Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




G. D. West




No serious investigation of the Vulgate Cycle has yet been undertaken to examine critically the relationship between appearances and reality with a view to understanding their function as literary devices and their implications for the structural unity of the cycle as a whole. Since aspects of appearances and reality are by no means consistent from the beginning of the Vulgate Cycle to the end, marked differences may be readily identified by the careful reader and from this, one may make at least some tentative conelusions concerning the authorship of this vast body of material.

In the Estoire, an essentially religious and didactic work, reality assumes the form of absolute truth which is equated with the Divinity, whereas illusion, most obviously arising in the dream, acquires the negative value attributed to the deception of Satan. Similarly, the Queste is essentially a religiously oriented, didactic work, but the dreams and visions which occur here are further complicated by the device of the search, which in this case centres upon Galahad. In the Merlin, appearances acquire the form of disguise, which then invariably becomes the means by which the essential truth or reality of a given situation is revealed. The large body of material contained within the Lancelot Proper shows an increasing complexity in the use of literary devices which are associated with appearances and reality: disguise, mistaken identity, characters incognito and the boon. These provide the initial impetus for the many complicated quests for Lancelot which follow and offer a thread of unity and coherence to the multitude of adventures which the Knights of the Round Table undertake. The Vulgate Cycle culminates in the very sophisticated, psychological approach of the Mort Artu. Here, subtle illusion in the form of human folly reveals a man, who is fully aware of the truth of his own situation but who chooses to close his eyes to it and accept instead an illusion. In so doing, he brings total ruin and destruction upon himself and his kingdom.

McMaster University Library

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