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The loathly lady (Welsh : dynes gas, Motif D732 in Stith Thompson's motif index), is a tale type commonly used in medieval literature, most famously in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Wife of Bath's Tale . The motif is that of a woman who appears unattractive (ugly, loathly) but undergoes a transformation upon being approached by a man in spite of her unattractiveness, becoming extremely desirable. It is then revealed that her ugliness was the result of a curse which was broken by the hero's action.
The loathly lady can be found in The Adventures of the Sons of Eochaid Mugmedon , in which Niall of the Nine Hostages proves himself the rightful High King of Ireland by embracing her, because she turns out to personify the sovereignty of the territory (and is therefore sometimes referred in scholarship as a 'sovereignty goddess'). The motif can also be found in stories of the earlier high kings Lugaid Loígde and Conn of the Hundred Battles.
In the Fenian Cycle of Irish mythology, Diarmuid Ua Duibhne was one of the most famous members of the Fianna. One freezing winter's night, the Loathly Lady brazenly entered the Fianna lodge, where the warriors had just gone to bed after a hunting expedition. Drenched to the bone, her sodden hair was snarled and knotted. Desperate for warmth and shelter, she knelt beside each warrior and demanded a blanket, beginning with their leader Fionn. Despite her rants and temper tantrums, the tired men only rolled over and ignored her in the hope that she would leave. Only young Diarmuid, whose bed was nearest to the fireplace, took pity on the wretched woman, giving her his bed and blanket. The Loathly Lady noticed Diarmuid's love spot and said that she had wandered the world alone for 7 years. Diarmuid reassured her and told her she could sleep all night and that he would protect her. Towards dawn, he became aware that she had become a beautiful young woman.
The next day, the Loathly Lady rewarded Diarmuid's kindness by offering him his greatest wish—a house overlooking the sea. Overjoyed, Diarmuid asked the woman to live with him. She agreed on one condition: He must promise never to mention how ugly she looked on the night they met. After 3 days together, Diarmuid grew restless. The Loathly Lady offered to watch his greyhound and her new pups while he went hunting. On three separate occasions, Diarmuid's friends, envious of his good luck, visited the lady and asked for one of the new pups. Each time, she honoured the request. Each time, Diarmuid was angry and asked her how she could repay him so meanly when he overlooked her ugliness the first night they met. On the third mention of that which he had promised never to speak of, the Loathly Lady and the house disappeared, and his beloved greyhound died.
Realizing that his ungratefulness has caused him to lose everything he valued, Diarmuid set out to find his lady. He used an enchanted ship to cross a stormy sea. Arriving in the Otherworld, he searched for the lady through green meadows filled with brightly coloured horses and silver trees. Three times he spied a drop of ruby-red blood and gathered each drop into his handkerchief. When a stranger revealed that the King's gravely ill daughter had just returned after 7 years, Diarmuid realised it must be his lady. Rushing to her side, he discovered she was dying. The 3 drops of blood Diarmuid collected were from her heart, spilled each time she thought of Diarmuid. The only cure was a cup of healing water from the Plain of Wonder, guarded by a jealous king and his army. Diarmuid vowed to bring back the cup.
His quest for the healing cup nearly ended at an impassable river. Diarmuid was stumped until the Red Man of All Knowledge, who had red hair and eyes like glowing coals, helped him cross the river and then guided him to the king of the healing cup's castle. Once there, Diarmuid issued a challenge and in response the king first sent out one thousand six hundred fighting men, then one thousand eight hundred. Diarmuid single-handedly slew them all.Impressed, the king gave him the cup of healing. On the return trip, the Red Man advised Diarmuid on how to heal his lady. He also warned the young hero that when her sickness ended, Diarmuid's love for her would end as well. Diarmuid refused to believe the prophecy, but indeed, it came true. The lady sadly understood that Diarmuid's love for her had died. She couldn't live in his world any more than he could live in hers. Diarmuid boarded an enchanted ship to return to the Fianna, where he was greeted by his friends and his greyhound, which the lady had returned to life as her final gift to him.
In her capacity as a quest-bringer, the loathly lady can be found in the literature of the Holy Grail, including Chrétien de Troyes' Perceval, the Story of the Grail , Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival , and the Welsh Romance Peredur, son of Efrawg associated with the Mabinogion .
The best known treatment is in the Wife of Bath's Tale, in which a knight, told that he can choose whether his bride is to be ugly yet faithful, or beautiful yet false, frees the lady from the form entirely by allowing her to choose for herself. A variation on this story is attached to Sir Gawain in the related romances The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle and The Marriage of Sir Gawain .
Another version of the motif is the Child ballad "King Henry." In this ballad, the king must appease the loathly lady as she demands increasing tribute from him. The next morning, he is surprised as she transforms into a beautiful woman.
The loathly lady also appears in the Old Norse Hrólfr Kraki's saga where Hróarr's brother Helgi was visited one Yule by an ugly being while he was in his hunting house. No person in the entire kingdom allowed the being to enter the house, except Helgi. Later, the thing asked to sleep in his bed. Unwillingly he agreed, and as the thing got into the bed, it turned into an elvish woman, who was clad in silk and who was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He raped her, and made her pregnant with a daughter named Skuld. Helgi forgot the woman and a couple of days after the date had passed, he was visited by the woman, who had Skuld in her arms. The daughter would later marry Hjörvarðr, Hrólfr Kraki's killer. This tradition is also present in the Northumbrian tale The Laidly Worm of Spindleston Heugh. Similar to this tale, is that of Hjálmþés saga ok Ölvis.
The tale told by The Wife of Bath in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales is one of the most prominent examples of the loathly lady motif. The story begins during the rule of King Arthur over the Isle of Britain. It was a time when the people of the Isle of Britain were terrorized by friars who raped women. Instead of getting the women pregnant like the incubus did in the past, the Friars solely brought shame upon them without impregnating them. The plot of the story begins when a Knight of King Arthur's court rapes a young woman when he is overpowered by his lust for her. The King and his court then come to the conclusion that decapitation is a punishment fit for the crime at hand, however the decision is intercepted by the Queen and women of the court before it can be executed. The women persuade the King to grant him another chance on one condition. They propose that if the Knight can find what women desire most from their partners and report it back to them in time, then the Knight will keep his head. King Arthur then proceeds to accept the women's punishment and grants the knight this second chance. The Knight quickly seizes this opportunity and sets out on a journey that becomes more difficult than he first anticipated. Early in his quest the Knight comes to realize that each woman he questions seems to give him a different answer than the last. As the Knight's time begins to run out, he comes across a group of young women dancing and sets out to question them as well. But as the Knight draws near, to his dismay, the group vanishes and turns into a "loathly" old woman (a hag), who offers to help him with his dilemma. The old woman joins the Knight on his quest back and aids him in giving the answer to the women of the court. Together, the Knight and the Loathly Lady tell the women of the court that women desire sovereignty the most in their love life: women want to be treated as equal partners in their love relationships. The Wife of Bath continues with her tale and says that the loathly woman asks the knight to marry her in return for helping him. The knight submits to the hag's request although he pleads for her to take his material wealth instead. They marry and consummate the marriage that very night. When the old woman realizes how unhappy the Knight is she asks him why he is so sorrowful and he tells her that he is unhappy to have married such an unattractive wife. The wife responds to this comment by giving the Knight a choice: either he can have an old, unattractive, yet loyal wife or a young and beautiful wife that will be unfaithful to him. The knight decides to let his wife choose, and she transforms instead into a wife both beautiful and loyal, because he gave her the sovereignty to choose.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a late 14th-century Middle English chivalric romance. It is one of the best known Arthurian stories, with its plot combining two types of folk motifs, the beheading game and the exchange of winnings. Written in stanzas of alliterative verse, each of which ends in a rhyming bob and wheel, it draws on Welsh, Irish and English stories, as well as the French chivalric tradition. It is an important example of a chivalric romance, which typically involves a hero who goes on a quest which tests his prowess. It remains popular in modern English renderings from J. R. R. Tolkien, Simon Armitage and others, as well as through film and stage adaptations.
Diarmuid Ua Duibhne or Diarmid O'Dyna, was a demigod, son of Donn and one of the Fianna in the Fenian Cycle of Irish mythology. He is best known as the lover of Gráinne, the intended wife of Fianna leader Fionn mac Cumhaill in the legend The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne. Among his sons were Donnchadh, Iollann, Ruchladh and Ioruad.
Gawain, also known as Gawaine or Gauwaine, among various other forms and spellings, is King Arthur's nephew and a Knight of the Round Table in the Arthurian legend. Under the name Gwalchmei, he is introduced very early in the legend's literature, being mentioned in some of the earliest Welsh Arthurian sources. As Gawain, he appears in Latin, French, English, Dutch, German, Spanish and Italian texts, notably as the protagonist of the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Other tales of Gawain include Historia Regum Britanniae, Roman de Brut, De Ortu Waluuanii, Diu Crône, The Awntyrs off Arthure, Ywain and Gawain, Golagros and Gawane, L'âtre périlleux, Le Chevalier à l'épée, and The Weddynge of Syr Gawen and Dame Ragnell, as well as the works of Chrétien de Troyes and the prose cycle Lancelot-Grail.
Morgan le Fay, alternatively known as Morgan[n]a, Morgain[a/e], Morg[a]ne, Morgant[e], Morge[i]n, and Morgue[in] among other names and spellings, is a powerful enchantress in the Arthurian legend. Early appearances of Morgan do not elaborate her character beyond her role as a goddess, a fay, a witch, or a sorceress, generally benevolent and related to King Arthur as his magical saviour and protector. Her prominence increased over time, as did her moral ambivalence, and in some texts there is an evolutionary transformation of her to an antagonist, particularly as portrayed in cyclical prose such as the Lancelot-Grail and the Post-Vulgate Cycle. A significant aspect in many of Morgan's medieval and later iterations is the unpredictable duality of her nature, with potential for both good and evil.
The Wife of Bath's Tale is among the best-known of Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. It provides insight into the role of women in the Late Middle Ages and was probably of interest to Chaucer himself, for the character is one of his most developed ones, with her Prologue twice as long as her Tale. He also goes so far as to describe two sets of clothing for her in his General Prologue. She holds her own among the bickering pilgrims, and evidence in the manuscripts suggests that although she was first assigned a different, plainer tale—perhaps the one told by the Shipman—she received her present tale as her significance increased. She calls herself both Alyson and Alys in the prologue, but to confuse matters these are also the names of her 'gossib', whom she mentions several times, as well as many female characters throughout The Canterbury Tales.
The Queen of Orkney, today best known as Morgause and also known as Morgawse and other spellings and names, is a character in later Arthurian traditions. In some versions of the legend, including the seminal text Le Morte d'Arthur, she is the mother of Gawain and Mordred, both key players in the story of King Arthur and his downfall. Mordred is the offspring of Arthur's inadvertent incest with Morgause, the king's estranged half-sister. She is furthermore a sister of Morgan le Fay and the wife of King Lot of Orkney, as well as the mother of Gareth, Agravain, and Gaheris, the last of whom murders her.
"The Squire's Tale" is a tale in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. It is unfinished, perhaps deliberately, and comes first in group F, followed by the Franklin's interruption, prologue and tale. The Squire is the Knight's son, a novice warrior and lover with more enthusiasm than experience. His tale is an epic romance, which, if completed, would probably have been longer than rest of the Tales combined. It contains many literary allusions and a great deal of vivid description.
The Green Knight is a character from the 14th-century Arthurian poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the related medieval work The Greene Knight. His true name is revealed to be Bertilak de Hautdesert in Sir Gawain, while The Greene Knight names him "Bredbeddle". The Green Knight later features as one of Arthur's greatest champions in the fragmentary ballad "King Arthur and King Cornwall", again with the name "Bredbeddle". In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Bertilak is transformed into the Green Knight by Morgan le Fay, a traditional adversary of King Arthur, in order to test his court. In The Greene Knight he is transformed by a different woman for the same purpose. In both stories he sends his wife to seduce Gawain as a further test. "King Arthur and King Cornwall" portrays him as an exorcist and one of the most powerful knights of Arthur's court.
Sir Agravain is a Knight of the Round Table in Arthurian legend, whose first known appearance is in the works of Chrétien de Troyes. He is the second eldest son of King Lot of Orkney with one of King Arthur's sisters known as Anna or Morgause, thus nephew of King Arthur, and brother to Sir Gawain, Gaheris, and Gareth, as well as half-brother to Mordred. Agravain secretly makes attempts on the life of his hated brother Gaheris since the Vulgate Cycle, participates in the slayings of Lamorak and Palamedes in the Post-Vulgate Cycle, and murders Dinadan in the Prose Tristan. In the French prose cycle tradition included in Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, together with Mordred, he then plays a leading role by exposing his aunt Guinevere's affair with Lancelot, which leads to his death at the hands of Lancelot.
Perceval, the Story of the Grail is the unfinished fifth verse romance by Chrétien de Troyes, written by him in Old French in the late 12th century. Later authors added 54,000 more lines in what are known collectively as the Four Continuations, as well as other related texts. Perceval is the earliest recorded account of what was to become the Quest for the Holy Grail but describes only a golden grail in the central scene, does not call it "holy" and treats a lance, appearing at the same time, as equally significant.
Sir Ywain, also known as Yvain, Owain, Uwain(e), Ewaine, Iwain, Iwein, etc., is a knight of the Round Table in Arthurian legend, wherein he is often the son of King Urien of Gorre and the sorceress Morgan le Fay. The historical Owain mab Urien, on whom the literary character is based, was the king of Rheged in Great Britain during the late 6th century.
"The Marriage of Sir Gawain" is an English Arthurian ballad, collected as Child Ballad 31. Found in the Percy Folio, it is a fragmented account of the story of Sir Gawain and the loathly lady, which has been preserved in fuller form in the medieval poem The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle. The loathly lady episode itself dates at least back to Geoffrey Chaucer's "Wife of Bath's Tale" from The Canterbury Tales. Unlike most of the Child Ballads, but like the Arthurian "King Arthur and King Cornwall" and "The Boy and the Mantle", "The Marriage of Sir Gawain" is not a folk ballad but a song for professional minstrels.
The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle is a 15th-century English poem, one of several versions of the "loathly lady" story popular during the Middle Ages. An earlier version of the story appears as "The Wyfe of Bayths Tale" in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, and the later ballad "The Marriage of Sir Gawain" is essentially a retelling, though its relationship to the medieval poem is uncertain. The author's name is not known, but similarities to Le Morte d'Arthur have led to the suggestion that the poem may have been written by Sir Thomas Malory.
The Daughter Of King Under-Waves is a Scottish fairy tale collected by John Francis Campbell in Popular Tales of the West Highlands. He listed as his source Roderick MacLean, a tailor of Ken Tangval, Barra, who reported hearing it from old men in South Uist, including Angus Macintyre, Bornish, who was about eighty. The text was written by H. MacLean, 1860.
Sir Eglamour of Artois is a Middle English verse romance that was written sometime around 1350. It is a narrative poem of about 1300 lines, a tail-rhyme romance that was quite popular in its day, judging from the number of copies that have survived – four manuscripts from the 15th century or earlier and a manuscript and five printed editions from the 16th century. The poem tells a story that is constructed from a large number of elements found in other medieval romances and modern scholarly opinion has been critical of it because of this, describing it as unimaginative and of poor quality. Medieval romance as a genre, however, concerns the reworking of "the archetypal images of romance" and if this poem is viewed from a 15th-century perspective as well as from a modern standpoint – and it was obviously once very popular, even being adapted into a play in 1444 – one might find a "romance [that] is carefully structured, the action highly unified, the narration lively."
Sir Perceval of Galles is a Middle English Arthurian verse romance whose protagonist, Sir Perceval (Percival), first appeared in medieval literature in Chrétien de Troyes' final poem, the 12th-century Old French Conte del Graal, well over one hundred years before the composition of this work. Sir Perceval of Galles was probably written in the northeast Midlands of England in the early 14th century, and tells a markedly different story to either Chretien's tale or to Robert de Boron's early 13th-century Perceval. Told with a comic liveliness, it omits any mention of a graal or a Grail.
The rash promise is a common motif in medieval and folk literature, especially fairy tales. It was also termed a blind promise or rash boon. It is classified as Aarne-Thompson M223 and likely has an Oriental origin.
The Story of King Arthur and His Knights is a 1903 children's novel by the American illustrator and writer Howard Pyle. The book contains a compilation of various stories, adapted by Pyle, regarding the legendary King Arthur of Britain and select Knights of the Round Table. Pyle's novel begins with Arthur in his youth and continues through numerous tales of bravery, romance, battle, and knighthood.
Sovereignty goddess is a scholarly term, almost exclusively used in Celtic studies. The term denotes a goddess who, personifying a territory, confers sovereignty upon a king by marrying or having sex with him. Some narratives of this type correspond to folk-tale motif D732, the Loathly Lady, in Stith Thompson's Motif-Index. This trope has been identified as 'one of the most well-known and often studied thematic elements of Celtic myth'. It has also, however, been criticised in recent research for leading to "an attempt to prove that every strong female character in medieval Welsh and Irish tales is a souvenir of a Celtic sovereignty goddess".
The Land of Maidens is a motif in Irish mythology and medieval literature, especially in the chivalric romance genre. The latter often also features a castle instead of an island, sometimes known as the Castle of Maidens.