Child Ballad No. 31, The Marriage Of Sir Gawain

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There are several types of transformation that take place in supernatural ballads. With respect to the selected ballads, I consider the transformation by a witch1 that casts spell on humans and turns them into animals2 the most significant one. This motif often comes along with the reception of a magic object.3 Finally, the villains are sometimes punished by transformation themselves, whereas the upright, innocent characters are usually disenchanted4 and released from the power of the witch again. There are several ways in which a bewitched person can be transformed back into their human shape.5 One common motif is the prince who falls in love with the enchanted woman6 and rescues her, for instance through kisses7 or means of submission.8 However,…show more content…
31, “The Marriage of Sir Gawain.” At first sight, it seems to tell the story of the putative hero King Arthur and therefore, apparently provides the reader with a usual heroic tale; this, however, turns out to be a fallacy. In fact, the linchpin of the story is the enchanted maid. This plot line technically begins before the ballad actually starts, for the basis for the poem is established by the motif of transformation by a witch; when looking at the entire ballad, it becomes clear that both the maid and her brother's fate met their terrible fates on account of a witch: “[m]y father […] marryed a younge lady / That brought me to this woe. / Shee witched me, being a faire young lady / To the greene forrest to dwell, / And there I must walke in womans liknesse, / Most like a feend of hell. / She witched by brother” (“Sir Gawain” ll. 181-189). The core element of the ballad is obviously the common motif of the wicked stepmother who strives to punish or even get rid of her husband's children due to greed, negative feelings and jealousy towards them (cf. Francus 129). In this case, she does so by enchanting them: she transforms her stepdaughter into an ugly woman and casts a spell on her stepson which forces him to challenge men who cross his way to a duel or to solve his riddle (cf. Child 289): “'[a]nd bring me word what thing it is / That a woman [will] most desire; / This shalbe thy ransome, Arthur,' he sayes, / 'For Ile haue noe other hier.'” (“Sir Gawain” ll. 13-16). The appearance of an evil stepmother possibly represents the threat of being at the mercy of the father's new wife who the children must be subordinate to. This matches the concepts in traditional fairy tales, in which we can find several cases of witches or evil stepmothers: in Cinderella, the stepmother punishes her stepdaughter by treating her as a servant and giving her tasks to perform instead of going to the royal ball
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