Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
How we cite our quotes:
But very different in looks were these two ladies,
For where the young one was fresh, the other was withered;
Every part of that one was rosily aglow:
On that other, rough wrinkled cheeks hung in folds.
Many bright pearls adorned the kerchiefs of one,
Whose breast and white throat, uncovered and bare,
Shone more dazzling than snow new-fallen on hills.
The other wore a gorget over her neck,
Her swarthy chin wrapped in chalkwhite veils,
Her forehead enfolded in silk, muffled up everywhere.
(950 - 956)
The portrait of the two ladies in Bertilak’s court highlights the contrast between youth and age. The rosy freshness of the young woman indicates her youthful energy, while her exposed breast and throat announce generous fertility. By contrast, the older woman’s body is completely covered, symbolizing that the time for the ready availability of her body to men has long since ended.
[She] rose from her bed quickly and hastened there
In a charming mantle reaching to the ground,
That was richly lined with well-trimmed furs:
No modest coif on her head, but skilfully cut gems
Arranged about her hair-fret in clusters of twenty;
Her lovely face and throat displayed uncovered,
Her breast was exposed, and her shoulders bare.
(1735 - 1741)
The care Lady Bertilak invests in her appearance on the last day of her seduction attempt is much greater than on any other day. The richness of her clothing and, in particular, her exposed breast, throat, and shoulders, indicate that she is upping her game today. And indeed, the seduction attempt that follows is the most aggressive one yet.