Tag Archives: manuscript

The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell (563-629)

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So it happened after but a day

That that foul bird should be married

To sir Gawain.

The day had come that’d be the day;

Therefore the ladies felt great sorrow.

“Alas!” they said again.

The queen pleaded with dame Ragnell –

“To be married early in the morning,

As privately as you may.”

“No!” she said; “By Heavens’ King,

That I will never do, for nothing,

That you can say.

 

“I will be wedded publicly,

For I have made such a covenant with the king.

Doubt not,

I will not go to church until the time of High Mass

And in the open hall I will dine,

Amidst all the court.”

“I am grieved,” said dame Guinevere;

“For I think it would be more honour

And a pleasure to you.”

“Yes, as for that, lady, God save you.

This day my pleasure I shall have,

I tell you that without a boast.”

 

She was prepared to go to church

And all the nobles were there,

I do not lie,

She was dressed in the richest manner,

More finely than dame Guinevere;

Her clothes were worth three thousand marks

Good red gold at that,

So richly she was dressed.

But for all her appearance, she was still

The ugliest, that ever I have told of –

An uglier sow man has never seen.

 

For to be brief,

When she was wed, they hurried them home;

They all went to meet.

This bird-like lady sat at the high dais;

She was most foul and not courteous,

So said all that were present.

When the servants came before her,

She ate as much as six men;

Amazing everyone.

Her nails were three inches long,

With which she broke her meat hideously;

Therefore she ate alone.

 

She ate three roosters, and also three curlews,
And a great many meat pies she ate up, in truth.
All men therefore had marvelled.
There was no meat that came before her
But she ate it up,
That ugly, old damsel.
Everyone that ever saw her
Prayed the devil would gnaw her bones,
Both knight and squire.
So she ate until the meat was done,
Until they drew clothes and had washed,
As is the custom and manner.

Many men would speak of diverse foods;
I trust you may know enough of what there was,
Both of domestic and wild beasts.
In king Arthour’s court there was no want
For what might be captured by man’s hand,
Either in forest or in field.
There were minstrels from various countries.

[The manuscript is here missing one leaf, containing
about seventy lines; the narrative continues
at the moment of Ragnelle’s and Gawain’s wedding night.]

In which you learn to ALWAYS question the source

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Ah…I remember the first time I read a translation of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s account of king Arthur. Being a newbie on the whole Arthurian literature thing, I was star-struck by the pseudo-historic way in which he presented the events. True, I understood that he was probably making stuff up at least partly as he went on, but damn he did it in a cool way. And then I came across his claims over his reputed main source, that Holy Grail of lost manuscripts that he supposedly based his work. Yeah, as far as I can tell the manuscript Geoffrey describes did not exist. Most of the texts I have found on the subject argue that he probably based his account in part on pre-existing manuscripts (but a multitude of them, not one) and in part in oral tradition.

 

This got me thinking though. Sure, not even all of his contemporaries believed his account to be genuine, but the Historia became the basis, in some capacity or other, of most future versions of the Arthurian Cycle. Why was that? I’m not dissing Geoffrey; his account is very interesting, even if it is just read as a reflection of his time. However, Arthurian texts retained their quasi-historical claims for a while. Why base your text in a debatable source? Where they consciously undermining the historicity of their accounts? I remember being told that the greatest compliment an author could make in the middle ages would be to present another’s account as the ‘true facts’ he –ahem- borrowed from.

 

Maybe then the point wasn’t the accuracy. Maybe the point was to show appreciation for a predecessor’s work. In a time when the written word was not exactly openly available this might have been one of the few ways to actually preserve an older account and at the same time make it contemporary. The extensive bibliographies that are now readily available at the end of most books would be simply unimaginable in the early 1000s.

 

And maybe it was in that spirit that BBC’s Merlin (the mash-up adaptation that I respect most after Malory’s account) actually included a character named Geoffrey of Monmouth.