"So, we lie. How did the nobles become noble in the first place? They took it! At a tip of the sword! I'll do it with a lance... A man can change his stars. I won't spend the rest of my life as nothing."
A character wishes to become a knight but cannot, either because of gender, social class, or some other limitation. Thus they either lie about being a knight, or set out to become one in secret, often using a helmet to conceal their true identity. The character's motivation for becoming a knight can vary: sometimes they seek to prove themselves, sometimes they wish to escape another fate, or perhaps they aspires to the ideal and romance of becoming a Knight in Shining Armor or Knight Errant. Often will be known by a descriptive title like "Black Knight" or similar, or may be using a suitably noble sounding alias. Generally the deceit can last a good while, whether in war or The Tourney.
The knight's identity may either be revealed, normally alongside An Aesop about prejudice, or remain a mystery and become some sort of legend that inspires the people. May also involve the character actually being knighted for real at the end for their heroism.
For this character to be the hero is a modern trope. In eras with actual knights, this character is very rare and a joke when he does appear, often a Miles Gloriosus, because nobility was a God-given right and the lower classes were supposed to accept their lot in life.
Two of these end up coming into A Knight's Tale. One is the classic struggling underdog, William Thatcher, the peasant who's masquerading as the knight Ulrich Von Lichtenstein, and the other is the royal in disguise, Sir Thomas Colville or Edward, the Black Prince, who just wants a chance to actually compete and earn something himself instead of being given everything because of his station.
In the 1954 film, The Black Knight, John, a blacksmith and swordsmith, is tutored at Camelot. As a commoner, he can't hope to win the hand of Lady Linet, daughter of the Earl of Yeoniland, so he creates a secret alternate identity as the Black Knight.
In the Robin Hood (2010) movie, Robin takes over the identity of dead knight Robert Loxley.
Kikuchiyo is a self-proclaimed samurai in Seven Samurai. He is a farmer's son, but tries to pass himself off as a noble with a forged birth certificate. At first the other samurai mock him as he tries to tag along with them, but he eventually proves his worth in the fight against the bandits. Interestingly, Kikuchiyo is played by Toshirō Mifune (director Akira Kurosawa's equivalent of what Robert de Niro is to Martin Scorsese) and tends to appear (alone) on posters and home video packaging for the film, making it seem like he's meant to be the protagonist.
In Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, the character Kikuchiyo played by Toshiro Mifune is this, since in caste-based feudal Japan, one has to be born into the Samurai class, and his manners and mid-film epic rant make it clear that he was born a peasant. At one point, he produces a family history scroll, to prove to the other Samurai that he is from a Samurai family, but it is obviously fake, bought, and/or stolen- since, according to it's timeline, he would therefore be thirteen years old.
Alanna in the first half of Song of the Lioness pretends to be a boy named Alan so that she can train for knighthood. After she earns her shield the lie becomes knows and she leaves in search of adventure.
In A Song of Ice and Fire Brienne of Tarth isn't allowed to be a knight because she's a woman, but she fights and acts like knights are supposed to act better than most of the real ones. This has gained her, on the whole, very little respect. It's also strongly implied that the precursor hero Dunk of the Dunk and Egg stories was never actually knighted by his master, given his evasive replies any time that issue come up. Like Brienne, he exhibited the knightly virtues more so than many actual knights (there's also some possible Generation Xerox, since there's a suggestion the Brienne may be descended from Dunk [[hottip:*: at one point, she has to choose an alternate coat of arms and uses that off of an old shield she had seen lying around her home. Based on the description of the arms, that would seem to have been Dunk's shield]]).
The Tourney at Harrenhal which sort of set in motion the events of the series has an example of this in "The Knight of the Laughing Tree". Howland Reed came up from the boonies and was mocked by several knights before being defended by Lyanna Stark. At the actual tourney, the Knight of the Laughing Tree showed up and trounced the knights who had mocked Reed. While Bran Stark interprets the story as suggesting that Reed fought under this persona, it's strongly implied that it was actually a disguised Lyanna Stark.
Ser Osmund Kettleblack, a cruel but ultimately cowardly scoundrel, is asked who knighted him and answers "Ser Robert... Stone", which is mostl likely a made-up Line-of-Sight Name.
Brienne of Tarth isn't allowed to be a knight because she's a woman, but she fights and acts like knights are supposed to act better than most of the real ones. This has gained her, on the whole, very little respect.
It's implied that Dunk, the hero of the "Dunk and Egg" short stories, was never actually knighted by his master. He claims that his master knighted him before he died, but he is repeatedly afflicted by unexplained guilt when the issue gets raised. Ironically, he might be an ancestor to Brienne, given that his arms appear in her father's keep.
Mystery Knights are tournament competitors who refuse to give their real names, making it ambiguous as to whether they're true knights or not. There are a few examples of people who aren't knights entering the lists as mystery knights, including Barristan Selmy when he was still a squire. There's some evidence that "The Knight of the Laughing Tree" at the Tourney at Harrenhal was actually a disguised Lyanna Stark.
Ser Osmund Kettleblack, claims he was knighted by "Ser Robert... Stone," which is about as generic and untraceable a name as John Smith.
Don Quixote de la Mancha who reads novels about Chivalry and sets out to revive chivalry as a self-proclaimed knight. This example is Played for Laughs (before the onset of Cerebus Syndrome) as in the time Don Quixote takes place, wandering knights no longer exist.
Bear in mind, however, that Don Quixote's status as a member of the landed gentry is not in question (he's an hidalgo); it's the whole "knight-in-shining-armor" thing that qualifies him.
Don Quixote de la Mancha who reads novels about Chivalry and sets out to revive chivalry as a self-proclaimed knight. Early in the book, he undergoes a "ceremony" where he's supposedly proclaimed as a knight. What he thought was a castle was actually a motel, so the ceremony had no value and he isn't a knight, but he believed it was real and he had actually become a knight.
Samurai Sentai Shinkenger and Power Rangers Samurai use samurai instead of knights, but the situation's the same. Where the Rangers came from long lineages of samurai, the Sixth Ranger is an old friend of the Red Ranger's; teaching himself to fight and building his own gear to fill a promise to help his buddy. The Rangers are reluctant to involve him in the fighting at first, but they soon accept his help.
Lancelot in Merlin. He isn't a noble, so he can't become a knight, but lies about it to enter the tournament. Uther finds out and only spares his life because he believes Lancelot killed the griffin. Later, Arthur knights him for real. Gwaine zig zags the trope: He is a noble but does not reveal that, so he can't be a knight and eventually gets exiled after trying to stop a couple of guys impersonating knights with magic (further examples of the trope). Later, he gets knighted like Lancelot did.
Arthur also hires a commoner to act as a knight and enter the jousting tournament. While the commoner, William, would show his face in between jousts it would be Arthur, with his face covered, who actually did the jousting. Arthur does this to show he can win a jousting tournament without any favoritism due to his station.
The House episode Knight Fall starts in a medieval reenactment community. A knight collapses in battle. While in the hospital William tells how he tries to live by the knight's code of honor.
Mazoga the Orc from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion says she's a knight, she just sort of decided she'll call herself that one day when her best friend was murdered - deciding she was a knight and taking an oath to avenge him. If she survives the two quests on which she accompanies you, she'll have a chance to become a real knight (as will you) when the local count is impressed by her and your honorable attitude.
Sterkenburg Cranach in the Arland trilogy of the Atelier series. He was an actual knight in Atelier Rorona, but between that game and Atelier Totori, Arland has changed from monarchy into a Republic, and disbanded the knights. He travelled the lands trying to find the disappeared former king, while keep calling himself a knight. He continues this in Atelier Meruru.
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