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An anonymous author around the fourteenth century wrote Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The story is set in the time of King Arthur and deals with two major plot devices that are common in such tales: the beheading contest between Gawain and the green knight and the attempted seduction of Gawain by the lady. The passage contained in lines 928-993 occurs shortly after the lord of the castle invites Gawain into his home and offers him a meal. The section focuses on the introduction of the lady who will later try to tempt Sir Gawain to sin. The author describes her in such ravishing splendor that the reader can imagine how hard it would be to resist her advances. The hag by her side is also introduced here as a direct contrast to the lady. In this way, the lady's and the hag's respective physical characteristics are further enhanced by the presence of each other. Similar to other stories written in this period, the hag in this story has magical elements that are not revealed until much later.
The lady of the castle comes to Gawain only after dinner and prayers are attended to by herself and her lord for she "Longed to look on the knight"(Norton, 222). Prior to her appearance, the lady has been secluded away in the church closet with her maids. From the very first words written about her, she is described as a very attractive person. The author goes on to describe her hair, face, and manner of dress, all of which only lend more brilliance to this vision. The passage is a testament to her comeliness and will later be important in the story since it sets the foundation for the obvious attraction Gawain feels towards this woman from whom "He claims a comely kiss, and courteously he speaks; / They welcome him warmly, and straightaway he asks / To be received as their servant, if they so desire"(222). The lady later admonishes Gawain the next morning when he fails to kiss her as a chivalrous knight should.
The lady's appearance is only enhanced by the presence of the hag at her side. The magical element of the hag has also been introduced in such other literary works as "The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell" and in "The Wife of Bath's Tale" in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. In each of these stories, the hag turns out to be something other than what she seems.
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The hag is first introduced in this passage as the complete opposite of the lady she is attending. While the hag "Was short and thick of waist, / Her buttocks round and wide; / More toothsome, to his taste, / Was the beauty by her side"(222). The character of the hag is also suspicious since she is "held in high honor by all men about"(222). Her dominance in court is apparent when, on the next day, at mealtime, "The old ancient lady, highest she sits"(223) on the dais. The seating order is important since it usually reflects the power structure of the court.
This passage ultimately serves to introduce a character that would later have an integral part in serving to test Gawain's honor. Because the lady in question looks as she does and is placed in such close proximity to a hag when she first appears, it is no wonder that Gawain is later hard pressed to decline her continued advances. The author does a thorough job of describing the two new characters that are introduced. The juxtaposition of these two descriptions provides a very vivid picture of these contrasting characters. The foundation has been laid for Gawain's later efforts to resist the temptations offered by the lady.
Abrams, M.H., ed., et al. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Sixth Edition. Vol. I. New York : W.W. Norton & Company, 1993.