KING ARTHUR DEVELOPS A PROBLEM
Hark and listen to the life of a rich lord
Who, while he lived, was like
no one else
In bedroom or in court.
In the time of Arthur this adventure was,
And he himself, the
courteous and royal king.
Of all knighthood he bore away the honor,
Wherever he went.
In his country
there was nothing but chivalry:
He loved all brave knights;
Cowards were always disgraced.
Now, if you will listen a bit to my talking,
I shall tell you of Arthur
And what once befell him
As he was hunting in Inglewood
With all his bold knights.
Listen to my tale:
The king stood at his deer blind,
Ready with his
bow to slay a wild deer,
And his knights sat there beside him.
As the king waited, he became aware
great and beautiful hart standing.
When the men saw the king,
They waited as still as they could.
the hart darted off
Into a fern thicket
"Hold still, everyone,
And I will go myself,
Stalking as best I
The king said, taking bow in hand.
Like a good hunter he stooped
Low to stalk the deer.
When he got close,
The hart jumped into a briar patch.
But the king
crept closer and closer,
And so it went, until the king had gone,
I would swear, half a mile.
went with him.
At last, Arthur let fly an arrow
And hit the hart squarely,
the grace God had sent him.
Down the deer tumbled, wounded,
And fell into a large fern thicket.
king followed quickly
And savagely killed the deer
As it chewed the grass.
While the king was alone with the deer
Suddenly there came to him a
Armed well and sure--
A knight strong and mighty.
He said these grim words to the king:
"Well met, King Arthur!
You have done me wrong many a year,
woefully I shall repay you now.
Indeed, you have wrongfully given
My lands to Sir Gawain.
What say you,
king, alone as you are?"
"Sir knight, what is your honored name?" said Arthur.
"Sir king," he answered, "Gromer Somer Joure,
I tell you
now the truth."
"Ah, Sir Gromer Somer, think you well
that slaying me here will get
you no honor.
Remember that you are a knight.
If you slay me now--in this situation--
All knights will
refuse you everywhere.
That shame shall never leave you.
Let your anger go and follow reason,
shall fix what is amiss--
If you wish--before I go."
"No," said Sir Gromer Somer, "by heaven's king!
not escape by lying.
I have the advantage now.
If I should let you go with mocking,
Another time you
will defy me.
I shall not fail in my purpose."
Then said the king, "So God save me!
But, sir, spare my life and
I shall grant it you right now.
Shame you shall have in killing my at hunting--
and me like this."
"All this will not help you, surely,"
Said Sir Gromer Somer.
I want neither land nor gold, really.
Will you grant me, at a certain day--
Which I will set--to come
again as you are?"
"Yes," said the king. "Here is my hand."
"Yes, but, abide, king, and hear me awhile.
First you shall swear
my burnished sword
To tell me when next we meet
What women love best
In field and in town.
shall meet me
Here without my sending for you
At the end of twelve months;
And you shall swear
my good sword--
And by the holy cross--
that none of your knights
Will come with you,
And if you fail to bring an answer
You shall lose
Your head for your trouble.
shall now be your oath.
What do you say, king?
Let's get this over with."
"Sir, I swear to this. Now let me be gone.
Though it is to me very
I swear to you as a true king
To come again at the end of twelve months
And bring you your
"Go your way, King Arthur,
Your life is in my hand, I am sure.
are not aware of your sorrow.
Yet, wait, King Arthur, a little while.
Be sure you are not beguiled today.
keep all this in secret;
For if I knew, by the mild virgin,
That you would betray me anywhere,
would lose your life now."
"No," said King Arthur, "that will not be.
You will not
find me an untrue knight.
I would much rather die.
Farewell, sir, ill-met knight.
I will come on the
Even though there be no escape."
Then the king blew his bugle.
Every knight recognized it
to him right away.
There they found the hart
And the king with a sad face and spirit.
He no longer felt
"We shall go home to Carlisle.
I don't feel like hunting
All the lords knew by his look
That the king had met with some
The king went to Carlisle
And no man knew
The reason for his sorrow,
his heart so heavy.
His heart was very heavy,
And in this heaviness he stayed
So long that his knights
Finally, Sir Gawain said to the king,
"Sir, I am much amazed
wonder at what makes you sorrowful."
The king answered quickly:
"I shall tell you, Gawain, gentle
In the forest I was today,
And there I met a knight in his armor,
And certain words he said to
And charged me that I not betray him.
I must keep his council, therefore,
Or else I am a liar."
"Dread not, lord, by the Virgin.
I am not the man who would
Neither in the evening nor the morning,"
Said Sir Gawain.
The king said:
"Truly, I was hunting in Inglewood.
By the cross,
you know I killed a deer.
I was alone and there
Met a well-armed knight.
His name, he told me,
Sir Gromer Somer Joure.
And therefore I make my moan.
That knight threatened me
And would have slain me
in his anger
Except that I spoke well in return.
I had no weapons, so,
Alas, my honor is gone."
"What of it?" said Gawain.
Arthur said; "I do not lie.
He would have slain me without mercy,
hated me so much. He made me swear
That at the end of twelve months
I shall meet him there again, unarmed,
to that I pledged my faith.
At that time I must tell him
What women desire most.
Otherwise, I lose my
This oath I made to that knight,
And that I would not tell this to anyone.
I had no choice about
And I swore I would come in no other clothes
Than those I wore when first we met.
If I fail to
answer the question,
I know I shall be killed then and there.
Blame me not for being a woeful man.
this is my dread and my fear."
"Yea, sir, be of good cheer,"
Said Sir Gawain. "Let your
horse be made ready
To ride into a foreign country,
And indeed everywhere
You meet man or woman
of them what they have to answer.
And I shall also ride--another way--
And inquire of every man and woman
learn what I may
Of every man and woman's answer.
These answers I shall write in a book"
"I grant," said the king quickly,
that this is well advised,
Gawain the Good.
Even by the holy cross."
Soon were they both ready,
Gawain and the king.
The king rode one
way, Gawain the other.
And they inquired of both men and women
What it is women desire most.
Some said women love to be well dressed;
Some said they love to be well
Some said they love a lusty man
Who will clasp them in his arms and kiss them;
Some said one
thing, some said another,
And so Gawain got many an answer.
Soon Gawain had spent many a day,
Having gotten so many answers
he had a book large indeed.
So he went to the court again.
By that time the king had come back also,
his book, and each looked
At the volumes the other had written.
"We shall not fail," said Gawain.
"By God," said the king, "I am afraid.
I see I must seek
more in Inglewood forest.
I have but a month more to go.
Perhaps I will happen on good news.
This I now
think is best."
"Do as you wish," said Gawain.
"Whatever you do, I will
It is good to be on this quest.
Some of these answers will be correct,
Otherwise would be
very bad luck."
II. KING ARTHUR MEETS A REALLY UGLY WOMAN
King Arthur rode out his gate
The next day into Inglewood.
met with a lady.
She was the ugliest creature
That a man ever saw.
King Arthur surely marveled.
face was red, her nose running,
Her mouth wide, her teeth all yellow.
Her eyes were bleary, as large as
Her mouth just as large.
Her teeth hung out of her lips,
Her cheeks were as broad as a woman's
He back was as curved as a lute.
Her neck was long and also thick.
Her hair clotted in a heap.
the shoulders she was a yard across.
Her breasts would have been a load for a horse.
Like a barrel was she
To recite the foulness of that lady
There is no tongue fit.
She had ugliness to spare.
Yet she sat upon a gaily outfitted horse,
With gold and many a precious
This was an unseemly sight
To see so measurelessly foul a creature
Riding so well, I can tell
She rode up to Arthur and said:
"God speed, sir king.
I am well
That I have met with you.
I advise you to talk with me
For your life is in my hand.
can prevent your death."
"What do you want with me, lady?"
"Sir, I will gladly speak with you
And tell you good news.
the answers you have now
Will do you no good.
By the cross you will know that.
What? Did you think I
Your secret? I know all.
Without my help, you are dead.
Grant me, sir king, one thing only.
I will promise you your life.
Otherwise, you lose your head."
"Lady, tell me, in few words, what you mean.
I have contempt for
I have no need of you.
In short, tell me what you want, fair lady.
What is your meaning?
is my life in your hand?
Tell me, and I shall grant all you ask."
"Truly," said the lady, "I am no villain.
You must grant
me a knight to wed.
His name is Sir Gawain.
Then I shall make you a promise.
Tell me: will you save
Or is my desire in vain?
If my answer saves your life,
Let me marry Sir Gawain.
sir king. For it must be so,
Or you are dead. Hurry. Tell me.
Or lose your head."
"Heavens,," said the king,"
I cannot promise you
will order Sir Gawain to wed.
That all depends on him.
But, since it must be, I will work
At saving my
life by trying.
I will tell Gawain my predicament."
"Well," she said, "now go home
And speak nicely to Gawain,
I may save your life.
Though I am foul, I am lusty.
Through me he can save you.
Or cause your
"Alas!" Arthur said, "woe is me
That I should cause
Gawain to marry you,
For he will hate saying no.
I've never seen such an ugly woman
Anywhere on this
I don't know what to do!"
"It doesn't matter," sir king, "that I am foul.
owl finds a mate.
This is the only chance you get.
When you come again, for the answer,
I will meet you
Or else I know you will be lost."
"Now farewell, lady," said the king.
"Yes, sir," said the lady, "there is a bird
Men call an
owl. And yet I am a lady."
"What is your name, I pray you tell me."
"Sir king, I am truly called Dame Ragnell,
Who never yet lied to a
"Dame Ragnell, have a good day."
"Sir king, God speed you on your way.
I shall meet you right here.
Thus they departed, fair and well,
And the king came soon to Carlisle,
heart heavy and sad.
The first man he met was Sir Gawain
Who said to the king,
how have you done?"
"Foresooth," said the king, "never as badly.
Alas! I am
at the point of killing myself,
For I would be better off dead."
"No," said Gawain, "that must not be.
I would rather be
This is very distressing news."
"Gawain, I met the foulest lady today,
Certainly the worst I've
She told me she would save my life
But first she wants to have a husband.
Therefore, I moan.
I am woebegone."
"Is that all?" said Gawain.
"I shall wed her and wed her
Even if she be a fiend.
Even were she as foul as Beelzebub,
I would wed here, I swear by the
Otherwise, I wouldn't be your friend.
You are my honored king
And have done me good many times.
I hesitate not
To save your life, my lord. It is my duty.
Otherwise, I would be a false coward.
service is better than that!"
"Indeed, Gawain, I met her in Inglewood.
I swear, she told me her
It is Dame Ragnell.
She said unless I had her answer,
All my labor is in vain.
She said that.
if her answer helps me,
Then she wants you.
That's what she said.
She promised me that.
"As for this," said Gawain,
"It will not stop me.
will wed her at the time you set.
I pray you worry no more.
Though she be the foulest person
has been seen on earth,
For you I will not hesitate."
"Oh, thank you, Gawain," said King Arthur.
knights, you are the best
That I have ever found!
You have saved my life and reputation forever.
never stop honoring you
As long as I am king of the land!"
III. ARTHUR GETS HIS ANSWER
Five or six days later,
The king was to make his answer.
The king and
Sir Gawain rode out of town,
No men with them, far or near,
But all alone. When the king got to the forest
said, "Sir Gawain, farewell.
I must go West. You should go no farther."
"My lord, God speed you on your journey.
I wish I could ride with
For parting ways makes me quite sad."
The king had ridden only a short distance,
No more than a mile, when we
me Dame Ragnell.
"Ah! Sir king! You are welcome here!
I know you come with your
That will help you not a little."
"Now," said the king, "since it's the only way,
your answer and save my life.
Sir Gawain will marry you.
He has promised to save my life,
And you shall
have your desire,
Both in chamber and in bed.
Therefore, tell me quickly,
At last, what will help me.
I can't wait."
"Sire," said Dame Ragnell,
"Now you shall know
women want most,
From rich men and poor.
I will tell you the truth.
Some men say we desire to be
Or that we desire sex
With as many men as we can find.
Others say we want pleasure in bed.
say we want many husbands.
You men just don't understand.
We want an entirely different thing.
to be seen as young, fresh.
We want to be flattered cleverly.
Thus you men can win us always
what you want.
But there is one thing that is our fantasy,
And that is what you shall know now:
desire most from men,
From men both rich and poor,
To have sovereignty without lies.
For where we have
sovereignty, all is ours,
Though a knight be ever so fierce,
And ever win mastery.
It is our desire to
Over such a sir. Such is our purpose.
Therefore, go, sir king, on your way,
And tell that
knight what I have told you
That we women want most.
He will be angry and harsh
And curse the one who
For he has lost the battle.
Go, king, and keep your promise.
Your life is safe now in every
That much I promise."
The king rode a long time
As fast as he could go,
Through mire and
moor and bog,
To the place appointed
To meet Sir Gromer.
Stern words he said to the king:
"Come on, sir king, let's hear
your answer shall be.
I am prepared."
The king pulled out two books.
"Sir, here is my answer, I dare say,
some will help those in need."
Sir Gromer looked at each answer.
"No, no, sir king. You are a dead
You shall bleed."
"Wait, Sir Gromer," said King Arthur,
"I have one answer
that can't miss."
"Let's see it," said Sir Gromer,
Or else, so help me God, as I
You death you will have, violently.
That is for sure."
"Now," said the king, "I have seen,
As I guessed, very
little kindness, by God.
Here is the answer, the true one--
What women desire most,
From rich men and
I say that above all things,
Women desire sovereignty. That is what they want.
And that is
their greatest desire.
They want rule over the manliest of men,
Then they are happy. This I have learned,
you are beaten, Sir Gromer."
"And she who told you this, King Arthur,
I pray to God I shall see
her burn in fire.
That was my sister, Dame Ragnell.
That old hag! God send her shame!
Otherwise I would
have tamed you.
Now I have wasted all my work.
Go where you will, King Arthur,
For now you need not
Alas! That I ever saw this day!
Now I well know you shall be my enemy.
I will never get the
My song shall ever be alas, alas."
"No," said the king, "that much I swear.
Some armor I
will ever after have, to defend myself.
That much I promise to God.
You will never find me like this
If you do, may I be beaten and bound,
As would be your right."
"Have a good day," said Sir Gromer.
"Farewell," said Sir Arthur. "So may I thrive.
I am glad
to have beaten you."
IV. DAME RAGNELL GETS HER MAN
King Arthur turned his horse toward the plain.
And soon he met with Dame
In exactly the same spot as before.
"Sir king, I am glad we have won!
I told you exactly how it would
Now keep to what you have promised.
Since I have saved your life, me and no one else,
marry me, Sir Arthur.
It's the only way to be an honorable knight."
"No, lady. What I promised I will not fail to do.
If you will heed
my advice, keeping quiet,
You shall have all that you wish."
"No, sir king. I will not do so.
Openly I will wed, or I will
Otherwise, I will be shamed.
Ride on, and I will follow you
To your court, King Arthur, sire.
will take shame from no man.
Remember how I have saved your life.
Don't argue with me.
If you do, you
bring shame on yourself."
The king felt very much ashamed,
But she rode on, despite him,
they got to Carlisle.
Into the court she rode, by his side,
For she would spare the feelings of no man.
king liked it not at all.
All the people wondered greatly
At whence she had come,
Such a foul, ugly
They had never seen such an ugly thing.
She rode right into the hall.
"Arthur, king, fetch me Sir Gawain quickly
Before these knights,
that I may be certain
You intend to marry us, for richer or poorer.
In front of all your knights.
was your promise.
Let's see that you do it.
Bring me my love, Sir Gawain,
As quickly as you can.
don't want to wait any longer."
Then came forth Sir Gawain the knight.
"Sire, I am ready to do what
Ready to fulfill all my vows."
"God-a-mercy!" shouted Dame Ragnell.
"For your sake, I
I were a good looking woman,
Since you are such a good man."
Then sir Gawain pledged to her his troth,
For richer and for poorer.
was a true knight.
And Dame Ragnell was happy.
"Alas!" said Dame Guinevere.
And all the ladies of her chamber
said the same.
They all wept for Sir Gawain.
"Alas!" said the king and all the knights.
That he should have
to wed such a person!
So foul. So horrible. They said
She had long teeth on each side,
Boar's tusks, as
long as your hand,
One going up, one down on each side.
And grey hairs. And her lips
Lay like lumps on
No one had ever seen
A neck like that. She was ugly!
I swear, no one would marry her
Unless there was some sort
Of proclamation or law over the country.
Guinevere summoned the ladies of the land
To help keep this marriage
So it was that the foul lady would be married
Unto Sir Gawain very soon.
The ladies had great
"Alas!" they said. The queen begged
Dame Ragnell to marry early in the morning
"as privately as possible."
"No," she said. "By heaven's king
That is something I
will never do,
No matter what you say.
I will be wedded openly,
For I have an agreement with the king.
not doubt: I will not come to the church
Until high mass time, and I will dine
In the open hall, in the
middle of everybody."
"I am agreed," said Dame Guinevere,
"But I think it more
And to your own benefit to do otherwise."
"Well, as to that, lady, God save you,
This day I will have what I
I tell you that without boasting."
She made herself ready to go to church,
And all the nobles were
there--I'm not lying.
She was dressed in the very best,
Fancier even than Guinevere.
Her dress was
worth a king's ransom,
A thousand marks,
The very best gold coins.
That's how richly we was dressed.
for all the clothing she wore,
She still was the ugliest woman I've heard of--
A hog isn't as ugly,
can say, to keep it short.
After she was married,
Everyone hurried to dinner.
The foul lady sat
at the head of the dais.
She was very foul and rude.
Everyone said so.
When the food came,
Her nails were three inches long
And with them she uncouthly cut her
Therefore she ate alone.
She ate three chickens and three curlews,
And large meat pies she also
ate up, indeed.
Everyone there wondered at it.
No food came before her
But she ate it, the foul woman.
who saw her,
Both the knights and the squires,
Prayed that the devil would gnaw her bones.
So she ate
until everything was gone.
Until they brought the finger towels,
As is the custom and fashion.
spoke of diverse foods,
I believe you know there was
Both domestic and wild meat.
There was never a
lack in King Arthur's court
Of anything that could be gotten
Either in forest or in field.
people there from many lands.
V. A DOMESTIC SCENE
(NOTE: a page of the manuscript is missing here)
"Ah, Sir Gawain, since I have married you,
Show me a little
courtesy in bed.
You cannot rightfully deny me that.
Indeed, Sir Gawain," the lady said,
If I were
You would act a bit differently.
But you take no heed of marriage.
Still, for Arthur's sake,
kiss me at least.
I ask that you do it,
So we can see how you manage."
Sir Gawain said, "I will do more
Than kiss, I swear to God!"
And saw she was
The fairest creature alive.
"Jesus!" he said. "What are
"Sir, I am certainly your wife.
Why are you unkind to me?"
"Ah, lady, I am to blame.
I ask you mercy, fair madam.
realized. You are so beautiful,
And earlier you were the ugliest woman
I have ever seen.
I am happy,
lady, to see you thus."
So he embraced her in his arms
And began to kiss her
And made great joy,
"Sir," she said, "thus shall you have me.
By God, choose
one--for my beauty will not hold.
Choose whether you will have me
Beautiful in the nights
And as ugly
in the days, when men see me,
Or else have me beautiful in the day
And the ugliest woman in the nights.
or the other you must have. Choose.
Choose, sir knight, which is more important
To your honor."
"Alas!" said Gawain, "the choice is hard.
best is difficult.
I don't know what to choose.
To have you beautiful
At night and no more,
would grieve my heart.
And I would lose my reputation.
But if I choose to have you beautiful in the day,
at night I would have slim pickings.
Now, gladly would I choose the best,
But I don't know what in the
world to say.
Choose what you think best, happy lady.
The choice I put into your hand.
Do as you want,
as you choose.
Untie me when you will, for I am bound.
I give the decision to you.
heart and everything,
It is all yours, to buy and sell.
This I swear to God."
"Thank you, courteous knight," said the lady.
Of all the
earth's knights, may you be blessed.
For now I am worshipped.
You shall have me beautiful both day and
And always I shall be fair and bright.
Therefore, grieve not,
For I was transformed through
By my stepmother, God have mercy on her.
She changed me by enchantment
From my true form--
the best of England
Had truly married me
And given me sovereignty
Over his body and all his goods.
I was deformed,
And you, sir knight, courteous Gawain,
Have given me sovereignty indeed.
Never will you
be sorry for that.
Kiss me, sir knight, right now,
I pray you. Be glad and make good cheer.
For all has
turned out well."
Then they had joy beyond imagination,
The natural way of two people
She thanked God and Mary
That she was recovered from her ugliness.
And so did Sir Gawain.
made mirth in her bedroom
And gave many thanks to our savior, I can tell you.
With joy and mirth they
stayed awake all night.
VI. THE MORNING AFTER
In the morning, the fair maiden went to get up.
not!" Sir Gawain said.
We will stay here until noon
And let the king call us to lunch."
"I agree," the maiden said,
And thus they went on till
"Sirs," said the king, "let us go
To see if Sir Gawain is
I am very afraid for Sir Gawain,
Afraid the fiend has killed him.
I really must find out.
we now. We shall see them get up
And see how they have managed."
So they came to the bed chamber.
"Arise!" shouted the king to
"Why do you stay in be so long?"
"Oh, my!" said Gawain. "Surely, sir king,
I would be very
happy if you would leave me alone.
For I am very much at ease.
Wait, I shall unlock the door.
think, you will say I am well fixed.
I am very reluctant to get up."
Sir Gawain arose and took his lady by the hand.
He hurried to the door
and opened it.
She stood in a smock by the fire.
Her hair hung to her knees, a red gold.
is my pleasure."
"Lo!" said Gawain to Arthur.
"This is my wife, Dame Ragnell,
one who saved your life."
Then he told the king and queen
How suddenly her shape had turned.
lord, by your leave, I will tell you
How she came to be misshapen."
Then Sir Gawain told it all.
"I thank God!" said the queen.
"I thought, Sir Gawain,
you had been harmed.
I was much grieved at heart.
But I see the opposite is the case."
There were games, revelries, playing.
And every man said, "She is
Then the king told them all
How Dame Ragnell saved his life.
death had been prepared."
The king told the queen, swearing it was true,
How he had been bested in
By Sir Gromer Somer Joure.
He told what that knight had made him swear.
would have slain me right there,
Without mercy or measure. This same lady,
Dame Ragnell, saved me from
All for the love of Gawain.
Then Gawain told the king
How her stepmother had deformed her
knight should save her.
And Dame Ragnell told the king
How Gawain had given her sovereignty
Over all he
had. Whatever she wanted.
"God save him for such courtesy.
He saved me from villainy and a
One that was both foul and grim.
Therefore, courteous, gracious Gawain,
I shall never
anger you. That is certain.
That promise I make to you.
While I live, I shall be obedient.
To God above
That I will never quarrel with you."
"Thank you, lady," said Gawain.
"With you I feel quite
And I believe you will do these things."
Gawain said, "She shall have my love.
will never lack it, for she has been
So kind to me."
The queen said, and the ladies all agreed,
"I swear by Saint John
she is the fairest in this court.
My love, lady, you shall always have,
As I am a gentle woman,
you saved my lord Arthur."
Sir Gawain begot Gyngolyn of the Round Table,
A knight of strength and
And at every feast where a lady should be,
Wherever she went,
Ragnell won the prize for beauty.
I can tell you without lying
That in all his life Gawain loved none so
He acted like a coward, avoiding jousting,
Just so he could be in bed with her day and night.
Arthur wondered at it.
Dame Ragnell asked the king
For kindness to Sir Gromer.
good lord to Sir Gromer, indeed.
Fix the matter in which you offended him."
"Yes, lady, that I shall do for your sake,
Though I know he cannot
make amends to me
For acting as he did."
VII. NOT SUCH A HAPPY ENDING
Now, to make a short conclusion.
I intend to finish quickly.
gentle lady lived with Gawain
But five years. I tell you truly,
That grieved Gawain all his life.
in her life she grieved him never.
And no woman was ever dearer to him.
Thus I will stop talking.
She was the fairest lady
In all of England
Even Arthur said so.
Thus ends this adventure of King Arthur--
A man who suffered much in
And of the wedding of Gawain.
Gawain married often in his life
But I have heard men say
loved another woman so well.
Thus I have told the story
Of King Arthur's hunting adventure In
Now, God, as you were born in Bethlehem,
Never let our souls be lost in
And, Jesus, as you were born of a virgin,
Help the composer of this tale out of sorrow,
in a hurry if you can.
For he is beset by jailers
With wills wrong and hard
Who keep him locked away.
Now, God, as you are the true royal king,
Help him out of danger who
made this tale,
For he has been in it a long time.
Have pity on Your servant.
I give body and soul to
For my suffering is great.
Here ends The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell
For the Helping of