Sir Thomas Malory and the Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell Reconsidered
Norris, Ralph, Arthuriana
Malory's Morte Darthur and the anonymous The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell have several sources in common and make similar use of those sources. This information supports P.J.C. Field's conclusion that Malory is also the author of The Wedding. (RN)
Most readers of Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur and the anonymous Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell will feel that their obvious differences overwhelm their similarities. Although they are both fifteenthcentury Middle English Arthurian romances,1 they are disparate in terms of tone, genre, and, at least seemingly, characterization. The Morte Darthur is a high tragedy that treats its sources with respect, while the Wedding is a low comedy whose relationship to its sources has seemed difficult to justify without coming to the conclusion that it represents 'a deliberate intention on the part of the author to subvert the genre by use of allusion, hyperbole, and frustrated expectation.'2
Given this significant disparity, the suggestion of a senior scholar that the same author wrote both works is bound to be surprising, at least initially. P.J.C. Field has argued that this theory is the best explanation for the elements common to the Wedding and to the Morte Darthur.3 Although Field's conclusion is routinely mentioned in studies of the Wedding,4 his arguments have yet to convince the general academic community.5 Despite understandable skepticism, however, Field's case is stronger than is often acknowledged, and ongoing work on the sources of both the Morte Darthur and the Wedding since the publication of Field's article has strengthened the case still further.
Field's most powerful argument is that because the two works are alone in having a character called by the extraordinary name of Gromer Somer Joure they must be related in some way. Further, because Gromer Somer Joure appears only once in the whole of the Morte Darthur, a work of roughly 340,000 words,6 and is there merely as a name in a list of knights associated with Sir Gawain's family but is integral to the story of the Wedding, the Wedding is more likely to be the donor and the Morte Darthur the debtor.7
As Field argues, however, this conclusion is complicated by the fact that another similarity exists between the two texts. In passages made famous since the discovery of the Winchester Manuscript, Malory laments the fact that he is in prison and prays for release. For example, the explicit to 'The Tale of King Arthur' reads,
Here endyth this tale, as the Freynshe booke seyth, fro the maryage of kynge Uther unto kyng Arthure that regned aftir hym and ded many batayles. And this booke endyth whereas sir Lancelot and sir Trystrams com to courte. Who that woll make ony more lette hym seke other bookis of kyng Arthure or of sir Lancelot or sir Trystrams; for this was drawyn by a knyght presoner, sir Thomas Malleorré, that God sende hym good recover. (1.180.15-24)
The Wedding also ends with an appeal from its narrator for release from prison:
And Jhesu, as thou were borne of a virgyn,
Help hym oute of sorowe that this tale dyd devyne -
And that nowe in alle haste -
For he is besett with gaylours many,
That kepen hym full sewerly,
With wyles wrong and wraste.
Nowe God, as thou art veray Kyng royall,
Help hym oute of daunger that made this tale,
For therin he hath bene long.
And of greatt pety help thy servaunt -
For body and soull I yeld into thyne hand -
For paynes he hath strong.
Here endyth The Weddyng of
Syr Gawen and Dame Ragnell
For helpyng of Kyng Arthoure. (ll. 841-55)
Other explicits in the Morte Darthur also parallel the end of the Wedding: 'for hym that this wrote, that God send hym good delyveraunce sone and hastely' (1.363.19); 'Sir Thomas Malleoré, Knight. Jesu, ayede ly pur voutre bone mercy' (2.1154.19); and 'Jesu helpe hym [Malory] for Hys grete myght, as he is the servaunt of Jesu bothe day and nyght' (2. …