Medieval Arthurian Legend
The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle
16th century, Middle English, Bodleian Library, Oxford
'Ther is a byrd men calle an owlle, and yett a Lady I am.'
'There is a bird that men call an owl, and yet I am a lady!'
'It‘s a very curious line,' agreed Quintin, leafing through his copy of a sixteenth century Medieval text from the Bodleian Library in Oxford, looking for it. 'King Arthur gets jumped on in Inglewood Forest by an unfriendly and possibly supernatural knight who threatens to kill him in a year’s time if he can’t answer a nearly impossible question,' he murmured, flicking over the pages.
'Not an impossible question,' retorted Miranda.
'What do women most desire?'
'Power,' replied Miranda.
'Well, he finds that out in the end... here it is,' said Quintin,
Ye , Sir,' she sayd, 'ther is a byrd men calle an owlle, and yett a Lady I am. She has offered to tell King Arthur the answer to the question on which his life hangs if he will arrange for her to marry Sir Gawain, the King’s nephew.
‘She was as ugly a creature as ever man saw,’ continued Quintin, reading from a Modern English prose translation. 'King Arthur could hardly bear to look at her. Her nose was running with snot, her teeth were yellow and her eyes were large and round. Her mouth was wide, she had teeth overhanging her bottom lip and her cheeks stuck out like a woman’s hips. She had a long muscular neck, her hair was tangled in a mess against her scalp, she was a yard across at the shoulders and her breasts were so large and heavy that they alone were enough to weigh down a horse. Fully to describe the foulness of this lady is beyond a man's wit.'
'And in the end she turns into a beautiful young woman,' said Miranda. 'And Sir Gawain is very pleased that he's married her.'