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Bakerloo Line

Overview

Disguise in literature and legend

'The number of examples seem almost endless,' said Quintin. 'Just take a look at Sir Thomas Malory's book about King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table. Written in the fifteenth century and printed by Caxton. I defy anyone to list all of the episodes where a knight assumes a disguise.'

'This program has had a good go,' replied Miranda.

'But it was constrained to include only a small number between stops,' said Quintin.

'Well, I think it makes the point, nonetheless. Knights in Malory's epic are disguising themselves all the time, wearing armour that identifies them as another knight, pretending to be someone else…'

'And all to what point?'

'Come on! Are you serious?' asked Miranda. 'Isn't it obvious? Just look where it all comes from. Go back to Chr├ętien de Troyes' Arthurian romances from the twelfth century. The Knight of the Cart for example. Lancelot and Gawain go off to rescue Queen Guinevere who has been taken to a land whose only access lies across a sword bridge and an underwater bridge. Could it be any plainer? Accessible only by a sword stroke or by drowning. Lancelot rescues her. But he cannot return because he now finds himself imprisoned. It is 'the kingdom from which no foreigner returns'. An afterlife from which no Christian man returns. But he is allowed to return for a tournament, as long as he takes on a disguise. For we are none of us strangers there really, I suppose. And that's where it all begins.

'Except that at broadly the same time,' she continued, 'in the second half of the twelfth century, an Anglo-Norman gentleman named Hue de Roteland is composing a story about a knight who fights as a white knight, a red knight and then a black knight, before pretending to be a foolish knight and then the very knight whom he has just defeated in battle. And in another of Chr├ętien de Troyes' tales, Sir Yvain is restored from destitution by a magic ointment only to become the Knight of the Lion whom even his wife and his best friend can no longer recognise. And a few decades later, Sir Lancelot is back, changing his appearance more times than a… well, I don't know what.'

'Than Odin,' suggested Quintin.

'More times than Odin?

'Yes. The Norse god Odin. Or Manannan. The Irish god Manannan. He used to go around in disguise. One story has him walking around in leaking shoes 'full of puddle water' from castle to castle, fortress to fortress, and at other times he would appear as a warrior. He would meet people crossing the sea on the way to the Land of Youth. Like Odin, he was a go-between, between this world and the next, a shape changer. A conveyer of souls like the Roman god Mercury, whom Julius Caesar identified as the principal Gaullish god.

'Well, there you are then,' said Miranda. 'That's where it all comes from. Lancelot takes on almost the same role as Manannan, or the Norse god Odin, in that early romance that sees him change his shield and his identity more times than I don't know what, while rescuing knights who are imprisoned in a Dolorous Castle. Sir Gawain even finds Lancelot's grave in this 'dolorous' castle; the grave of the White Knight. And by the end of the story, the White Knight, alias Lancelot, alive and well again, has assumed the identity of Galehot, the Lord of the Outer Isles.

'But at least he doesn't have to squeeze into a deerskin and pretend to be a deer,' said Quintin.

Miranda laughed. 'Or live as a werewolf,' she agreed.

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Take a quick tour

The Bakerloo Line passes through a succession of places in time and location where disguise is to be found in literature, legend or mythology. Click or tap on the circles and tunnel markers to dive deeper into the discoveries that Quintin and Miranda have made. Alternatively, click or tap on the large brown button for a quick journey through the summaries. Click or tap on any summary to dive deeper.

Disguise

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Medieval Romance

A Good Tale of Ipomadon

12th century, Anglo-Norman French, Hue de Rotelande | 15th century Middle English verse translation at Chetham's Library Manchester.

'Greet your lady for me,' said Ipomadon, 'and tell her that you have spoken to me when I was a white knight, then a red knight, and now a black.'

Medieval Romance

The Story of William and the Werewolf

12th century, Old French: 14th century Middle English alliterative translation, Library of King's College Cambridge.

They seemed more convincing as deer even than they had been before, as bears, the skins fitted them so perfectly.

Medieval Romance

Kyng Alisaunder

14th century Middle English, Bodleian Library, Auchinleck Manuscript, Library of Lincoln's Inn, London, based upon | 13th century, Anglo-Norman French, Roman de Toute Cheualerie by Thomas of Kent.

Alexander gave his robe to Ptolemy, sat Ptolemy on the throne and dressed himself in Ptolemy's clothes.

Medieval Romance

The Romance of Sir Bevis of Hampton

12th century Anglo-Norman Boeuve de Haumton | 14th century, Middle English: National Library of Scotland, Cambridge, Manchester, Naples.

'Tell me everything, my friend,' Bevis said.

The palmer replied: 'I have been looking these past seven years for a man whose name I shall tell you: Bevis is his name.'

Medieval Romance

The Romance of Sir Bevis of Hampton

12th century Anglo-Norman Boeuve de Haumton | 14th century, Middle English: National Library of Scotland, Cambridge, Manchester, Naples.

Sir Bevis changes clothes with a pilgrim, and assuming this disguise, speaks with his lifelong friend Josian when his turn comes. She does not recognise him at all.

Medieval Romance

The Romance of Eustache the Monk

13th century, Old French, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.

The collier sends the Count back after the man who has stolen his clothes, but by this time Eustache has exchanged his clothes again, with a potter.

Medieval Arthurian Legend

Old French pre-Vulgate Lancelot

13th century, Old French.

Lancelot achieves his release disguised as a Red Knight, in order to attend a tournament. The Red Knight is proclaimed the best knight of the encounter, but returns to his prison behind its glassy walls in the evening.

Medieval Arthurian Legend

The High Book of the Grail: Perlesvaus

13th century, Old French.

'Perlesvaus was the most mysterious knight in the world, disguising himself so often, so that when he was seen it was impossible to recognise him.'

Medieval Arthurian Legend

Chrétien de Troyes: The Knight of the Lion

12th century, Old French. Middle English translation, 14th century, British Library.

'Tell Sir Gawain that it was the Knight of the Lion who has rescued his nephews and that he knows me well, and I him, although he would not recognise me.'

Medieval Arthurian Legend

Chrétien de Troyes: The Knight of the Lion

12th century, Old French. Middle English translation, 14th century, British Library.

'We have not seen you before now, nor have we ever heard of you,' said the lady to her husband.

Medieval Arthurian Legend

Chrétien de Troyes: The Knight of the Lion

12th century, Old French. Middle English translation, 14th century, British Library.

It was ridiculous, that neither of the knights knew who the other was, when there was such great love between them.

Medieval Arthurian Legend

Thomas of Britain: Tristran

12th century, Anglo-Norman French.

Tristan leaves Cornwall, but returns once more, dressed in rags, so that no one should know him, or guess that he is Tristan.

Medieval Arthurian Legend

Chrétien de Troyes: The Knight of the Cart

12th century, Old French.

All at the tournament are intrigued by this unknown knight bearing a red shield. He rides off before anyone but the Queen has any inkling who he is.

Medieval Arthurian Legend

Sir Thomas Malory: Le Morte d'Arthur

15th century, late-Medieval English.

Merlin was so well disguised that King Arthur didn’t recognise him.

Medieval Arthurian Legend

Sir Thomas Malory: Le Morte d'Arthur

15th century, late-Medieval English.

When King Anguyshauns of Ireland saw Sir Gareth fight so well, he wondered who this knight could be, for he seemed to be armed in green, then blue, then in white, then in red and black…

Medieval Arthurian Legend

Sir Thomas Malory: Le Morte d'Arthur

15th century, late-Medieval English.

Sir Gareth performed such splendid deeds of arms that men wondered who the knight with the green shield could possibly be.

Medieval Arthurian Legend

Sir Thomas Malory: Le Morte d'Arthur

15th century, late-Medieval English.

Sir Dinadan would not engage Sir Lamorak in combat, but he told King Mark that Sir Lamorak was Sir Kay the Seneschal.

Medieval Arthurian Legend

Sir Thomas Malory: Le Morte d'Arthur

Sir Thomas Malory: Le Morte d'Arthur

Merlin appeared before King Arthur as a child of fourteen, departed and then returned again in the likeness of an old man of eighty years of age.

Middle English Breton lais

Sir Orfeo

14th century, Middle English: National Library of Scotland, British Library, Bodleian Library Oxford.

Sir Orfeo travelled back from the Otherworld until he came to his own city of Winchester. But when he got there nobody recognised him.

Middle English Breton lais

Sir Gowther

14th century, Middle English: British Library, Advocates Library of Scotland.

Only the Emperor’s daughter understood what was happening and knew who the black knight was.

Welsh mythology

Old Welsh tales and Old Welsh poetry

7th to 14th century Old Welsh poetry and prose in 13th to 15th century manuscripts, National Library of Wales, Cardiff, Bodleian Library, Oxford.

King Arthur told his men that Twrch Trwyth had once been a king, but had been turned into a wild boar for his sins.

Medieval Arthurian Legend

Thomas Chestre: The Fair Unknown

14th century, Middle English, British Museum, Lambeth Palace Library London, Bodleian Library Oxford, Biblioteca Nazionale Naples.

A young man arrives at King Arthur’s court not knowing his own name. King Arthur gives him the title 'The Fair Unknown'.

Medieval Arthurian Legend

Gottfried von Strassburg: Tristan

13th century, Middle High German.

Tristan set off once again for Ireland, but this time disguised as a Norman merchant.

Medieval Romance

The Romance of Sir Guy of Warwick

13th century, Anglo-Norman French, British Museum, Corpus Cristi College Cambridge: 14th and 15th century Middle English translations, National Library of Scotland, Bodleian Library Oxford, Cambridge University Library.

Sir Guy at last travels home to Warwick but conceals his identity from his wife. She does not recognise him.

Medieval Romance

The Romance of Sir Guy of Warwick

13th century, Anglo-Norman French, British Museum, Corpus Cristi College Cambridge: 14th and 15th century Middle English translations, National Library of Scotland, Bodleian Library Oxford, Cambridge University Library.

Sir Tierry has been looking for Sir Guy for nearly a year now but does not recognise his brother-in-arms when he finally meets with him. Sir Guy makes no attempt to reveal his true identity.

Medieval Romance

Generydes

14th century, Middle English: Trinity College, Cambridge.

The king of India remained in Thrace, his true identity unknown to anybody, and in due course he was elevated to an earldom and made the king's steward.

Irish Mythology

The Tuatha de Danaan

pre-12th century–present. Old Irish | Modern Irish, folklore.

"He struck himself with a Druid rod that put on him the shape of a pig of the herd, and he began rooting up the ground like the rest."

Irish Mythology

The Tuatha de Danaan: Midhir and Etain

pre-12th century–present. Old Irish | Modern Irish, folklore.

Ailell oversleeps. However, a man having the appearance of Ailell arrives at the trysting place.

Irish Mythology

The Tuatha de Danaan: Midhir and Etain

pre-12th century–present. Old Irish | Modern Irish, folklore.

Midhir rises up into the rafters holding Etain tightly, and all the king can see when he reaches the open air is a pair of swans flying away.

Irish Mythology

Tales of Fionn mac Cumhaill: Manannan

pre-12th century–present. Old Irish | Modern Irish, folklore.

Manannan once disguised himself, so they say, as an unruly menial and caused Diarmuid to be led down through the waters of a spring into an Otherworld.

Irish Mythology

Tales of Fionn mac Cumhaill: Oisin's Mother

pre-12th century–present. Old Irish | Modern Irish, folklore.

'I am the deer that followed you home this afternoon, for I knew that it was only in your stronghold that the magic could not reach.'

Medieval Icelandic Sagas

The Saga of the Volsungs

13th century, Old Norse, from much older oral tradition.

Sigurd and Gunnar exchanged shapes.

Medieval Icelandic Sagas

The saga of King Hrolf and his Champions

13th century, Old Norse.

Hroar and Helgi cross over water to an island where they spend some time in an underground room at Vifil’s farm and take on the names of two dogs: Hop and Ho.

Medieval Icelandic Sagas

The saga of King Hrolf and his Champions

13th century, Old Norse.

On the way they stay with Odin, who is disguised as a farmer.

English Poetry

William Blake

1757-1827, English poet, artist and engraver. London.

"In pain [man] sighs, in pain he labours in his universe, screaming in birds over the deep, and howling in the wolf over the slain, and moaning in the cattle… "

English Poetry

William Blake

1757-1827, English poet, artist and engraver. London.

The Book of THEL. "Ah! Thel is like a wat'ry bow, and like a parting cloud; like a reflection in a glass, like shadows in the water."

Scandinavian Mythology

The Poetic Edda

13th century, Old Norse, Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, Reykjavik.

'I am called Mask. I am called Wanderer, Warrior and Helm-wearer, Known and Third, Thund and Ud.'

Scandinavian Mythology

The Poetic Edda

13th century, Old Norse, Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, Reykjavik.

'I am the son of Odin,' called back Thor. 'Who are you?'

'My name is Harbard,' called Odin.

Medieval Romance Arthurian legend Breton lais Welsh mythology Medieval Romance Irish mythology WilliamBlake Icelandic saga Norse mythology Medieval Romance Medieval Romance Medieval Romance Medieval Romance Medieval Romance Medieval Romance Old French pre-Vulgate Lancelot The High Book of the Grail Chrétien de Troyes Chrétien de Troyes Chrétien de Troyes Thomas of Britain Chrétien de Troyes Sir Thomas Malory Sir Thomas Malory Sir Thomas Malory Sir Thomas Malory Sir Thomas Malory Midle English Breton Lai Middle English Breton Lai Welsh Poetry Arthurian legend Arthuruan Legend Medieval Romance Medieval Romance Medieval Romance Irish mythology Irish mythology Irish mythology Irish mythology Irish mythology Icelandic saga Icelandic saga Icelandic saga The Four Zoas The Book of Thel Odin Odin and Thor