Dame Ragnell and Alison's Tale
In Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, the Wife of Bath (Alison) teaches her audience what it is women most desire through her tale. The tale she tells resembles the tale of Dame Ragnell. These stories are analogies, perhaps both arising from a similar folk-tale source. Both stories are set in the magical Arthurian times when the fields and forests teemed with gnomes and unearthly creatures. Although both stories have the same moral and end on similar note, there are some vivid differences that we simply cannot overlook.
It is very possible that Alison's tale is a custom tailored version of the Dame Ragnell story. The knight in "The Wife of Bath's ...view middle of the document...
She said to me my life she wold save…
But first she wold thee to husbond have.
Wherfor I am wo begon-
Thus in my hart I make my mone.'
'Is this all?' then said Gawain;
'I shalle wed her and wed her again,
Thoughe she were a fiend'… "Wedding," 336-344.
It is evident from the above quotation that Sir Gawain possesses all the manners that the knight from Alison's tale lacks. Here, too, the characters must find out what women most desire, and one ends up marrying the ugly maiden who provides the answer. But, unlike the lusty rapist knight in Alison's tale, the knight in this story is of higher morals and repute.
The knights of both stories are faced with a quandary once they marry their ugly wives. In "The Wife of Bath's Tale," the old hag asks her husband to choose whether he wants her old and ugly but faithful, or young and beautiful but unfaithful:
'Chees now,' quod she, 'oon of thise thinges twaye:
To han me foul and old til that I deye
And be to you a trewe humble wif,
And nevere you displese in al my lif,
Or elles ye wol han me young and fair,
And take youre aventure of the repair
That shal be to youre hous by cause of me-
Or in some other place, wel may be.' Norton, 1225-1232.
In a similar fashion, Sir Gawain must also make a decision as to whether he wants his wife, Dame Ragnell, to be beautiful by night but loathsome by day or vice versa:
'Sir,' she said, 'thus shalle ye me have;
Chese of the one…
…Wheder ye wolle have me faire on nightes
And as foulle on days to all men sightes
Or els to have me faire on days
And on nightes on the fouliost wife,
The one ye must nedes have.' "Wedding", 656-663.
Although the above choices presented to each knight by his wife seem to convey a similar underlying message, it is important to identify the difference between these instances. The choices that the wife of each knight makes available are designed...