The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle Background

The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle Background

There is a certain air of mystery around the authorship of this epic poem; scholars are torn between attributing its writing to Geoffrey Chaucer and Thomas Mallory. It is one of many versions of the popular fifteenth century loathly lady story, in which a female protagonist begins the story unattractive or ugly, but is transformed into a beauty after being given attention by a man - basically, the humanized version of the story of the ugly duckling. In all of the versions of the story, the woman turns out to have been a beauty all along, the victim of a curse of ugliness that could only be broken by the love of a handsome man.

Chaucer has been considered a likely author because there are elements of the poem that appear in The Wife of Bath's Tale, one of the best known of his Canterbury Tales. However, the poem is actually very similar to the tales in Le Morte d'Arthur, which also suggests to some scholars that Sir Thomas Mallory might be the author.

In Medieval England, the educated public could not get enough of literature that centered around King Arthur and his Court, particularly his knights, who were the medieval versions of football stars or basketball players. The Wedding Text is intended to be far more tongue-in-cheek than its predecessors as it shows King Arthur in awe of Sir Gawain's chivalry after Sir Gromer Somer Joure challenges Arthur to a most unusual duel; find out what women want, or pay the price for not doing so. There are also other elements of parody in the text, most obviously the distaste for the upper classes that the author clearly harbors.

The text was extremely popular with Medieval audiences, and although there are surviving copies of the manuscript, they are in well-thumbed and relatively poor condition. The most prominent of these manuscripts is kept in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England, in its Medieval Literature collection.

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