The Wedding of Sir Gawain and
Dame Ragnelle is a 15th-century English poem, one of
several versions of the "loathly lady"
story popular during the Middle
An earlier version of the story appears as
"The Wife of Bath's Tale
's The Canterbury Tales
, and the
later ballad "The Marriage of
" is essentially a retelling, though its relationship
to the medieval poem is uncertain.
Stories about the Arthurian court were popular in medieval England,
and the worn condition of some of the manuscripts suggests that
they were well read. The Ragnelle narrative may have been intended
for a festive or less than serious audience. Thomas Garbaty sees
the poem as a humorous parody of the Arthurian legend, where Arthur
is cowed by both the challenging knight and Ragnelle, "passing the
buck" to Gawain. However, the story is not presented in the same
mocking tone as Chaucer's "Tale of Sir
". The Wedding of Sir Gawain survives
in a poorly copied 16th-century manuscript located in the Bodleian
Library (Bodleian 11951, formerly Rawlinson C.86) though it was probably
written in the 15th century.
The story begins when the mystical knight Gromer Somer Joure
challenges King Arthur
to discover what
women desire most, or face dire consequences. Arthur's nephew and
sets out to answer the riddle
for him, and eventually Gromer's sister, the hag Ragnelle, offers
the solution if Gawain will marry her. Gawain selflessly consents
to save his uncle, and Ragnelle reveals that what women desire most
, to make their
own decisions. With this answer Arthur wins Gromer's challenge, and
much to his despair, the wedding of Gawain and Ragnelle goes ahead
Later, the new pair retire to the bedroom. After a brief pause,
Gawain assents to treat his new bride as he would if she were
attractive, but when he looks up, he is astonished to see the most
beautiful woman he has ever seen standing before him. She explains
she had been under a spell to look like a hag until a good knight
married her; now her looks will be restored half the day. She gives
him the choice to have her beautiful at night, when they are
together, or during the day, when they are with others. Instead, he
gives her the sovereynté
to make the choice herself. This
answer lifts the curse for good, and Ragnelle's beauty returns
The couple live happily, and the court is overjoyed when they hear
Ragnelle's story. Ragnelle lives for only five more years, after
which Gawain mourns her for the rest of his life. According to the
poem, Ragnelle bore Gawain his son Gingalain
, who is the hero of his own romance
(though in most versions of his story, his mother is a fay
who raises him ignorant of his father). The poem
concludes with the poet's plea that God will help him get out of
- The Canterbury Tales, pp. 258–292.
- Price, Jocelyn (1991). "The Marriage of Sir Gawain." In
Lacy (Ed.), The New Arthurian Encyclopedia, p. 310.
New York: Garland. ISBN 0-8240-4377-4.
- Thomas Garbaty (1984). Medieval English Literature.
Long Grove, IL: Waveland. p. 418.
- Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales, p. 44.
- Price, Jocelyn (1991). "The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame
Ragnell." In Norris J. Lacy (Ed.), The New Arthurian
Encyclopedia, pp. 506–507. New York: Garland. ISBN
- Busby, Keith (1991). "Renaut de Beaujeu." In Norris J. Lacy
(Ed.), The New Arthurian Encyclopedia, pp. 380–381. New
York: Garland. ISBN 0-8240-4377-4.
- Chaucer, Geoffrey; and Coghill, Nevill (Ed.) (2003). The
Canterbury Tales. New York: Penguin. ISBN 0-140-42498-5.
- Hahn, Thomas (2000). The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame
Ragnelle. In Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales,
pp. 41–80. Western Michigan University Medieval Institute Publications. ISBN
- Lacy, Norris J. (Ed.) (1991).
The New Arthurian Encyclopedia. New York: Garland. ISBN