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The Marriage of Sir Gawain


Abbreviations: P = Percy Folio Manuscript; M = Madden's edition; FH = Furnivall's and Hales' edition; C = Child's edition. See Select Bibliography for these editions.

29 beffall. M: befall; the stroke for the second f appears blurred.

32 Tearne Wadling. The Tarn Wathelene (a tarn is a small lake) is mentioned in Avowyng (lines 131, 338) and Awntyrs (line 2), and again in lines 51 and 84 of the present romance. Though Inglewood Forest, where this lake is located, is the setting of Ragnelle, the Tarn itself is not mentioned in that romance.

87 stronge. Though elsewhere rhymes are strained, this stanza seems clearly deficient.

116 Sir Steven. This is a knight otherwise unknown in Arthurian romance.

120 Sir Banier and Sir Bore. Madden suggests the first name is a misnomer for Beduer or Bedyvere (Bedevere), brother of Lucan the Butler and Arthur's constable, but perhaps this is Sir Ban (or Bayan), the father of Lancelot. The second is Bors de Gaynes, Lancelot's loyal companion.

121 Sir Garrett. This is Gareth, Gawain's brother and loyal supporter of Lancelot, by whom he is inadvertently killed in the rescue of Guenevere.

122 Sir Tristeram. A celebrated hero in many Arthurian tales, Sir Tristan is the son of Melyodas and nephew of King Mark of Cornwall.

143 slaine. FH: shaine, with the suggestion that the word may be a variant of shent, slaine, or shamed.

163 feires. The scribal forms are unclear; M, C read seires, and emend to feires, which I follow. FH give squires.

174 hencforth. M: henceforth.

175 ff. The plot of Marriage more closely resembles a traditional fairy tale in making the source of evil simply a wicked stepmother rather than the entanglements of an Arthurian court intrigue.

182 feeind. M reads the apparent extra minum as i, which seems right; FH, C: feend.

192 swore. M: sayes, without explanation, though swore seems clear in P.

Kinge Arthur lives in merry Carleile,
   And seemely is to see,
And there he hath with him Queene Genever,
   That bride soe bright of blee.
And there he hath with Queene Genever,
   That bride soe bright in bower,
And all his barons about him stoode
   That were both stiffe and stowre.
The King kept a royall Christmasse
   Of mirth and great honor,
And when . . .
[In a missing half page, Arthur arranges
a hunt; he is accosted by a Baron - an
armed warrior - who demands the King
fulfill a quest.]
"And bring me word what thing it is
   That a woman most desire.
This shal be thy ransome, Arthur," he sayes,
   "For Ile have noe other hier."
King Arthur then held up his hand
   According thene as was the law;
He tooke his leave of the Baron there,
   And homward can he draw.
And when he came to merry Carlile,
   To his chamber he is gone;
And ther came to him his cozen Sir Gawaine
   As he did make his mone.
And there came to him his cozen Sir Gawaine,
   That was a curteous knight:
"Why sigh you soe sore, uncle Arthur," he said,
   "Or who hath done thee unright?"
"O peace, O peace, thou gentle Gawaine,
   That faire may thee beffall,
For if thou knew my sighing soe deepe,
   Thou wold not mervaile att all.
"For when I came to Tearne Wadling,
   A bold Barron there I fand
With a great club upon his backe,
   Standing stiffe and strong.
"And he asked me wether I wold fight,
   Or from him I shold begone -
Or else I must him a ransome pay
   And soe depart him from.
"To fight with him I saw noe cause,
   Methought it was not meet,
For he was stiffe and strong withall,
   His strokes were nothing sweete.
"Therefor this is my ransome, Gawaine,
   I ought to him to pay:
I must come againe, as I am sworne,
   Upon the New Yeers Day.
"And I must bring him word what thing it is . . .
[Here a half page is missing. Arthur and
Gawain spend their time searching for an
answer to the Baron's question, and collect a
sheaf of answers, none satisfactory. Finally,
Arthur sets out for his New Year's meeting.]
Then King Arthur drest him for to ryde
   In one soe rich array
Toward the foresaid Tearne Wadling,
   That he might keepe his day.
And as he rode over a more,
   Hee see a lady where shee sate
Betwixt an oke and a greene hollen:
   She was cladd in red scarlett.
Then there as shold have stood her mouth,
   Then there was sett her eye;
The other was in her forhead fast,
   The way that she might see.
Her nose was crooked and turnd outward,
   Her mouth stood foule awry;
A worse formed lady than shee was,
   Never man saw with his eye.
To halch upon him, King Arthur,
   This lady was full faine,
But King Arthur had forgott his lesson,
   What he shold say againe.
"What knight art thou," the lady sayd,
   "That will not speak to me?
Of me be thou nothing dismayd
   Tho I be ugly to see.
"For I have halched you curteouslye,
   And you will not me againe;
Yett I may happen, Sir Knight," shee said,
   "To ease thee of thy paine."
"Give thou ease me, lady," he said,
   Or helpe me any thing,
Thou shalt have gentle Gawaine, my cozen,
   And marry him with a ring."
"Why, if I help thee not, thou noble King Arthur,
   Of thy owne hearts desiringe,
Of gentle Gawaine . . .
[The lady agrees to the marriage bargain, and tells
Arthur what women most desire. The King proceeds
to his appointed meeting.]
And when he came to the Tearne Wadling
   The Baron there cold he finde,
With a great weapon on his backe,
   Standing stiffe and stronge.
And then he tooke King Arthurs letters in his hands
   And away he cold them fling,
And then he puld out a good browne sword,
   And cryd himselfe a king.
And he sayd, "I have thee and thy land, Arthur,
   To doe as it pleaseth me,
For this is not thy ransome sure:
   Therfore yeeld thee to me."
And then bespoke him noble Arthur,
   And bad him hold his hand,
"And give me leave to speake my mind
   In defence of all my land."
He said, "As I came over a more,
   I see a lady where shee sate
Betweene an oke and a green hollen;
   Shee was clad in red scarlett.
"And she says, 'A woman will have her will,
   And this is all her cheef desire.'
Doe me right, as thou art a baron of sckill:
   This is thy ransome and all thy hyer."
He sayes, "An early vengeance light on her!
   She walkes on yonder more -
It was my sister that told thee this,
   And she is a misshappen hore!
"But heer Ile make mine avow to God
   To doe her an evill turne,
For an ever I may thate fowle theefe gett,
   In a fyer I will her burne."
[Having satisfactorily answered the Baron's
question, Arthur returns to court. He gathers his
knights and returns to the lady in the forest,
though he appears to have informed Gawain
alone of his marriage pact.]
   The Second Part
Sir Lancelott and Sir Steven bold
   They rode with them that day,
And the formost of the company
   There rode the steward Kay.
Soe did Sir Banier and Sir Bore,
   Sir Garrett with them soe gay,
Soe did Sir Tristeram that gentle knight,
   To the forrest fresh and gay.
And when he came to the greene forrest,
   Underneath a greene holly tree
Their sate that lady in red scarlet
   That unseemly was to see.
Sir Kay beheld this ladys face,
   And looked uppon her swire:
"Whosoever kisses this lady," he sayes,
   "Of his kisse he stands in feare."
Sir Kay beheld the lady againe,
   And looked upon her snout:
"Whosoever kisses this lady," he saies,
   "Of his kisse he stands in doubt."
"Peace cozen Kay," then said Sir Gawaine,
   "Amend thee of thy life.
For there is a knight amongst us all
   That must marry her to his wife."
"What! Wedd her to wiffe!" then said Sir Kay.
   "In the divells name anon,
Gett me a wiffe where ere I may,
   For I had rather be slaine!"
Then some tooke up their hawkes in hast,
   And some tooke up their hounds,
And some sware they wold not marry her
   For citty nor for towne.
And then bespake him noble King Arthur,
   And sware there by this day:
"For a litle foule sight and misliking . . .
[After Arthur's speech, Gawain announces
his intention to marry the lady. All return to
the court, the marriage is celebrated, and the lady
and Gawain retire to their marriage bed. Faced
with Gawain's sexual reticence, the lady
metamorphoses into a beautiful young woman,
and then offers Gawain a choice.]
Then she said, "Choose thee, gentle Gawaine,
   Truth as I doe say,
Wether thou wilt have me in this liknesse
   In the night or else in the day."
And then bespake him gentle Gawaine,
   With one soe mild of moode,
Sayes, "Well I know what I wold say -
   God grant it may be good!
"To have thee fowle in the night
   When I with thee shold play;
Yet I had rather, if I might,
   Have thee fowle in the day."
"What! When lords goe with ther feires," shee said,
   "Both to the ale and wine?
Alas! Then I must hyde my selfe,
   I must not goe withinne."
And then bespake him gentle Gawaine,
   Said, "Lady, thats but a skill:
And because thou art my owne lady,
   Thou shalt have all thy will."
Then she said, "Blesed be thou gentle Gawain,
   This day that I thee see,
For as thou see me att this time,
   From hencforth I wil be.
"My father was an old knight.
   And yett it chanced soe
That he marryed a younge lady
   That brought me to this woe.
"Shee witched me, being a faire young lady,
   To the greene forrest to dwell,
And there I must walke in womans liknesse,
   Most like a feeind of hell.
"She witched my brother to a carlish B. . . .
[The lady continues her explanation, and
then she and Gawain consummate the marriage.
In the morning Kay comes to check on Gawain's
welfare, and Gawain explains his wife's history.]
"That looked soe foule, and that was wont
   On the wild more to goe.
"Come kisse her, brother Kay," then said Sir Gawaine,
   "And amend thé of thy liffe:
I sweare this is the same lady
   That I marryed to my wiffe."
Sir Kay kissed that lady bright,
   Standing upon his feete;
He swore, as he was trew knight,
   The spice was never soe sweete.
"Well, cozen Gawaine," sayes Sir Kay,
   "Thy chance is fallen arright,
For thou hast gotten one of the fairest maids
   I ever saw with my sight."
"It is my fortune," said Sir Gawaine.
   "For my uncle Arthurs sake,
I am glad as grasse wold be of raine,
   Great joy that I may take."
Sir Gawaine tooke the lady by the one arme,
   Sir Kay tooke her by the tother;
They led her straight to King Arthur
   As they were brother and brother.
King Arthur welcomed them there all,
   And soe did Lady Genever his Queene,
With all the knights of the Round Table
   Most seemly to be seene.
King Arthur beheld that lady faire
   That was soe faire and bright.
He thanked Christ in Trinity
   For Sir Gawaine that gentle knight.
Soe did the knights, both more and lesse,
   Rejoyced all that day,
For the good chance that hapened was
   To Sir Gawaine and his lady gay.
woman; countenance
has been
I will; recompense
gave his hand (in agreement)
(see note)
knew [the cause of]
Tarn Wathelene; (see note)
(In which case)
i>prepared himself
greet him
was at a loss for words
again (i.e., in reply)
not [greet] me in turn
turn out
in any way
(see note)
written answers
by me; proper
(The Baron)
here I will; oath
(see note)
(see note)
(see note)
(see note)
kiss's outcome
destroyed; (see note)
spoke out
With a demeanor ever so
[I choose]
make love
companions; (see note)
into the hall (public space)
spoke out
trick (i.e., trial response)
remain; (see note)
(see note)
like a monstrous woman; (see note)
churlish B[aron?]
(see note)
the other
The End
Go To The Carle of Carlisle

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