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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsThe Age Of Chivalry - A. KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS - Chapter VI. Sir Gawain
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The Age Of Chivalry - A. KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS - Chapter VI. Sir Gawain Post by :bandit1030 Category :Nonfictions Author :Thomas Bulfinch Date :January 2011 Read :670

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The Age Of Chivalry - A. KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS - Chapter VI. Sir Gawain

Sir Gawain was nephew to King Arthur, by his sister Morgana,
married to Lot, king of Orkney, who was by Arthur made king of
Norway. Sir Gawain was one of the most famous knights of the Round
Table, and is characterized by the romancers as the SAGE and
COURTEOUS Gawain. To this Chaucer alludes in his "Squiere's Tale,"
where the strange knight "salueth" all the court

"With so high reverence and observance,
As well in speeche as in countenance,
That Gawain, with his olde curtesie,
Though he were come agen out of faerie,
Ne coude him not amenden with a word."

Gawain's brothers were Agrivain, Gahariet, and Gareth.

SIR GAWAIN'S MARRIAGE

Once upon a time King Arthur held his court in merry Carlisle,
when a damsel came before him and craved a boon. It was for
vengeance upon a caitiff knight, who had made her lover captive
and despoiled her of her lands. King Arthur commanded to bring him
his sword, Excalibar, and to saddle his steed, and rode forth
without delay to right the lady's wrong. Ere long he reached the
castle of the grim baron, and challenged him to the conflict. But
the castle stood on magic ground, and the spell was such that no
knight could tread thereon but straight his courage fell and his
strength decayed. King Arthur felt the charm, and before a blow
was struck, his sturdy limbs lost their strength, and his head
grew faint. He was fain to yield himself prisoner to the churlish
knight, who refused to release him except upon condition that he
should return at the end of a year, and bring a true answer to the
question, "What thing is it which women most desire?" or in
default thereof surrender himself and his lands. King Arthur
accepted the terms, and gave his oath to return at the time
appointed. During the year the king rode east, and he rode west,
and inquired of all whom he met what thing it is which all women
most desire. Some told him riches; some, pomp and state; some,
mirth; some, flattery; and some, a gallant knight. But in the
diversity of answers he could find no sure dependence. The year
was well-nigh spent, when one day, as he rode thoughtfully through
a forest, he saw sitting beneath a tree a lady of such hideous
aspect that he turned away his eyes, and when she greeted him in
seemly sort, made no answer. "What wight art thou," the lady said,
"that will not speak to me? It may chance that I may resolve thy
doubts, though I be not fair of aspect." "If thou wilt do so,"
said King Arthur, "choose what reward thou wilt, thou grim lady,
and it shall be given thee." "Swear me this upon thy faith," she
said, and Arthur swore it. Then the lady told him the secret, and
demanded her reward, which was that the king should find some fair
and courtly knight to be her husband.

King Arthur hastened to the grim baron's castle and told him one
by one all the answers which he had received from his various
advisers, except the last, and not one was admitted as the true
one. "Now yield thee, Arthur," the giant said, "for thou hast not
paid thy ransom, and thou and thy lands are forfeited to me." Then
King Arthur said:

"Yet hold thy hand, thou proud baron,
I pray thee hold thy hand,
And give me leave to speak once more,
In rescue of my land.
This morn as I came over a moor,
I saw a lady set,
Between an oak and a green holly,
All clad in red scarlett.
She says ALL WOMEN WOULD HAVE THEIR WILL,
This is their chief desire;
Now yield, as thou art a baron true,
That I have paid my hire."

"It was my sister that told thee this," the churlish baron
exclaimed. "Vengeance light on her! I will some time or other do
her as ill a turn."

King Arthur rode homeward, but not light of heart, for he
remembered the promise he was under to the loathly lady to--give
her one of his young and gallant knights for a husband. He told
his grief to Sir Gawain, his nephew, and he replied, "Be not sad,
my lord, for I will marry the loathly lady." King Arthur replied:

"Now nay, now nay, good Sir Gawaine,
My sister's son ye be;
The loathly lady's all too grim,
And all too foule for thee."

But Gawain persisted, and the king at last, with sorrow of heart,
consented that Gawain should be his ransom. So one day the king
and his knights rode to the forest, met the loathly lady, and
brought her to the court. Sir Gawain stood the scoffs and jeers of
his companions as he best might, and the marriage was solemnized,
but not with the usual festivities. Chaucer tells us:

"... There was no joye ne feste at alle;
There n' as but hevinesse and mochel sorwe,
For prively he wed her on the morwe,
And all day after hid him as an owle,
So wo was him his wife loked so foule!"

(Footnote: N'AS is NOT WAS, contracted; in modern phrase, THERE
WAS NOT. MOCHEL SORWE is much sorrow; MORWE is MORROW.)

When night came, and they were alone together, Sir Gawain could
not conceal his aversion; and the lady asked him why he sighed so
heavily, and turned away his face. He candidly confessed it was on
account of three things, her age, her ugliness, and her low
degree. The lady, not at all offended, replied with excellent
arguments to all his objections. She showed him that with age is
discretion, with ugliness security from rivals, and that all true
gentility depends, not upon the accident of birth, but upon the
character of the individual.

Sir Gawain made no reply; but, turning his eyes on his bride, what
was his amazement to perceive that she wore no longer the unseemly
aspect that had so distressed him. She then told him that the form
she had worn was not her true form, but a disguise imposed upon
her by a wicked enchanter, and that she was condemned to wear it
until two things should happen: one, that she should obtain some
young and gallant knight to be her husband. This having been done,
one-half of the charm was removed. She was now at liberty to wear
her true form for half the time, and she bade him choose whether
he would have her fair by day, and ugly by night, or the reverse.
Sir Gawain would fain have had her look her best by night, when he
alone would see her, and show her repulsive visage, if at all, to
others. But she reminded him how much more pleasant it would be to
her to wear her best looks in the throng of knights and ladies by
day. Sir Gawain yielded, and gave up his will to hers. This alone
was wanting to dissolve the charm. The lovely lady now with joy
assured him that she should change no more, but as she now was, so
would she remain by night as well as by day.

"Sweet blushes stayned her rud-red cheek,
Her eyen were black as sloe,
The ripening cherrye swelled her lippe,
And all her neck was snow.
Sir Gawain kist that ladye faire
Lying upon the sheete,
And swore, as he was a true knight,
The spice was never so swete."

The dissolution of the charm which had held the lady also released
her brother, the "grim baron," for he too had been implicated in
it. He ceased to be a churlish oppressor, and became a gallant and
generous knight as any at Arthur's court.

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