#30 Tristan and Iseult

December 02, 2018

#30 Tristan and Iseult

Tristan and Iseult is an influential tragic adulterous love story between the Cornish knight Tristan and Irish princess Iseult. It probably influenced the later story of Lancelot and Guinevere. Although retold many times the plot has remained the same since the earliest known fragments from a 12th century poem. This is the earliest version of the tale before later embellishments.

Morholt, brother of the Ireland’s Queen Iseult and uncle to her daughter, also called Iseult comes to Cornwall to collect tribute owed from King Mark. Cornish knight Tristan, nephew of Mark, challenges the warrior champion Morholt to battle on the remote Saint Samson's Isle (Caldey Island) to release Cornwall from the debt. Tristan strikes Morholt with his sword, leaving a piece of blade in his skull. However, a dying Morholt stabs Tristan with a poisoned spear before escaping to Ireland to die. Tristan also travels to Ireland to be healed by Princess Iseult. Her mother, however, uncovers his identity when she sees a chink in Tristan’s sword that matches the piece of metal that was in her brother Morholt’s head.

After he is healed, Tristan agrees to take Princess Iseult with him to Cornwall to marry King Mark. She takes a love potion along with her that she was given to ensure the King falls in eternal love with her. However, she is attracted to loyal knight Tristan and deliberately ensures that both she and Tristan take it.

Princess Iseult marries King Mark, but the pull of the potion makes them seek one another as lovers. When their adultery is discovered, Mark's advisors repeatedly endeavour to have the pair tried. Tristan and Iseult cover use trickery to hide their guilt. Tristan, King Mark, and Iseult all love each other. King Mark is mentor and adopted father to Tristan and Tristan honours, respects, and loves his uncle. King Mark is kind to Iseult and loves her as his wife.

However, each night, Mark, Tristan and Iseult have prophetic dreams. King Mark eventually learns about their affair and plans to catch them out. With evidence, Mark sentences Tristan to hanging and Iseult to be burned at the stake. On his way to execution, Tristan escapes with a miraculous leap from a chapel and rescues Iseult. They both escape into the forest and hide there for three days, but are eventually discovered by Mark. The three make their peace and Tristan agrees to return Iseult to Mark and leaves the country.

Tristan travels to Brittany, and finds love with Iseult of the White Hands, because of her name and her beauty. He marries her and finally the potion has found him a new love to replace that of Princess Iseult of Ireland.


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