During Mary Leech's Why Dame Ragnell Had to Die she talks about how Dame Ragnell usurps Gawain's authority over her and the importance in the death of Ragnell. Dame Ragnell enters the piece as a hideous creature of both looks and manners, and is notable in that she is the only loathly lady to receive a name. Gawain in this tale is the perfect knight as he acts appropriately in every sense of the manner and for lack of a better term consistently does the right thing. The most important point of interest in this is that when Gawain chooses to make the just actions and the loathly lady is transformed into a beautiful woman she still holds the power in their relationship and in a way holds Gawain hostage. Gawain would rather stay with his beautiful wife than go questing in the name of his king essentially showing him as more of a house cat than a knight. This is uncharacteristic of Gawain as he is often portrayed as quite the knight doing all the knightly deeds including the wooing of maidens and since he is in a position where he will not go on adventures he cannot uphold his sense of honor and chivalry as a knight of the round table. Gawain being taken hostage by his affection for his wife is why she must die in order to restore the balance of power between man and woman. As the piece says this is a fine example of the flaws portrayed in the masculine culture of the time(228).
I’m still a bit torn on how to interpret Marie de France’s lai “Bisclavret.” It follows the expected form of the lai, depicting love as suffering for all parties involved, but it is also a very gendered tale in which male and female suffer due to gendered punishments. Are the punishments fair? Are they equal? What commentary on marriage and gender is being made in this text? Basically, the husband’s punishment (being turned semi-permanently into a werewolf) is inflicted upon him by his wife (and his wife’s new love interest) because he kept a secret from her. The secret—of his turning into a werewolf once a month, of course—was kept, however, in relatively good conscience; he was afraid of revealing this personal flaw to his wife and did not want to upset her. The wife’s punishment, later in the tale, is losing her nose (and bearing children with no noses), inflicted by the werewolf as punishment for keeping him from turning back into a human and abandoning him for another man. Both punishments affect physical appearance. Bisclavret’s unappealing appearance as a wolf, however, doesn’t do him much disservice; the king and knights still take him in and he enters into the homosocial bond that gives no value to appearance. He is valued and cared for just as much when he is a wolf as when he is a man. The wife’s change in appearance is different, though. Women’s appearances contribute greatly to their domestic lives (acceptance by the husband) and public lives (acceptance by female social circle), and the fact that her children were born without noses (and all of them female!) seems a far more serious punishment than that inflicted on Bisclavret. On one hand, I’d like to lay blame on the wife for such a harsh punishment toward her husband for keeping a rather harmless secret. On the other hand, the tale can be read as the wife’s inability to make choices regarding her love life without outside judgement and subsequent punishment. Is this a tale of warning for women who choose to leave their husbands more than it is a tale of warning for husbands not to keep secrets from their wives? Rather than being merely an amusing commentary on marriage, I feel like “Bisclavret” leans toward commentary on the acceptable and unacceptable behaviors of the wife in relation to her husband.