A Structural Analysis of “Sir Gawain and Madame Ragnelle” “Sir Gawain and Madame Ragnelle” is a tale wherein King Arthur and his nephew, Sir Gawain, hunt for the truth of what women truly want to answer the riddle of the Black Knight. The two of them searched all throughout England for the answer, so that King Arthur may be spared of his life, but none of the answers they obtained seemed to be the right one. Madame Ragnelle was described as a hideous woman with a repulsing odor, but she was the one who had the answer to Gromer’s riddle and would only give it to them in exchange for Sir Gawain’s hand in marriage.
Later in the story, it was known that Madame Ragnelle was actually under a curse cast by her sister and the Black Knight and the only way to break that curse, and set her true-self free, was for her to find a knight who would give her the power to make her own choice. The binary oppositions of liberation and confinement, and the character archetypes of the loathly woman and the chivalrous knight, establishes the theme of transformation as seen through the curse brought upon Madame Ragnelle by her sister, Lady Modren, and Gromer, and how Sir Gawain was able to free her by breaking this spell in “Sir Gawain and Madame Ragnelle”.
Sir Gawain is a chivalrous knight because he is loyal, courageous, courteous, and honorable. He wanted to be by King Arthur’s side to help him when he was going to travel with Lady Modren to the castle of the Black Knight. He challenged Gromer to fight him with his sword even though he was afraid. He was honorable because he married (the ugly) Madame Ragnelle to fulfill the agreement between her and King Arthur. Everyone pitied him because he had to marry someone so repulsing as Madame Ragnelle. A loathly woman is a hideous lady who demands that a knight kiss or marry her in her hideous form only to have her become beautiful.
Madame Ragnelle is the loathly woman in the tale. The threat of King Arthur’s death can only be avoided if the beloved Sir Gawain marries the ugly hag. He agrees in order to save the king’s life and so Madame Ragnelle tells King Arthur the answer to the riddle: what women desire most is sovereignty, the ability to rule over themselves. Lady Modren and Gromer cast a spell that bound Madame Ragnelle to the hideous form that everyone sees her to be. This is the reason that the theme of the story of “Sir Gawain and Madame Ragnelle” is the theme of transformation.
Madame Ragnelle is confined/restrained in her hideous form and her true-self cannot be set free unless a knight gives her what she truly wants (what every women desire). The newlywed couple goes to their chamber after their wedding and this is when Madame Ragnelle asks Sir Gawain to kiss her. He does so and because of this, Madame Ragnelle shifts to her true form. She tells Sir Gawain: “And now I have one more request to make of you. I cannot always keep this form in which you see me. Do you wish me to be my true self when we are alone in our chambers or when we are among people?
Sir Gawain tells her that he will accept whatever she chooses. This makes Madame Ragnelle happy because she has found a knight that gave her sovereignty over herself therefore freeing/liberating her from the curse that bound/confined her to her hideous form. Sir Gawain thus transformed the loathly lady; although he was told this halfway, she could at his choice be beautiful by day and hideous by night, or vice-versa, he told that he would choose what she preferred, which broke the spell entirely.
* http://www. timelessmyths. com/arthurian/gawain. html#Ragnell * http://www. maryjones. us/jce/loathlylady. html