Medieval Arthurian Legend
Old French pre-Vulgate Lancelot
13th century, Old French.
again and againDisguiseagain and again
Sir Lancelot takes on thirteen different disguises between his initial presentation at King Arthur’s court and the disclosure of his name to the King near the end of this romance.
Sir Lancelot takes on thirteen different disguises between his initial presentation at King Arthur’s court and the disclosure of his name to the king near the end of the Old French pre-Vulgate Lancelot, a romance that was written before the great Lancelot-Grail or Vulgate Cycle was composed. He is armed in white by his foster mother, the Lady of the Lake, is given three white shields with one, two and three red bands on them by a damsel of the Lake, then he sports a red shield with a white band in order to conceal his identity, then a simple red shield, then a white shield with a black band, then a blackened shield with which he is captured by an idiot knight, prompting Queen Guinevere to remark of Lancelot, whom one feels she ought to recognise, but she doesn't, that this knight seems a little simple. He then goes off and defeats two giants, then kills the knight of a lady who, as a punishment, puts him into a crystal cell. From here he issues forth with a red shield given to him by this lady, and a year later with a complete suit of black arms, also provided by this lady. He fights for King Arthur, then changes sides and fights for King Arthur’s enemy, Sir Galehot, on two occasions wearing Galehot’s own armour. And only after all these shenanigans of avoidance does he reveal to the king who he really is.
Could it have something to do with the release of some of King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table who were imprisoned in a Dolorous Castle?
Near the beginning of the story, Sir Lancelot brought about the release of these knights whose graves he had seen in a cemetery within a Dolorous Castle – a cemetery in which his own grave had lain. Perhaps these knights were in a similar predicament to those who had been taken to a 'land from which no stranger returns', in Chrétien de Troyes' twelfth century romance The Knight of the Cart, a land whose only access was across a Sword bridge or an Underwater Bridge.
And having entered this Dolorous Castle and effected the release of these knights back into the world, is it significant that Sir Lancelot, like the European pagan gods Ullr, Odin and Manannan before him, now chooses to roam about King Arthur's realm in disguise?