Tristram and Isolde

Tristram and Isolde trĭsˈtrəm, ĭsōlˈdə, ĭzōlˈ– [key], medieval romance. The earliest extant version (incomplete) was written (c.1185) by Thomas of Britain in Anglo-Norman French verse. About 1210, Gottfried von Strassburg wrote in German verse a version based on that of Thomas. The story, originally independent of the Arthurian legend, was later incorporated with it. In the 15th cent. Sir Thomas Malory included Tristram and Isolde in his Morte d' Arthur. The story is mainly Irish in origin, with details from other sources. Although the many versions of the story naturally differ, the basic plot is much the same in all of them. Sir Tristram is sent to Ireland to bring Isolde the Fair back to Cornwall to be the bride of his uncle, King Mark. A potion that Tristram and Isolde unwittingly swallow binds them in eternal love. According to most versions of the story, after many trysts the lovers become estranged, and Tristram marries another Isolde, Isolde of the White Hands. Later, dying of a battle wound, Tristram sends for Isolde the Fair. Deceived into believing she is not coming, Tristram dies of despair, and Isolde, on finding her lover dead, dies of grief beside him. The names of the two chief characters appear in various forms, such as Tristran, Tristrem, or Tristan and Isolt, Yseult, or Iseult. Modern versions of the story include Matthew Arnold, Tristram and Iseult; A. C. Swinburne, Tristram of Lyonesse; Joseph Bédier, Tristan and Iseult; and E. A. Robinson, Tristram. Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde is based on the version of Gottfried von Strassburg. For translation of the version by Thomas of Britain, see R. S. Loomis, The Romance of Tristram & Ysolt (rev. ed. 1951); for translation of the version by Gottfried von Strassburg, see A. T. Hatto, Tristan (1960).

See W. T. H. Jackson, Anatomy of Love: A Study of the Tristan of Gottfried von Strassburg (1971).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: English Literature to 1499