The Wife of Bath's Tale vs the Story of Dame Ragnell

One may argue that The Wife of Bath's Tale from The Canterbury Tales and The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell are similar stories. It is true that both stories raise the question of what women most desire, and that in both stories the main character is given about a year to answer this question. In addition, both stories end with the mystical, fairy-like transformation of a hag into a beautiful lady. However, a closer investigation of these stories proves that they are very different in the way the characters are portrayed.

The most significant difference is in the way two knights are presented. The knight from The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell, Sir Gawain, is shown to be dedicated to his lord and true to the values of knighthood. He marries Dame Ragnell because he is willing to do anything for his king; thus, he obeys the rule of comitatus - an agreement between a lord and a warrior. At night after the wedding, on the request of Dame Ragnell to "kiss [her] at the leste; [...] do this at [her] request," Sir Gawain replied, "I wolle do more Then for to kisse, and God before!" Sir Gawain is ready to fulfill his vows of marriage despite the extreme ugliness of the hag; thus, he proves once again that he is a noble knight.

The anonymous knight from The Wife of Bath's Tale is the complete opposite of what a knight is supposed to be. First, he rapes a maid which is disgraceful for any man, especially a knight. Later, on the wedding night, he refuses to fulfill his duty to his wife. She pointed this out by saying, "Fareth every knight thus with his wif as ye? Is this the lawe of King Arthures hous? Is every knight of his thus daungerous?" Only after she becomes young and beautiful he kisses her and hugs her - "And whan the knight sawgh verraily al this, That she so fair was and so yong therto, For joye he hente hire in his armes two; His herte bathed in a bath of blisse; A thousand time arewe he gan hire kisse."

The hags in both stories are also portrayed differently. Dame Ragnell is shown as a woman with dignity and a strong character. She demands big and public wedding and is very proud to be wedded to Sir Gawain. She seems very happy and eats a lot on her wedding. There is no real description of the wedding in The Wife of Bath's Tale because the hag did not demand the big wedding, thus, proving the lack of character. "For prively he wedded hire on morwe, And al day after hidde him as an owle" is the only reference to the wedding. If the hag truly thought that the thing that women most desire is sovereignty, she would have insisted on the big and public wedding instead of conceding to the wish of the knight.

Although The Wife of Bath's Tale and The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell seem to be two similar stories, they depict different traits of the same characters. The knight from The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell is shown as the "ideal" knight - fully true to his lord and his lady. The knight from The Wife of Bath's Tale lacks these characteristics and, thus, does not deserve the title of a knight. Similarly, Dame Ragnell is shown to have a stronger character than the hag from The Wife of Bath's Tale.