[A. In prose]
One day, King Arthur was riding through the forest of Inglewood and came upon a hideously ugly woman, one whose ugliness was so great that original texts go on for many a verse describing it. She stopped him saying that she had the answer he was seeking and could save his life, if he agreed to her terms. He asked was these were, and she replied, “I am Dame Ragnell and I want to marry one of your knights, Sir Gawain.”
King Arthur was horrified, and told her that he could not promise her Gawain without his consent and that he would return to her after speaking with Gawain. He returned to court and explained the situation to Gawain. Without hesitation, Gawain answered that he would marry her in a minute, even if she was a devil, if it would help Arthur.
Upon seeing her for the first time, Gawain looked stunned, but bravely assented to be married the next day. The ladies of the court wept to see such a kind and handsome knight to be married to such a hideous woman; the knights were glad it wasn’t any of them who had to marry her.
Ragnell demanded to be married publicly and to have a great feast with all the nobles attending. She was decked out in the most costly array, but her manners repulsed everyone there. Great was the pity felt for Gawain that day!
At last it was over and the couple led to their chamber. There Gawain gazed at the fire, reluctant to touch his bride, until she requested a kiss. Bravely, he acceded, only to find a most radiant woman in his arms. He stared speechless in wonder and, finally finding his tongue, asked her how could this be.
“I have waited in that shape until I found a man gentle enough to marry me. Now I offer you a choice: I can be fair by night and foul by day; or foul by night and fair by day. Decide which you want.”
Gawain thought for a while, pondering the events that had lead to this moment, and then it dawned on him what answer he must give. “I cannot make such a choice; that is for you to decide.”
She cried out in joy, “My lord, you are as wise as you are noble and true, for you have given me what every woman genuinely desires, sovereignty over herself. You will never see that hideous old hag again, for I choose to be fair from this time on.”
[B. In poetry]
"Ah, Sir Gawain, since I have married you,
Show me a little courtesy in bed.
You cannot rightfully deny me that.
Indeed, Sir Gawain," the lady said,
If I were beautiful,
You would act a bit differently.
But you take no heed of marriage.
Still, for Arthur's sake, kiss me at least.
I ask that you do it,
So we can see how you manage."
Sir Gawain said, "I will do more
Than kiss, I swear to God!"
So he turned…
And saw she was
The fairest creature alive.
"Jesus!" he said. "What are you?"
"Sir, I am certainly your wife.
Why are you unkind to me?"
"Ah, lady, I am to blame.
I ask you mercy, fair madam.
I hadn't realized. You are so beautiful,
And earlier you were the ugliest woman
I have ever seen.
I am happy, lady, to see you thus."
So he embraced her in his arms
And began to kiss her
And made great joy, certainly.
"Sir," she said, "thus shall you have me.
By God, choose one--for my beauty will not hold.
Choose whether you will have me
Beautiful in the nights
And as ugly in the days, when men see me,
Or else have me beautiful in the day
And the ugliest woman in the nights.
One or the other you must have. Choose.
Choose, sir knight, which is more important
To your honor."
"Alas!" said Gawain, "the choice is hard.
Choosing the best is difficult.
I don't know what to choose.
To have you beautiful
At night and no more,
That would grieve my heart.
And I would lose my reputation.
But if I choose to have you beautiful in the day,
Then at night I would have slim pickings.
Now, gladly would I choose the best,
But I don't know what in the world to say.
Choose what you think best, happy lady.
The choice I put into your hand.
Do as you want, as you choose.
Untie me when you will, for I am bound.
I give the decision to you.
Body, possessions, heart and everything,
It is all yours, to buy and sell.
This I swear to God."
"Thank you, courteous knight," said the lady.
Of all the earth's knights, may you be blessed.
For now I am worshipped.
You shall have me beautiful both day and night,
And always I shall be fair and bright.
Therefore, grieve not,
For I was transformed through necromancy
By my stepmother, God have mercy on her.
She changed me by enchantment
From my true form--
Until the best of England
Had truly married me
And given me sovereignty
Over his body and all his goods.
Thus I was deformed,
And you, sir knight, courteous Gawain,
Have given me sovereignty indeed.
Never will you be sorry for that.
Kiss me, sir knight, right now,
I pray you. Be glad and make good cheer.
For all has turned out well."
* Prose excerpted from "Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell (revised for the 1990s and beyond)" by Susan Reed, http://www.nachtanz.org/SReed/GawainLL.html
* Poetry excerpted from "The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell" by David Bredeen, http://www.lone-star.net/mall/literature/gawain.htm :)