The central story, in both readings, is the use of threats to gain sovereignty and mastery above husbands. The original stories are about the life of King Arthur and Knights. They present how old and ugly women use their unique knowledge and skills to marry royals, who are not members of their social class. This paper compares and contrasts Chaucer’s version of Gawain tale “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” and Malory’s version “Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady”, and recommends Malory’s version as the best reading for young children.
In both tales, a man has to seek the answer of what most women desire, in order to save his life. It is indicated, in both the texts, that only loathly ladies could provide the most satisfactory answer to this question. However, they gave this answer on a condition that they will receive some sign of sexual favors from the Knights, in exchange of the answer (Archibald & Johnson 88). For instance, the loathly lady, in “Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady,” asked Gawain to marry her in order to save the King’s life. This was after Ragnelle’s brother asked the King to answer what most women desired, or he kills him. Gawain was then asked to answer this question, on behalf of the king, and it happened that Ragnelle was the only person with the most satisfactory answer. She accepted to save King’s life on a condition that Gawain will marry her. Additionally, in “The Wife of Bath’s Tale,” the loathly lady accepted to save the Knight’s life on a condition that he will marry her (Eisner 46).
The plots of both tales transform from loathly ladies to heroine both symbolically and physically. In “Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady,” Ragnelle is regarded as a hag because she is ugly, antisocial, ragged, and lack manners (Archibald & Johnson 89). However, as the story fades, she achieves these qualities and even posses Sir Gawain. On the other hand, the loathly lady, in “The Wife of Bath’s Tale,” is described to have donkey ears, a gaping mouth, foot- long nose, blackened teeth, and neck sores (Eisner 47). However, she later changed into a young and beautiful lady. In both stories, we realize that the appearance of women cannot prevent them from gaining mastery and sovereignty over their husbands.
The plot of these stories differs in terms of the characters involved. For instance, in “Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady” Gawain is asked to answer the question of what women desire on behalf of the King. Sir Gromer is the brother to Ragnelle, and he is an enemy of the King. He asks King Arthur to answer the question of what most women desire or he kills him. Gawain is asked to answer the question on behalf of the King, but he lacks the most valid answer. He then agrees to marry Ragnelle, a loathly lady, who apparently had the right answer to this question. Contrary, in “The Wife of Bath’s Tale,” the loathly lady helps the Knight in answering the same question in exchange for marriage (Eisner 46).
It is vital to note that the idea of a hideous lover becoming beautiful is not limited in Britain and Ireland. In both stories, the old loathly ladies, finally became young and beautiful after gaining sovereignty and mastery above their husbands. This is an indication that women can use threats to gain what they want from men. In these stories, both the old ladies promised to provide an answer to the asked question on a condition that their demands will be met. If they did not, then the King Arthur and the Knight would have been killed. Among these readings, I found “Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady” so incredible because it adapted its original sexual content and transformed it into a content that is appropriate for children. It teaches students that people should not be judged based on their appearances.
Archibald E, Johnson D. F. Arthurian Literature XXVII. New York: Boydell & Brewer, 2010. Print
Eisner S. A Tale of Wonder: A Source Study of The Wife of Baths Tale. New York: Ayer Publishing, 2007. Print