"Alas!" said Dame Guinevere.
And all the ladies of her chamber said the same.
They all wept for Sir Gawain.
"Alas!" said the king and all the knights.
That he should have to wed such a person!
So foul. So horrible. They said
She had long teeth on each side,
Boar's tusks, as long as your hand,
One going up, one down on each side.
And grey hairs. And her lips
Lay like lumps on her chin.
No one had ever seen
A neck like that. She was ugly!
I swear, no one would marry her
For any reason,
Unless there was some sort
Of proclamation or law over the country.
Guinevere summoned the ladies of the land
To help keep this marriage proper,
So it was that the foul lady would be married
Unto Sir Gawain very soon.
The ladies had great pity.
"Alas!" they said. The queen begged
Dame Ragnell to marry early in the morning
And "as privately as possible."
"No," she said. "By heaven's king
That is something I will never do,
No matter what you say.
I will be wedded openly,
For I have an agreement with the king.
Do not doubt: I will not come to the church
Until high mass time, and I will dine
In the open hall, in the middle of everybody."
"I am agreed," said Dame Guinevere,
"But I think it more honorable,
And to your own benefit to do otherwise."
"Well, as to that, lady, God save you,
This day I will have what I want--
I tell you that without boasting."
She made herself ready to go to church,
And all the nobles were there--I'm not lying.
She was dressed in the very best,
Fancier even than Guinevere.
Her dress was worth a king's ransom,
A thousand marks,
The very best gold coins.
That's how richly we was dressed.
Yet for all the clothing she wore,
She still was the ugliest woman I've heard of--
A hog isn't as ugly,
I can say, to keep it short.
After she was married,
Everyone hurried to dinner.
The foul lady sat at the head of the dais.
She was very foul and rude.
Everyone said so.
When the food came,
She ate everything,
Her nails were three inches long
And with them she uncouthly cut her meat.
Therefore she ate alone.
She ate three chickens and three curlews,
And large meat pies she also ate up, indeed.
Everyone there wondered at it.
No food came before her
But she ate it, the foul woman.
Everyone who saw her,
Both the knights and the squires,
Prayed that the devil would gnaw her bones.
So she ate until everything was gone.
Until they brought the finger towels,
As is the custom and fashion.
Many men spoke of diverse foods,
I believe you know there was
Both domestic and wild meat.
There was never a lack in King Arthur's court
Of anything that could be gotten
Either in forest or in field.
There were people there from many lands.
V. A DOMESTIC SCENE
(NOTE: a page of the manuscript is missing here)
"Ah, Sir Gawain, since I have married you,
Show me a little courtesy in bed.
You cannot rightfully deny me that.
Indeed, Sir Gawain," the lady said,
If I were beautiful,
You would act a bit differently.
But you take no heed of marriage.
Still, for Arthur's sake, kiss me at least.
I ask that you do it,
So we can see how you manage."
Sir Gawain said, "I will do more
Than kiss, I swear to God!"
So he turned…
And saw she was
The fairest creature alive.
"Jesus!" he said. "What are you?"
"Sir, I am certainly your wife.
Why are you unkind to me?"
"Ah, lady, I am to blame.
I ask you mercy, fair madam.
I hadn't realized. You are so beautiful,
And earlier you were the ugliest woman
I have ever seen.
I am happy, lady, to see you thus."
So he embraced her in his arms
And began to kiss her
And made great joy, certainly.
"Sir," she said, "thus shall you have me.
By God, choose one--for my beauty will not hold.
Choose whether you will have me
Beautiful in the nights
And as ugly in the days, when men see me,
Or else have me beautiful in the day
And the ugliest woman in the nights.
One or the other you must have. Choose.
Choose, sir knight, which is more important
To your honor."
"Alas!" said Gawain, "the choice is hard.
Choosing the best is difficult.
I don't know what to choose.
To have you beautiful
At night and no more,
That would grieve my heart.
And I would lose my reputation.
But if I choose to have you beautiful in the day,
Then at night I would have slim pickings.
Now, gladly would I choose the best,
But I don't know what in the world to say.
Choose what you think best, happy lady.
The choice I put into your hand.
Do as you want, as you choose.
Untie me when you will, for I am bound.
I give the decision to you.
Body, possessions, heart and everything,
It is all yours, to buy and sell.
This I swear to God."
"Thank you, courteous knight," said the lady.
Of all the earth's knights, may you be blessed.
For now I am worshipped.
You shall have me beautiful both day and night,
And always I shall be fair and bright.
Therefore, grieve not,
For I was transformed through necromancy
By my stepmother, God have mercy on her.
She changed me by enchantment
From my true form--
Until the best of England
Had truly married me
And given me sovereignty
Over his body and all his goods.
Thus I was deformed,
And you, sir knight, courteous Gawain,
Have given me sovereignty indeed.
Never will you be sorry for that.
Kiss me, sir knight, right now,
I pray you. Be glad and make good cheer.
For all has turned out well."
Then they had joy beyond imagination,
The natural way of two people alone.
She thanked God and Mary
That she was recovered from her ugliness.
And so did Sir Gawain.
He made mirth in her bedroom
And gave many thanks to our savior, I can tell you.
With joy and mirth they stayed awake all night.
VI. THE MORNING AFTER
In the morning, the fair maiden went to get up.
"You shall not!" Sir Gawain said.
We will stay here until noon
And let the king call us to lunch."
"I agree," the maiden said,
And thus they went on till mid-day.
"Sirs," said the king, "let us go
To see if Sir Gawain is still alive.
I am very afraid for Sir Gawain,
Afraid the fiend has killed him.
I really must find out.
Go we now. We shall see them get up
And see how they have managed."
So they came to the bed chamber.
"Arise!" shouted the king to Sir Gawain.
"Why do you stay in be so long?"
"Oh, my!" said Gawain. "Surely, sir king,
I would be very happy if you would leave me alone.
For I am very much at ease.
Wait, I shall unlock the door.
Then, I think, you will say I am well fixed.
I am very reluctant to get up."
Sir Gawain arose and took his lady by the hand.
He hurried to the door and opened it.
She stood in a smock by the fire.
Her hair hung to her knees, a red gold.
"Lo, this is my pleasure."
"Lo!" said Gawain to Arthur.
"This is my wife, Dame Ragnell,
The one who saved your life."
Then he told the king and queen
How suddenly her shape had turned.
"My lord, by your leave, I will tell you
How she came to be misshapen."
Then Sir Gawain told it all.
"I thank God!" said the queen.
"I thought, Sir Gawain, you had been harmed.
I was much grieved at heart.
But I see the opposite is the case."
There were games, revelries, playing.
And every man said, "She is beautiful!"
Then the king told them all
How Dame Ragnell saved his life.
"My death had been prepared."
The king told the queen, swearing it was true,
How he had been bested in Inglewood
By Sir Gromer Somer Joure.
He told what that knight had made him swear.
"Otherwise, he would have slain me right there,
Without mercy or measure. This same lady,
Dame Ragnell, saved me from that death.
All for the love of Gawain.
Then Gawain told the king
How her stepmother had deformed her
Until a knight should save her.
And Dame Ragnell told the king
How Gawain had given her sovereignty
Over all he had. Whatever she wanted.
"God save him for such courtesy.
He saved me from villainy and a terrible fate,
One that was both foul and grim.
Therefore, courteous, gracious Gawain,
I shall never anger you. That is certain.
That promise I make to you.
While I live, I shall be obedient.
To God above I promise
That I will never quarrel with you."
"Thank you, lady," said Gawain.
"With you I feel quite content.
And I believe you will do these things."
Gawain said, "She shall have my love.
She will never lack it, for she has been
So kind to me."
The queen said, and the ladies all agreed,
"I swear by Saint John
That she is the fairest in this court.
My love, lady, you shall always have,
As I am a gentle woman,
Because you saved my lord Arthur."
Sir Gawain begot Gyngolyn of the Round Table,
A knight of strength and goodness.
And at every feast where a lady should be,
Wherever she went,
Dame Ragnell won the prize for beauty.
I can tell you without lying
That in all his life Gawain loved none so well.
He acted like a coward, avoiding jousting,
Just so he could be in bed with her day and night.
King Arthur wondered at it.
Dame Ragnell asked the king
For kindness to Sir Gromer.
"Be a good lord to Sir Gromer, indeed.
Fix the matter in which you offended him."
"Yes, lady, that I shall do for your sake,
Though I know he cannot make amends to me
For acting as he did."
VII. NOT SUCH A HAPPY ENDING
Now, to make a short conclusion.
I intend to finish quickly.
This gentle lady lived with Gawain
But five years. I tell you truly,
That grieved Gawain all his life.
Yet in her life she grieved him never.
And no woman was ever dearer to him.
Thus I will stop talking.
She was the fairest lady
In all of England
When she lived.
Even Arthur said so.
Thus ends this adventure of King Arthur--
A man who suffered much in his life--
And of the wedding of Gawain.
Gawain married often in his life
But I have heard men say
He never loved another woman so well.
Thus I have told the story
Of King Arthur's hunting adventure In Inglewood.
Now, God, as you were born in Bethlehem,
Never let our souls be lost in burning fire!
And, Jesus, as you were born of a virgin,
Help the composer of this tale out of sorrow,
And in a hurry if you can.
For he is beset by jailers
With wills wrong and hard
Who keep him locked away.
Now, God, as you are the true royal king,
Help him out of danger who made this tale,
For he has been in it a long time.
Have pity on Your servant.
I give body and soul to your hand,
For my suffering is great.
Here ends The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell
For the Helping of King Arthur.
The Marriage of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell by Anonymous(circa 1450) Adapted from the Middle English by Dr. David Breeden