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In the story of "The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell," we are introduced to a rather interesting character, Dame Ragnell. We meet Dame Ragnell in the beginning of the story when King Arthur is riding his horse into Ingelswood Forest. He then meets a lady, Dame Ragnell, who is described to be absolutely hideous and grotesque. The story gives a complete description of this old, foul woman:
Her face was red, her nose snotid withalle,
Her mouithe wide, her teethe yallowe overe alle,
With blerid eyen gretter then a balle;
Her mouithe was not to lak;
Her teeth hing over her lippes;
Her cheekis as wemen hippes.
Dame Ragnell is a repulsive creature. She's described as a big, broad-shouldered woman with yellow, rotten teeth hanging over her mouth, great big eyes, and a big red face with cheeks the size of a lady's hips.
King Arthur runs in trouble and is given twelve months to find the answer to the question, "What do women most desire?" With his life riding on this answer, King Arthur desperately asks Dame Ragnell to tell him what women most desire. She tells him that women most desire power and sovereignty in marriage. But she tells him this only after he promises that one of his knights, Sir Gawain, will wed her. Sir Gawain does indeed marry her, but only because of his strong loyalty to his king. Sir Gawain is disgusted by her appearance, but he knows this is the only way to save King Arthur. People pity Sir Gawain, a very handsome man who possesses nobility and honor, for having to marry such a loathly woman.
Dame Ragnell has no manners, especially at the dinner table. When she feasts at King Arthur's court, she eats as much food as six grown men:
Her nailes were long inchis three;
Therewithe she breke her mete ungoodly;
Dame Ragnell's appearance is the result of her stepmother's wicked spell. Her stepmother cursed Dame Ragnell many years ago and the spell can only be broken if she weds a man who gives her sovereignty in their marriage. The spell has yet to be broken…that is until she is married to Sir Gawain. Then, she gives Sir Gawain the ultimatum that he can either choose for Dame Ragnell to be beautiful during the day for all men to admire, and at night she will be ugly for Sir Gawain, or for her to be ugly during the day and beautiful at night for Sir Gawain to enjoy.
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The choise is hard.
To chese the best it is froward.
Wheder choise that I chese,
To have you faire on nightes and no more,
That wold greve my hart righte sore
And my worship shold I lese.
And if I desire on days to have you faire,
Then on nightes I shold have a simple repaire.
Now fain wold I chose the best,
I ne wot in this world what I shall saye,
But do as ye list now my lady gaye.
The choise I put in your fist.
And because he gives her sovereignty in the marriage, he is able to break the horrible spell and she is no more a hideous creature, but a fair woman…both day and night.
In lines 763-841, in the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, we are introduced to many significant symbols. After Sir Gawain's prayer, he notices a castle that is described to be beautiful and situated on green land. Sir Gawain is also introduced to the lord of the castle, who, not coincidentally, greatly resembles the Green Knight we encounter in the beginning of the story.
In this passage, the castle is described as a beautiful, white castle on "grounds fair and green… " Although it is in the middle of winter, ironically the castle is surrounded by green grass. The grounds around the castle have not been affected by the bitter winter, which gives us the impression that this castle is a magical place sheltering supernatural figures. When Sir Gawain rides up to the castle, he asks the porter to get permission from the lord of the castle to allow him in. When the porter does so, he returns and, with many other servants, welcomes Sir Gawain with the utmost respect. The noble squires and the knights of the castle warmly greet him before he is led to the central hall to meet the lord. When the lord of the castle greets Sir Gawain, he tells Sir Gawain that he is welcome to stay in his castle as if it was his own. The passage ends with the two men embracing. It never occurs to Sir Gawain why he is greatly welcomed to this mysterious castle without any interrogation as to what brings him there.
In this passage, when Sir Gawain never puts two and two together with the mysterious castle appearing from nowhere and the uncanny resemblance of the Green Knight and the lord of the castle. Sir Gawain never questions why he is greeted with great respect as if the people of the castle have been expecting him. Soon he will find out his stay is all a test, and his treatment is not just mere courtesy.
Take a look at these difficult words I came across:
The Green Knight meets King Arthur and his Round Table
"The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell." In Middle English Verse Romances. Ed. Donald B. Sands. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1966.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Ed. M. H. Abrams, et al. Vol. 1. Sixth ed. NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1993.