So what is this theme that connects the Middle English Breton lais with the romance of Ipomadon? At first sight it could be argued that it must be the theme already mentioned, which runs through many other stories in this volume as well. Just as a goddess stands with her feet on the Earth and her head in the heavens in Chaucer's The House of Fame, so the young Ipomadon fixes his allegiance to a lady who has acquired the nickname 'The Proud', and he spends the entire romance trying to elevate himself high enough to feel that he has earned her love; in the same way that Lancelot spends almost the entire Old French romance known as the pre-cyclic Lancelot in a similar quest to earn the love of Queen Guinevere. The maiden Emaré has the courage to face certain death rather than let her father defile her, and through her suffering and endurance she brings about a happy conclusion to her story. Sir Degaré's mother provides a magical way of rediscovering her lost child. Both Guigemar and the Fair Unknown release an enchanted woman from unjust captivity and bring her back into the world again.
The exception to this is the Middle English Breton lai Sir Gowther, which exposes no goddess or heroine but clearly shows a theme which links all of these Middle English Breton lais with the romance Ipomadon. Sir Gowther is the offspring of a fiend and when at last he seeks redemption from the Pope for all the dreadful things that he has done, he embarks upon a strange series of disguises which involve him sitting beneath an emperor's dining table with the dogs and fighting incogneto as a black knight, a red knight and then a white knight, before his true identity is revealed to the emperor. Sir Degare has his true identity concealed throughout much of his tale and even finds himself in danger of marrying his own mother before a similar trick to that used in Guigemar saves the day. And if the lai of Sir Degare carries hints of the Ancient Greek myth of Oedipus, then Sir Orfeo is clearly Sir Orpheus, and when he returns from the Otherworld with his wife Heurodis, nobody recognises him. Just as the maiden Emaré is sent across the sea in a rudderless boat and takes on a new identity when she arrives on a distant shore, and as Constance returns to Rome after many years and takes lodgings with her own aunt as a stranger, completely unrecognised by her.
It has been proposed that the order of Sir Gowther's divinely acquired armour, from black to red to white, designates a transition to goodness from evil. But the same method of disguise is used in Ipomadon, a twelfth century story, and the order here is from white to red to black. Ipomadon fights at a tournament as a white knight, then, like Lancelot, he changes his armour and fights as an invincible red knight, and finally as an unconquererable black knight. Later in the romance he assumes the identity of a foolish knight, again like Lancelot, and finally he even assumes the identity of his greatest rival, whom he has just defeated in battle. So the theme linking all these Breton lais and the romance Ipomadon is disguise, or the concealment of identity, or the exchange of identity.