The story begins with King Arthur hunting in the forest of Ingleswood. He strays away from all of his knights and is in the middle section of the forest by himself. There he sees a deer and begins to run after it. After a few attempts, King Arthur finally kills the deer: "He took his arrows and bow and stooped low like a woodsman to stalk the deer. But every time he came near the animal, it leapt away into the forest. So King Arthur went a while after the deer, and no knight went with him, until at last he let fly an arrow and killed the deer." (Hearne, 2)
At this point King Arthur hears the voice of Sir Gromer who seeks battle with him:
Welle y-met King Arthur!
Thou hast me done wrong many a yere
And wofully I shalle quit thee here.
I hold thy life days highe done;
Thou hast gevin my lands in certain
With great wrong unto Sir Gawen. (327, lines 54-59).
First thou shalt swere upon my sword broun
To shewe me at thy coming whate wemen love best in feld and town;
And thou shalt mete me here withe outen send
Evin at this day twelve monthes end;
And thou shalt swere upon my swerd good
That of thy knightes shalle none com with thee, by the road,
Nouther frende ne freind. (328, Lines 90-96).
Ye, Sir, make good chere;
Let make your hors redy
To ride into straunge contrey;
And evere wheras ye mete outher man or woman, in faye,
Ask of them whate they ther to saye. (330, Lines 182-186).
However, before giving up, King Arthur decides to visit the forest of Ingleswood once again, and this is when he meets "the loathly lady." At the sight of Dame Ragnell, which he later learns is her name, King Arthur marvels at her, for she is the ugliest creature that he has ever seen: "Her face seems almost like that of an animal, with a pushed-in nose and a few yellowing tusks for teeth. Her figure is twisted and deformed, with a hunched back and shoulders a yard broad. No tongue could tell the foulness of the lady." (Hearne, 3)
Although she is so ugly and monstrous, she rides on a horse, "a palfrey" that is dressed in gold and precious stones, and when she speaks, her voice is "sweet and soft." On seeing King Arthur, she knows his reason for being in Ingleswood and declares to him:
God spede, Sir King, I am welle paid
That I have withe thee met;
Speke withe me, I rede, or then go,
For thy life is in my hand, I warn thee so;
That shalt thou finde, and I it not let. (332, Lines 253-257).
'Is this alle?' then said Gawen;
'I shalle wed her and wed her again,
Thoughe she were afend,
Thoughe she were as foulle as Belsabub,
Her shalle I wed, by the road,
Or elles were not I your frende;
For ye ar my king with honour
And have worshipt me in many a stoure.
Therfor shalle I not let.
To save your life, Lorde, it were my parter
Or were I false and a great coward;
And my worship is the bet.' (334, Lines 342-352).
'Here is oure answere, and that is alle,
That wemen desiren moste specialle,
Bothe of free and bond.
I saye no more, but above all thing
Wemen desire sovereinte, for that is their liking;
And that is ther moste desire;
To have the rewlle of the manliest me' (337, Lines 464-470).
However, the tale does not end here, because the big wedding has to take place between Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell. On his way back, King Arthur meets Dame Ragnell, who is waiting for his return from Sir Gromer. He is ashamed to bring the "loathly lady" back to the court openly, but she rides with him back to Carlyle. On their arrival, all the country are amazed. The people wonder where this woman comes from because they have never seen so foul and ugly a creature in their lifetime. But she is not afraid and demands that Sir Gawain, "her love," should come out to meet her. At the sight of Sir Gawain, she is amazed. He is handsome, and she is in love with him the moment her eyes meet him. Dame Ragnell demands to be married at once where everyone can see them wed. She is not ashamed and is very happy to marry the noblest knight of King Arthur's court.
At the wedding feast, Dame Ragnell is arrayed in the richest and most glamorous manner. She is looking even more glamorous than Queen Guinevere. However, all the richest and most precious clothes cannot hide her foulness. Indeed, all the lords and ladies are there to see this wedding of Sir Gawain and the foul lady. During the feast, it is only Dame Ragnell who eats heartily. Every one sits and watches her in amazement. She eats like a pig, as if she has never eaten before. Dame Ragnell is not afraid or ashamed because she is happy.
After the feast is over, Dame Ragnell and Sir Gawain retire to their chamber which is prepared for them. Now she speaks with Sir Gawain to come to bed with her since they are now married. She wants him to show her his courtesy, because if she is fair, he would gladly and joyfully come to her. However, at this moment, Sir Gawain kisses her, and she becomes the most beautiful woman he has ever seen in his entire life. He is indeed very happy and kisses her again and again.
Now you can read the monologue which explains this scene.
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