In "The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell," we are introduced to
the most hideous woman ever described, Dame Ragnell. She first
appears in the story when King Arthur meets her in the forest while
he is searching for the answer to Sir Gromer's question: "what does
woman desire most?" Dame Ragnell promises to tell the king the
answer only if Sir Gawain marries her. But she is not the kind of
woman Gawain has in mind for a wife. So, will she
still be able to win Gawain’s love for her?
Upon King Arthur’s first sight of Dame Ragnell, he is terrified and
petrified by her ludicrous appearance. He describes her as an
"ungoodly creature" :
...Her face was red, her nose snotid withalle,
Her mouithe wide, her teethe yallowe overe alle,
With blerid eyen gretter then a balle;
Her mouith was not to lak;
Her teethe hing overe her lippes...("Dame Ragnell", 331)
Here, we can visualize just how awful Dame Ragnell looks.
With yellow teeth, huge eyes, fat lips, and a broad shoulder, she
is the most horrible woman who has ever lived.
Most men will probably
turn away immediately at their first glance of her. Thus, we should be
able to understand why people are disgusted by her appearance when
she enters the city, for they have never seen such foul lady,
"alle the contraye had wonder great, from whens she com, that
foule unswete; they sawe nevere of so foulle a thing"
("Dame Ragnell", 339).
Apart from her ugliness, Dame Ragnell’s lack of manners is also
irritating to the other knights in the court. Without any respect and
courtesy for the king, she grabs the first seat in the dining hall,
a seat that symbolizes great honor that she definitely does not
have, "this foulle lady began the highe dese; she was fulle foulle
and not curteis" ("Dame Ragnell", 341).
In addition, her behavior at the dinner table
is unbelievably outrageous:
...She ete as moche as six that ther wore;
That mervalid many a man.
Her nailes were long inchies three;
Therwithe she breke her mete ungoodly...("Dame Ragnell", 341)
Dame Ragnell is described as having an appetite equivalent to that of
six strong men. But the most horrible thing is the way she eats,
using her long fingernails.
Being afraid of her, the men in the hall leave her all alone
to continue eating
by herself until she "cleans" up all the dishes, "so she ete tille
mete was done" ("Dame Ragnell", 341).
It seems impossible that any man would be
willing to wed Dame Ragnell. However, because of
Gawain’s loyalty to the king, without any complaint, he immediately
agrees to take her as his wife:
...I wolle wed her at whate time ye wolle set;
I pray you make no care.
For and she were the most foulist wighte
That evere men mighte see with sighte,
For your love I wolle not spare...("Dame Ragnell", 335)
Although Dame Ragnell isn’t Gawain’s ideal woman, he still
shows her the respect a husband has for a wife. He actually treats
her as if she is really the person he chooses himself. For instance,
he is more than willing to kiss her, simply because he believes that
such an act is normal between a married couple.
Due to his sincere attitude toward this marriage, Dame Ragnell
actually feels sorry for her ugliness because Gawain deserves
better, "for thy sake I wold I were a faire woman, for thou art of
so good wille" ("Dame Ragnell", 339).
Later, transforming into her true and beautiful
self, she asks Gawain whether he wants her to be like this forever
or not. However, if he does make a choice, whatever it may be, he
has not given her full sovereignty, which she wants most, and she
will continue to remain in her ugly form. Fortunately, once again
proving his noble character, Gawain lets her choose, "the choise I
put in your fist" ("Dame Ragnell", 343).
Consequently, Gawain is rewarded with Dame Ragnell’s
beauty forever, "for now am I worshippid. Thou shalle have me faire
bothe day and nighte" ("Dame Ragnell", 343).
In conclusion, as we can see, although the hag-like Dame
Ragnell is not initially Gawain’s true love,
he still shows his full respect
for her as a wife and lives up to his responsibility as a husband.
Upon her transformation to her beautiful self, Gawain does
not regret his decision to allow her to choose for him. As a
matter of fact, as noble as he is, even if Dame Ragnell had remained a
hag, he would still treat her the best. According to the story,
although their marriage lasts for only five years, and Gawain has many
other wives afterward, he still loves her the best because of her