Marie de France, "Chevrefoil"

        Here she goes again. The tale turns on Tristan’s carving his name on a hazelwood branch, but the tale’s title ("Chevrefoil" or "Gotelef") means parsley in English. Do you have any suggestions to solve the little puzzle with which she has tacitly challenged us?

        The Tristan and Isolde story is among the most famous romances in European history. It has been retold and embellished for about 1000 years. Its narrative core for all this time is the doomed love of Tristan for his lord’s lady, Isolde, and their tragic death because of their love. Isolde’s cure of Tristan’s poisoned wound, though he got the wound when killing her uncle, enters the story rather early, as does the love potion which they unwittingly drink together as Tristan brings Isolde back to Cornwall to marry his lord, King Mark. This sets up a symbolic representation of love as a kind of compulsion that both cures and kills, like a poison or a disease in its ferocity and mystery.  For a more complete description of the "Tristan and Isolde" cycle of poems and their development, click here.

Study Questions—

1) This shortest of Marie’s lais seems to be a fragment from the huge romance-version of Tristan’s story which was being formed roughly around the time Marie was writing. Why would she choose this tiny event for her audience, and how does its treatment relate to her other stories’ interests (esp. "Chaitivel")?

2) Marie again describes Tristan’s desire as uncontrollable and something that drives him to lose all caution. Does the necessity of passion’s domination seem the same as we encountered it in Greek literature, or does it seem different? Especially, does it affect men more than women based on the readings you’ve seen in Marie?