English 240  Tristan and Isolde

        This tale 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.

History of the Narrative:

1) Pre-Conquest--Earliest Brythonic Celtic versions in Scotland (: Drystan & Essylt vs. Drystan’s uncle March. No potion, no "Isolde of the White Hands," etc.

2) c. 1150, the "archetype" Tristan story with the love potion.

3) c. 1160-70, the "Tristram" of Thomas, for Henry II or Eleanor of Acquitaine [revised to emph. courtly manners, etc.]

4) c. 1190, the Norman French "Tristan" by Broul, and c.1170, German "Tristan" by Eilhart von Oberge.

5) Gottfried von Strasbourg’s Tristan, c. 1210, source for all later "Tristan" narratives.

Narrative descendents of Thomas' version:

_____Thomas' "Tristram"_______

Gottfried's Folie Tristan C12 Old Norse

Tristan Luite Tristan C12 Saga version no later descendents but still read in Iceland!

Chretien de Troyes'| Conte del Graal c.1210 

Prose Tristan C13, (Vulgate Cycle)

Sir Tristrem, c.1300 (Northern stanzaic ME)

Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte Darthur, also based on the Prose Tristan, 1469 MS./1485 print edition

Matthew Arnold, "Tristram and Iseult," 1852

Richard Wagner, Tristan und Isolde, 1857-59 (Ger. opera)

Tennyson, "The Last Tournament," 1871

Swinburne, Trystram of Lyonesse, 1882

Gottfried von Strassburg’s c. 1210 Tristan, Major Narrative Elements:

I. Birth and early life.

A. T’s father, Rivalin, and his mother, Blanchefleur’s tragic death in childbirth (his name)

B. T's service with his uncle, Mark, King of Cornwall, including duel with Morholt of Ireland, the poisoned wound caused by a splinter from Morholt’s sword, and his cure (disguised as "Tantris") by Isolde, Morholt’s neice.

C. Seeking a bride for Mark in Ireland, including the dragon, the false steward, Isolde’s discovery that the splinter in T’s wound matches the gap in her dead uncles sword, her confrontation of him in his bath, his trial.

II. Tristan and Isolde--first love

A. T&I mistakenly take the love potion I’s mother intended for I and King Mark; the wedding night and the maid, Brangane's substitution to conceal I’s lost virginity .

B. Plots against the lovers, and the lovers' allies, including Gandin's boon, Marjodoc the Steward, Mark's questioning of Isolde, Melot the dwarf and the lime tree, Isolde's ordeal of the hot iron, Petitcrieau, and Tristan's return to court.

III. Tristan and Isolde banished.

A. The "love idyll" in which T&I live in the forest in the Cave of Lovers.

B. The hunt and Mark's discovery of the lovers.

C. T & I return to court.

IV. Tristan and Isolde discovered.

A. Gottfried on women, surveillance of lovers and prohibition of the affair by jealous mate.

B. Isolde as Eve and the "Forbidden Fruit" of the garden leads to lovers' discovery by Mark.

C. T's pledge of loyalty and Isolde's implicit promise of suicide should T die.

D. T flees court.

V. Isolde of the White Hands—the "Other Woman"

A. T flees to Normandy, Isolde's lament.

B. The Duke of Arundel, Isolde of the White Hands, and her brother, Kaedin li frains introduced. T defeats Arundel's enemies and gains fame at court.

C. T becomes "attached" to Isolde of the White Hands, despairing of returning to Isolde.

-----------------Gottfried's version ends / later versions extend the plot-----------------------

D. T marries IWH.

VI. Isolde (of Cornwall & Ireland)

A. Cariado courts Isolde, reveals T's marriage to IWH—Isolde furious/grieving.

[B. T constructs statues of I & Brangvein--missing in MS., reconstructed by Bdier]; Thomas' "love question"—which was sadder, T married without love or I believing him faithless?

C. The "bold water," IWH's laughter, and Caerdin's offended pride.

D. Caerdin persuaded of Isolde's superior beauty when Tristan shows him the statues he has carved and Caerdin falls in love with Brangvein's image.

E. Tristan and Caerdin, now best of friends, go to Cornwall.

VII. Tristan & Caerdin in Cornwall

A. T & C meet Ysolt and Brangvein.

B. C woos B 3X; the charmed pillow; B accepts C's love.

C. T & C rumored to have fled Cariado & the spies; B quarrels with Y, tells Mark of the lovers, slanders Y.

D. T's "folie" or love madness; B's visit; T leaves again for YWH in Brittany.

E. T & C return in disguise; at tournament, they kill Cariado (revenge purges their shame).

VIII. The Poisoned Wound, Part 2

A. Tristan & Caerdin meet "Dwarf Tristran."

B. T wounded with poison spear.

C. C goes to Y for a cure for T

D. Y overhears the sail code—the ship will carry white sails on its return if Isolde has agreed to return to cure him and black sails if she refused (Thomas on women and love)

E. Caerdin prevails on Ysolde to come to Brittany for Tristan’s cure.

F. Storms & calm delay the ship; YWH lies to T re: the sail, telling him the ship wears black sails. Tristan dies. Isolde, arriving, is taken to his body and dies of heartbreak.