Tristan Isolde Opera

Posted By admin On 12/01/22

In my experience, Wagner gets a different sort of audience from most opera. More men; more people who come along on their own. Verdians, Mozartians come to be enriched and entertained. Perfect Wagnerites come to find the meaning of life.

The new opera Tristan und Isolde was the height of modernity, as the succession of chords was determined more by chromaticism than by their harmonic function. The ‘Tristan chord’ put a bomb under traditional theory of harmony, as it were, and the orchestration was also extremely innovative. There are many versions of the mediaeval story of Tristan and Isolde, the most famous of which is probably the opera of the same name by Richard Wagner, which will be presented by Dutch National Opera in January 2018. Dawson wanted to do something with the magical story for a long time. In few words: Motivated by the love that bound him to Mathilda Wesendonck, Richard Wagner’s composition of Tristan und Isolde goes far beyond any simple operatic gesture. His libretto transcends the medieval legend in a metaphysical view of love with its tensions and pessimism.

I was once sitting behind the late Bernard Levin, a noted British journalist and essayist, during a performance of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, the final part of the Ring cycle, at Covent Garden. At the end of the marathon performance – all of the later Wagner operas are marathons – an excited American woman came up to Levin. “Mr Levin,” she said, “was it significant that Siegfried and Hagen [the villain of the opera] were both wearing green costumes?” She thought she had found the key to the Ring.

Levin pondered for a moment, then gave what I thought was a wonderfully deadpan reply. “No, I don’t think so,” he said. “Probably just some material left over from Don Giovanni.” He was gently trying to tell his interlocutor that the Ring was a work of art, not a puzzle which, if it could be unravelled, would explain everything.

Opera tristan and isolde youtube

He had a point, of course, but to the acolytes Wagner does feel as if he offers something different – a treatise on life rather than a musical experience. At the end of Tristan und Isolde, which opens at New York’s Metropolitan Opera on Monday, you really do feel as if you have witnessed something revelatory, perhaps even life-changing.

The remarkable Swedish soprano Nina Stemme is singing Isolde, which has become her signature role. I saw Stemme in the part three years ago in Houston and believe me, this will be worth skipping Clinton v Trump for. When Stemme sings the concluding Liebestod (literally love-death), you will – carried along on the waves of sound and emotion – believe what she is telling you. “How gently and quietly he smiles,” she sings over the body of the dead Tristan. “How fondly he opens his eyes. Do you see, friends? Do you not see?” You will see.

This is the climax of a four-hour journey in which Tristan and Isolde find their love for each other thwarted – Isolde is promised in marriage to boring old King Marke. Only in death can they be truly united. The Liebestod – and this is a horribly blokeish and archetypally Wagnerian idea – is a hymn to love and sex, and to the belief that you will never find them perfectly realised in the here and now. Love, sex, death: a holy – or unholy – trinity.

Tristan und Isolde marked a new beginning for Wagner – and indeed for opera. Written in the 1850s, at the same time as he was beginning the Ring, he was moving away from plot-driven romantic operas to meditations on the nature of existence itself. Under the influence of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (who taught him that man’s life on Earth was dominated by unfulfilled longing) and sexual yearning for the married Mathilde Wesendonck (which taught him much the same thing), he had gone all metaphysical, and his work would never be the same again.

“Life and death, the whole import and existence of the outer world, here hang on nothing but the inner movements of the soul,” wrote Wagner. Barry Millington, in The Sorcerer of Bayreuth, marvels at the way he takes a simple love affair – the standard fare of opera for centuries – and turns it into a philosophical disquisition. “Wagner’s opera transcends its scenario of a conventional love story to offer a profound meditation on the nature of the material world, on the metaphysics of subjectivity and on the mysteries of human existence itself,” writes Millington.

Following Schopenhauer, Wagner sees the exterior world as of no consequence. All that matters is the bond – spiritual and (meta)physical – between the two lovers. You could see this as hopelessly, destructively self-indulgent – Tristan and Isolde are the most solipsistic characters in opera – or as profound and moving.

Early reaction was divided: Clara Schumann thought the opera “the most repugnant thing I have ever seen or heard in all my life”, while Friedrich Nietzsche, who at that stage was a committed Wagnerian, called it “the real opus metaphysicum of all art … insatiable and sweet craving for the secrets of night and death … it is overpowering in its simple grandeur”.

Michael Tanner, a modern-day philosopher and opera critic, finds it wonderful but baffling. “It is a work of anti-civilisation,” he writes in his book on Wagner, “and its appeal, the violent and profound effect it has on us, is intimately bound up with that. Even if we don’t subscribe to the gospel of passion which it promulgates, we may still be stirred to the depths by a perfect manifestation … of subversiveness. Tristan has all the classical virtues, put to the most drastically non-classical ends. Its formal impeccableness is solely devoted to propagating the values of something that lies below the level at which form can get a grasp.”

As well as enlarging – or perhaps subverting – the subject matter of opera, Tristan und Isolde also marked a turning point in the history of music. The opening chord in the prelude, the so-called Tristan chord, is seen by some as the beginning of modern music, introducing chromaticism, dissonance and, according to the composer Arnold Schoenberg, even atonality.

“Tristan is the gateway to the rest of Wagner’s music – the drama of Götterdämmerung, the spiritual progress of Parsifal – but it’s also the solar plexus of the whole of 19th-century musical history,” says music critic Tom Service. “Tristan changed every composer who heard it, whether they loved it or loathed it, and the piece opened a Pandora’s box of technical and expressive possibility, of chromatic harmony and vividness of musical thought and feeling, that could never be closed again.” The future really did start here.

Tristan and Isolde by Herbert James Draper

Tristan and Iseult is a romance story, retold in numerous sources with as many variations since the 12th century. The story is a tragedy about the adulterous love between the Cornish knight Tristan (Tristram, etc.) and the Irish princess Iseult (Isolde, Yseult, etc.). The narrative predates and most likely influenced the Arthurian romance of Lancelot and Guinevere, and has had a substantial impact on Western art and literature. While the details of the story differ from one author to another, the overall plot structure remains much the same.

  • 1Narratives of the legend
  • 2Origins and analogues
  • 3Courtly and common branches of early Tristan literature
  • 4Later versions
  • 6Modern works

Narratives of the legend[edit]

Tristan and Isolde by Hughes Merle

The story and character of Tristan vary from author to author; even the spelling of his name varies a great deal, although 'Tristan' is the most popular spelling. Nevertheless, there are two main traditions of the Tristan legend. The early tradition comprised the French romances of Thomas of Britain and Béroul, two poets from the second half of the 12th century. Later traditions come from the vast Prose Tristan (c. 1240), which was markedly different from the earlier tales written by Thomas and Béroul.

Tristan & Isolde by John Duncan

After defeating the Irish knight Morholt, Tristan travels to Ireland to bring back the fair Iseult (also appearing under various spellings) for his uncle, King Mark of Cornwall, to marry. Along the way, they ingest a love potion which causes the pair to fall madly in love. In the courtly version, the potion's effects last a lifetime, but, in the common versions, the potion's effects wane after three years. In some versions, they ingest the potion accidentally; in others, the potion's maker instructs Iseult to share it with Mark, but she deliberately gives it to Tristan instead. Although Iseult marries Mark, she and Tristan are forced by the potion to seek one another, as lovers. While the typical noble Arthurian character would be shamed by such an act, the love potion that controls them frees Tristan and Iseult from responsibility. The king's advisors repeatedly endeavour to have the pair tried for adultery, but the couple continually use trickery to preserve their façade of innocence. In Béroul's version, the love potion eventually wears off, and the two lovers are free to make their own choice as to whether to cease their adulterous relationship or to continue.

As with the Arthur-Lancelot-Guineverelove triangle in the medieval courtly love motif, Tristan, King Mark, and Iseult of Ireland all love each other. Tristan honours and respects King Mark as his mentor and adopted father; Iseult is grateful that Mark is kind to her; and Mark loves Tristan as his son and Iseult as a wife. But every night, each has horrible dreams about the future. Tristan's uncle eventually learns of the affair and seeks to entrap his nephew and his bride. Also present is the endangerment of a fragile kingdom, the cessation of war between Ireland and Cornwall (Dumnonia). Mark acquires what seems proof of their guilt and resolves to punish them: Tristan by hanging and Iseult by burning at the stake, later lodging her in a leper colony. Tristan escapes on his way to the gallows. He makes a miraculous leap from a chapel and rescues Iseult. The lovers escape into the forest of Morrois and take shelter there until discovered by Mark. They make peace with Mark after Tristan's agreement to return Iseult of Ireland to Mark and leave the country. Tristan then travels to Brittany, where he marries (for her name and her beauty) Iseult of the White Hands, daughter of Hoel of Brittany and sister of Kahedin.

Association with King Arthur and demise[edit]

The earliest surviving versions already incorporate references to King Arthur and his court. The connection between Tristan and Iseult and the Arthurian legend was expanded over time, and sometime shortly after the completion of the Vulgate Cycle (the Lancelot-Grail) in the first quarter of the 13th century, two authors created the Prose Tristan, which fully establishes Tristan as a Knight of the Round Table who even participates in the Quest for the Holy Grail. The Prose Tristan became the common medieval tale of Tristan and Iseult that would provide the background for Thomas Malory, the English author who wrote Le Morte d'Arthur over two centuries later.

Tristan, Iseult and Mark in The End of the Song by Edmund Leighton

In the Prose Tristan and works derived from it, Tristan is mortally wounded by King Mark, who strikes Tristan with a lance from Morgan le Fay while Tristan is playing a harp for Iseult. The poetic versions of the Tristan legend offer a very different account of the hero's death. According to Thomas' version, Tristan was wounded by a poison lance while attempting to rescue a young woman from six knights. Tristan sends his friend Kahedin to find Iseult of Ireland, the only person who can heal him. Tristan tells Kahedin to sail back with white sails if he is bringing Iseult, and black sails if he is not. Iseult agrees to return to Tristan with Kahedin, but Tristan's jealous wife, Iseult of the White Hands, lies to Tristan about the colour of the sails. Tristan dies of grief, thinking that Iseult has betrayed him, and Iseult dies swooning over his corpse. Several versions of the Prose Tristan include the traditional account of Tristan's death found in the poetic versions.


Geneviève and Lancelot at the Tombs of Isolde and Tristan by Eugénie Servières

In French sources, such as those picked over in the English translation by Hilaire Belloc in 1903, it is stated that a thick bramble briar grows out of Tristan's grave, growing so much that it forms a bower and roots itself into Iseult's grave. It goes on that King Mark tries to have the branches cut three separate times, and each time the branches grow back and intertwine. This behaviour of briars would have been very familiar to medieval people who worked on the land. Later tellings sweeten this aspect of the story, by having Tristan's grave grow a briar, but Iseult's grave grow a rose tree, which then intertwine with each other. Further variants refine this aspect even more, with the two plants being said to have been hazel and honeysuckle.

A few later stories even record that the lovers had a number of children. In some stories they produced a son and a daughter they named after themselves; these children survived their parents and had adventures of their own. In the French romance Ysaie le Triste (Ysaie the Sad), the eponymous hero is the son of Tristan and Iseult; he becomes involved with the fairy king Oberon and marries a girl named Martha, who bears him a son named Mark. Spanish Tristan el Joven also dealt with Tristan's son, here named Tristan of Leonis.[1]

Origins and analogues[edit]

There are many theories present about the origins of Tristanian legend, but historians disagree over which is the most accurate.


The mid-6th-century Drustanus Stone monument in Cornwall has an inscription seemingly referring to Drustan, son of Cunomorus ('Mark'). However, not all historians agree that the Drustan referred to is the archetype of Tristan.

There are references to March ap Meichion ('Mark') and Trystan in the Welsh Triads, in some of the gnomic poetry, the Mabinogion stories, and in the 11th-century hagiography of Illtud. A character called Drystan appears as one of King Arthur's advisers at the end of The Dream of Rhonabwy, an early 13th-century tale in the Welsh prose collection known as the Mabinogion. Iseult is listed along with other great men and women of Arthur's court in another, much earlier Mabinogion tale, Culhwch and Olwen.[2]


Possible Irish antecedents to the Tristan legend have received much scholarly attention. An ill-fated triantán an ghrá or love triangle features into a number of Irish works, most notably in the text called Tóraigheacht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne or The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne. In the story, the aging Fionn mac Cumhaill takes the young princess, Gráinne, to be his wife. At the betrothal ceremony, however, she falls in love with Diarmuid, one of Fionn's most trusted warriors. Gráinne gives a sleeping potion to all present but him, eventually convincing him to elope with her. The fugitive lovers are then pursued all over Ireland by the Fianna.

Another Irish analogue is Scéla Cano meic Gartnáin, preserved in the 14th-century Yellow Book of Lecan. In this tale, Cano is an exiled Scottish king who accepts the hospitality of King Marcan of Ui Maile. His young wife, Credd, drugs all present, and then convinces Cano to be her lover. They try to keep a tryst while at Marcan's court, but are frustrated by courtiers. Eventually Credd kills herself and Cano dies of grief.

In the Ulster Cycle there is the text Clann Uisnigh or Deirdre of the Sorrows in which Naoise mac Usnech falls for Deirdre, who was imprisoned by King Conchobar mac Nessa due to a prophecy that Ulster would plunge into civil war due to men fighting for her beauty. Conchobar had pledged to marry Deirdre himself in time to avert war, and takes his revenge on Clann Uisnigh. The death of Naoise and his kin leads many Ulstermen to defect to Connacht, including Conchobar's stepfather and trusted ally Fergus mac Róich, eventually precipitating the Táin Bó Cúailnge.

Persian and Classical[edit]

Some scholars suggest that the 11th-century Persian story Vis and Rāmin must have been the model for the Tristan legend because the similarities are too great to be coincidental.[3][4] The evidence for the Persian origin of Tristan and Iseult is very circumstantial[5] and different theories have been suggested how this Persian story might have reached the West, some suggesting story-telling exchanges during the crusades in Syrian court[4] and through minstrels who had free access to both Crusader and Saracen camps in the Holy Land.[6]

Some believe Ovid's Pyramus and Thisbe, as well as the story of Ariadne at Naxos might have also contributed to the development of the Tristan legend.[3] The sequence in which Tristan and Iseult die and become interwoven trees also parallels Ovid's love story of Baucis and Philemon in which two lovers are transformed in death into two different trees sprouting from the same trunk. However this also occurs in the saga of Deidre of the Sorrows making the link more tenuous and ignores the (now lost) oral traditions of preliterate societies, relying only on written records which are known to have been damaged – especially during the Dissolution of the Monasteries – during the development of modern nation states such as England and France.

Courtly and common branches of early Tristan literature[edit]

Yseult by Gaston Bussière

Courtly branch[edit]

The earliest representation of what scholars name the 'courtly' version of the Tristan legend is in the work of Thomas of Britain, dating from 1173. Only ten fragments of his Tristan poem, representing six manuscripts, have ever been located: the manuscripts in Turin and Strassburg are now lost, leaving two in Oxford, one in Cambridge and one in Carlisle.[3] In his text, Thomas names another trouvère who also sang of Tristan, though no manuscripts of this earlier version have been discovered. There is also a passage telling how Iseult wrote a short lai out of grief that sheds light on the development of an unrelated legend concerning the death of a prominent troubadour, as well as the composition of lais by noblewomen of the 12th century.

The next essential text for knowledge of the courtly branch of the Tristan legend is the abridged translation of Thomas made by Brother Robert at the request of King Haakon Haakonson of Norway in 1227. King Haakon had wanted to promote Angevin-Norman culture at his court, and so commissioned the translation of several French Arthurian works. The Nordic version presents a complete, direct narrative of the events in Thomas' Tristan, with the telling omission of his numerous interpretive diversions. It is the only complete representative of the courtly branch in its formative period.[7]

Preceding the work of Brother Robert chronologically is the Tristan and Isolt of Gottfried von Strassburg, written circa 1211–1215. The poem was Gottfried's only known work, and was left incomplete due to his death with the retelling reaching half-way through the main plot. The poem was later completed by authors such as Heinrich von Freiberg and Ulrich von Türheim, but with the 'common' branch of the legend as the ideal source.[8]

Common branch[edit]

The earliest representation of the 'common branch' is Béroul's Le Roman de Tristan, the first part of which is generally dated between 1150 and 1170, and the latter part between 1181 and 1190. The branch is so named due to its representation of an earlier non-chivalric, non-courtly, tradition of story-telling, making it more reflective of the Dark Ages than of the refined High Middle Ages. In this respect, they are similar to Layamon's Brut and the Perlesvaus. As with Thomas' works, knowledge of Béroul's is limited. There were a few substantial fragments of his works discovered in the 19th century, and the rest was reconstructed from later versions.[9]

The more substantial illustration of the common branch is the German version by Eilhart von Oberge. Eilhart's version was popular, but pales in comparison with the later Gottfried.[8]

Questions regarding a common source[edit]

The French medievalist Joseph Bédier thought all the Tristan legends could be traced to a single original poem, adapted by Thomas of Brittany into French from an original Cornish or Breton source. He dubbed this hypothetical original the 'Ur-Tristan', and wrote his still-popular Romance of Tristan and Iseult as an attempt to reconstruct what this might have been like. In all likelihood, common branch versions reflect an earlier form of the story; accordingly, Bédier relied heavily on Eilhart, Béroul and Gottfried von Strassburg, and incorporated material from other versions to make a cohesive whole. A new English translation of Bédier's Roman de Tristan et Iseut (1900) by Edward J. Gallagher was published in 2013 by Hackett Publishing Company. A translation by Hilaire Belloc, first published in 1913, it was published in 1958 as a Caedmon Audio recording read by Claire Bloom[10] and republished in 2005.

Later versions[edit]

Tristan and Iseult on their way to Cornwall, a medieval miniature by Évrard d'Espinques (15th century)


Contemporary with Béroul and Thomas, Marie de France presented a Tristan episode in one of her lais: 'Chevrefoil'. It concerns another of Tristan's clandestine returns to Cornwall in which the banished hero signals his presence to Iseult by means of an inscription on a branch of a hazelnut tree placed on the road she will travel. The title refers to the symbiosis of the honeysuckle and hazelnut tree which die when separated, as do Tristan and Iseult: 'Ni vous sans moi, ni moi sans vous.' ('Neither you without me, nor me without you.') This episode is reminiscent of one in the courtly branch when Tristan uses wood shavings put in a stream as signals to meet in the garden of Mark's palace.

Tristan And Isolde Opera Review

There are also two 12th-century Folies Tristan, Old French poems identified as the Berne and the Oxford versions, which relate Tristan's return to Marc's court under the guise of a madman. Besides their own importance as episodic additions to the Tristan story and masterpieces of narrative structure, these relatively short poems significantly contributed to restoring the missing parts of Béroul's and Thomas' incomplete texts.[11]

Chrétien de Troyes claims to have written a Tristan story, though no part of it has ever been found. He mentions this in the introduction to Cligès, a romance that many see as a kind of anti-Tristan with a happy ending. Some scholars speculate his Tristan was ill-received, prompting Chretien to write Cligès – a story with no Celtic antecedent – to make amends.[12]

After Béroul and Thomas, the most important development in French Tristaniana is a complex grouping of texts known broadly as the Prose Tristan. Extremely popular in the 13th and 14th century, the narratives of these lengthy versions vary in detail from manuscript to manuscript. Modern editions run twelve volumes for the long version, which includes Tristan's participation in the Quest for the Holy Grail, or five volumes for a shorter version without the Grail Quest.[13] It had a great influence on later medieval literature, and inspired parts of the Post-Vulgate Cycle and the Roman de Palamedes.


The earliest complete source of the Tristan material in English was Sir Tristrem, a romance of some 3344 lines written circa 1300. It is preserved in the famous Auchinleck manuscript at the National Library of Scotland. The narrative largely follows the courtly tradition. As is true with many medieval English adaptations of French Arthuriana, the poem's artistic achievement can only be described as average, though some critics have tried to rehabilitate it, claiming it is a parody. Its first editor, Walter Scott, provided a sixty line ending to the story, which has been printed with the romance in every subsequent edition.[14]

The only other medieval handling of the Tristan legend in English is Thomas Malory's The Book of Sir Tristram de Lyones, a shortened 'translation' of the French Prose Tristan, in his Le Morte d'Arthur. Since the Winchester Manuscript surfaced in 1934, there has been much scholarly debate whether the Tristan narrative, like all the episodes in Le Morte d'Arthur, was originally intended to be an independent piece or part of a larger work.


The popularity of Brother Robert's version spawned a unique parody, Saga Af Tristram ok Ísodd, as well as the poem Tristrams kvæði. In the collection of Old Norse prose-translations of Marie de France's lais – called Strengleikar (Stringed Instruments) – two lais with Arthurian content have been preserved, one of them being the 'Chevrefoil', translated as 'Geitarlauf'.[15]

By the 19th century, scholars had found Tristan legends spread across the Nordic world, from Denmark to the Faroe Islands. These stories, however, diverged greatly from their medieval precursors. In one Danish ballad, for instance, Tristan and Iseult are made brother and sister. Other unlikely innovations occur in two popular Danish chapbooks of the late 18th-century Tristans saga ok Inionu and En tragoedisk Historie om den ædle og tappre Tistrand, in which Iseult is made the princess of India. The popularity of these chapbooks inspired Icelandic poets Sigurður Breiðfjörð and Níels Jónsson to write rímur, long verse narratives, inspired by the Tristan legend.[16]

Dutch and Welsh[edit]

A 158-line fragment of a Dutch version (ca. 1250) of Thomas of Britain's Tristan exists. It is being kept in the Austrian National Library in Vienna, Series nova 3968. A short Tristan narrative, perhaps related to the Béroul text, exists in six Welsh manuscripts dating from the late 16th to the mid 17th century.[17]


In the first third of the 14th century, Arcipreste de Hita wrote his version of the Tristan story, Carta enviada por Hiseo la Brunda a Tristán. Respuesta de Tristán was a unique 15th-century romance written in the form of imaginary letters between the two lovers. Libro del muy esforzado caballero Don Tristán de Leonís y de sus grandes hechos en armas, Spanish reworking of the Prose Tristan, was first published in Valladolid in 1501.


Giovanni dal Ponte's Two couples - Paris and Helen, Tristan and Iseult (1410s)

In Italy, there were many cantari, or oral poems performed in the public square, either about Tristan or frequently referencing him, including Cantari di Tristano; Due Tristani; Quando Tristano e Lancielotto combattiero al petrone di Merlino; Ultime imprese e morte Tristano; and Vendetta che fe Messer Lanzelloto de la Morte di Messer Tristano.

There are also four differing versions of the Prose Tristan in medieval Italy, most named after their place of composition or library in which they are currently to be found: Tavola Ritonda, Tristano Panciaticchiano, Tristano Riccardiano, and Tristano Veneto.[18]


A 13th-century verse romance exists in Czech, based on the German Tristan poems by Gottfried von Strassburg, Heinrich von Freiberg and Eilhart von Oberge. It is the only known verse representative of the Tristan story in a Slavic language.[19]

The Belarusian prose Povest o Tryshchane represents the furthest eastern advance of the legend, and, composed in the 1560s, is considered by some critics to be the last 'medieval' Tristan or Arthurian text period. Its lineage goes back to the Tristano Veneto. Venice, at that time, controlled large parts of the Serbo-Croatian language area, engendering a more active literary and cultural life there than in most of the Balkans during this period. The manuscript of the Povest states that it was translated from a (lost) Serbian intermediary. Scholars assume that the legend must have journeyed from Venice, through its Balkan colonies, finally reaching a last outpost in this Slavic language.[20]


Tristan Isolde Opera Length

Tristan and Iseult playing chess while drinking the love potion aboard a ship (medieval miniature, 1470)

The Tristan story was represented in several art media, from ivory mirror-cases to the 13th-century Sicilian Tristan Quilt. Many of the manuscripts with literary versions are illuminated with miniatures.

Modern works[edit]


In English, the Tristan story suffered the same fate as the Matter of Britain generally. After being mostly ignored for about three centuries, there was a renaissance of original Arthurian literature, mostly narrative verse, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Tristan material in this revival included Alfred Tennyson's The Last Tournament, one of his Idylls of the King; Matthew Arnold's Tristram and Iseult. Another Victorian work was Algernon Charles Swinburne's epic poem Tristram of Lyonesse.

Thomas Hardy's The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall at Tintagel in Lyonnesse is a one-act play which was published in 1923 (the book includes an imaginary drawing of the castle at the period).[21]Rutland Boughton's opera The Queen of Cornwall (1924) was based on Thomas Hardy's play.

After World War II, most Tristan texts were in the form of prose novels or short stories:

  • The Cornish writer Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch ('Q') started Castle Dor, a retelling of the Tristan and Iseult myth in modern circumstances with an innkeeper in the role of King Mark, his wife as Iseult and a Breton onion-seller as Tristan, the plot set in 'Troy', his name for his home town of Fowey. The book was left unfinished at Quiller-Couch's death and was completed many years later, in 1962, by Daphne du Maurier.
  • Rosemary Sutcliff also wrote two early adult/children's novels based on the story of Tristan and Iseult. The first, Tristan and Iseult, is a retelling of the story for young adults and was first published in 1971. It received the Boston-Globe Horn Book Award in 1972, and was runner-up for the 1972 Carnegie Medal. It is set primarily in Cornwall in the southern peninsula of Britain. The story appears again as a chapter of her later Arthurian novel, The Sword and the Circle (1981).
  • Novelist Thomas Berger retold the story of Tristan and Isolde in his 1978 interpretation of Arthurian legend, Arthur Rex: A Legendary Novel.
  • Diana L. Paxson's 1988 novel The White Raven tells the tale of Tristan and Iseult, called in her book Drustan and Esseilte, from the perspective of Iseult's handmaiden Brangien ('Branwen'), who was mentioned in various of the medieval stories.
  • Joseph Bédier's Romance of Tristan and Iseult is quoted as a source by John Updike in the afterword to his 1994 novel Brazil about the lovers Tristão and Isabel.
  • Bernard Cornwell includes a 'historical' interpretation of the legend as a side story in Enemy of God: A Novel of Arthur, a 1996 entry in The Warlord Chronicles series.
  • Rosalind Miles wrote a trilogy about Tristan and Isolde: The Queen of the Western Isle (2002), The Maid of the White Hands (2003), and The Lady of the Sea (2004).
  • Nancy McKenzie wrote a book Prince of Dreams: A Tale of Tristan and Essylte as part of her Arthurian series in 2003.
  • In Bengali literature the story has been depicted by author Sunil Gangopadhyay in the novel Sonali Dukkho.
  • In Harry Turtledove's alternate historyRuled Britannia, Christopher Marlowe (who lives longer in the novel's timeline than he did in our history) writes a play called Yseult and Tristan to compete with his friend William Shakespeare's immensely popular Hamlet. No details of the play are given.
Tristan & isolde full movie


Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde celebrated in a 1933 German stamp

In 1832, Gaetano Donizetti references this story in his opera L'elisir d'amore as the character of Adina sings the story to the ensemble, inspiring Nemorino to ask the charlatan Dulcamara for the magic elixir. Premiered uin 1865, Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde depicts Tristan as a doomed romantic figure, while Isolde fulfils Wagner's quintessential feminine rôle as the redeeming woman.

Twentieth-century composers also used the legend (often with Wagnerian overtones) in their compositions. Olivier Messiaen built his Turangalîla-Symphonie around the story. Hans Werner Henze's Tristan borrowed freely from the Wagnerian version as well as retellings of the legend.

  • The Swiss composer Frank Martin wrote a chamber opera Le vin herbé between 1938–1940 after being influenced by Wagner.
  • Blind Guardian, a power metal band from Germany, also has a song inspired by Tristan and Iseult's story, 'The Maiden and the Minstrel Knight', from their A Night at the Opera album.
  • Colin Meloy's former band Tarkio have a song entitled 'Tristan and Iseult' from their Sea Songs for Landlocked Sailers ep.
  • Patrick Wolf, English singer and songwriter, has a song about the Tristan and Iseult legend: 'Tristan' from his second album Wind in the Wires.
  • Inspired by Thomas Hardy's play The Famous Tragedy of The Queen of Cornwall the English composer Rutland Boughton composed the music-drama The Queen of Cornwall. The first performance took place at the Glastonbury Festival in 1924. Already famous for 'The Immortal Hour' and 'Bethlehem', Boughton's growth as a unique and powerful operatic composer is evident in this treatment of the Tristram and Isolde legend. Feeling that Hardy's play offered too much unrelieved grimness he received the playwright's permission to import a handful of lyrics from his earlier published poetical works. The result is an altogether impressive and effective work, thought by many to be Boughton's masterpiece in this genre. In 2010 it was recorded on the Dutton Epoch label, in which Ronald Corp conducts the New London Orchestra, members of the London Chorus and with soloists Neal Davies (King Mark), Heather Shipp (Queen Iseult), Jacques Imbrailo (Sir Tristam) and Joan Rodgers (Iseult of Brittany).


The story has also been adapted into film many times.[22]

  • The earliest is probably the 1909 French film Tristan et Yseult, an early, silent version of the story.[23] This was followed by another French film of the same name two years later, which offered a unique addition to the story. Here, it is Tristan's jealous slave Rosen who tricks the lovers into drinking the love potion, then denounces them to Mark. Mark has pity on the two lovers, but they commit double suicide anyway.[23] A third silent French version appeared in 1920, and follows the legend fairly closely.[23]
  • One of the most celebrated and controversial Tristan films was 1943's L'Éternel Retour (The Eternal Return), directed by Jean Delannoy (screenplay by Jean Cocteau). It is a contemporary retelling of the story with a man named Patrice in the Tristan role fetching a wife for his friend Marke. However, an evil dwarf tricks them into drinking a love potion, and the familiar plot ensues.[23] The film was made in France during the Vichy regime, and elements in the movie reflect Nazi ideology, with the beautiful, blonde hero and heroine off-set by the Untermensch dwarf. The dwarf is given a larger role than in most interpretations of the legend; its conniving rains havoc on the lovers, much like the Jews of Nazi stereotypes.
  • This was followed by the avant-garde French film Tristan et Iseult in 1972 and the Irish Lovespell, featuring Nicholas Clay as Tristan and Kate Mulgrew as Iseult; coincidentally, Clay went on to play Lancelot in John Boorman's epic Excalibur.[23]
  • The 1970 Spanish film Tristana is only tangentially related to the Tristan story. The Tristan role is assumed by the female character Tristana, who is forced to care for her aging uncle, Don Lope, though she wishes to marry Horacio.[23]
  • The popular German film Fire and Sword premiered in 1981. It was very accurate to the story, though it cut the Iseult of Brittany subplot.[23]
  • French director François Truffaut adapted the subject to modern times for his 1981 film La Femme d'à côté (The Woman Next Door), while 1988's In the Shadow of the Raven transported the characters to medieval Iceland. Here, Trausti and Isolde are warriors from rival tribes who come into conflict when Trausti kills the leader of Isolde's tribe, but a local bishop makes peace and arranges their marriage.[23]
  • Bollywood director Subhash Ghai transfers the story to modern India and the United States in his 1997 musical Pardes. The Indian American Kishorilal (Amrish Puri) raises his orphaned nephew Arjun (Shahrukh Khan). Eventually, Pardes sends Arjun back to India to lure the beautiful Ganga (Mahima Chaudhary) as a bride for his selfish, shallow son Rajiv (Apoorva Agnihotri). Arjun falls for Ganga, and struggles to remain loyal to his cousin and beloved uncle.
  • The 2002 French animated film Tristan et Iseut is a bowdlerized version of the traditional tale aimed at a family audience.
  • The legend was given a relatively high-budget treatment with 2006's Tristan & Isolde, produced by Tony Scott and Ridley Scott, written by Dean Georgaris, directed by Kevin Reynolds, and starring James Franco and Sophia Myles. In this version, Tristan is a Cornish warrior who was raised by Lord Marke after his parents were killed at a young age. In a fight with the Irish, Tristan defeats Morholt, the Irish King's second, but is poisoned in the process. The poison dulls all his senses and his companions believe him dead. He is sent off in a boat meant to cremate a dead body. Isolde, dismayed over her unwilling betrothal to Morholt, leaves her home and finds Tristan on the Irish coast. She tells Tristan that she is called Bragnae, which is the name of her maidservant. Isolde takes care of him and hides him from her father. They spend long days together and come to care for each other. Eventually they confess their feelings for one another and consummate their love. Tristan's boat is discovered and Isolde's father begins a search for a Cornish warrior in Ireland. Isolde helps Tristan escape but cannot leave with him. Tristan returns to England and learns of a tournament between the Cornish tribes for the hand of the Irish princess named Isolde. He agrees to participate to win the princess as Marke's wife. After winning the tournament and discovering that the princess is the woman who had rescued him, Tristan is devastated but decides to bury his feelings, because her marriage to Marke would end decades of bloodshed. Eventually Tristan cannot stand to be apart from Isolde any longer and they start their adulterous relationship. Later, they are found out but Marke frees them after hearing their story. Tristan, however, returns to defend Marke against a rebellion. He dies a hero, with Isolde at his side.

See also[edit]

  • Medieval hunting (terminology)

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^N. J. Lacy (et al.). 'Carta enviada por Hiseo la Brunda Tristan', 'Repuesta de Tristan' from The New Arthurian Encyclopedia. New York : Garland Publishing, 1991.
  2. ^Jeffrey Gantz (translator), Culhwch and Olwen, from The Mabinogion, Penguin, 1976. ISBN0-14-044322-3
  3. ^ abcStewart Gregory (translator), Thomas of Britain, Roman de Tristan, New York: Garland Publishers, 1991. ISBN0-8240-4034-1
  4. ^ abFakhr al-Dīn Gurgānī, and Dick Davis. 2008. Vis & Ramin. Washington, DC: Mage publishers.
  5. ^Grimbert, Joan T. 1995. Tristan and Isolde: a casebook. New York: Garland Pub.
  6. ^Grimbert, Joan T. 1995. Tristan and Isolde: a casebook. p. 21.
  7. ^P. Schach, The Saga of Tristram and Isond, University of Nebraska Press, 1973
  8. ^ abNorris J. Lacy et al. 'Gottfried von Strassburg' from The New Arthurian Encyclopedia, New York: Garland, 1991.
  9. ^'Early French Tristan Poems', from Norris J. Lacy (editor), Arthurian Archives, Cambridge, England; Rochester, NY: D.S. Brewer, 1998. ISBN0-8240-4034-1
  10. ^Trove, National Library of Australia[1]
  11. ^Norris J. Lacy (editor) Arthurian Archives: Early French Tristan Poems. Cambridge (England); Rochester, NY : D.S. Brewer, 1998. ISBN0-8240-4034-1
  12. ^N. J. Lacy (et al.). Cliges from The New Arthurian Encyclopedia. New York : Garland Publishing, 1991.
  13. ^Before any editions of the Prose Tristan were attempted, scholars were dependent on an extended summary and analysis of all the manuscripts by Eilert Löseth in 1890 (republished in 1974). Of the modern editions, the long version is made up of two editions: Renée L. Curtis, ed. Le Roman de Tristan en prose, vols. 1–3 (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1963–1985) and Philippe Ménard, exec. ed. Le Roman de Tristan en Prose, vols. 1–9 (Geneva: Droz, 1987–1997). Curtis' edition of a simple manuscript (Carpentras 404) covers Tristan's ancestry and the traditional legend up to Tristan's madness. However, the massive amount of manuscripts in existence dissuaded other scholars from attempting what Curtis had done until Ménard hit upon the idea of using multiple teams of scholars to tackle the infamous Vienna 2542 manuscript. His edition follows from Curtis' and ends with Tristan's death and the first signs of Arthur's fall. Richard Trachsler is currently preparing an edition of the 'continuation' of the Prose Tristan. The shorter version, which contains no Grail Quest, is published by Joël Blanchard in five volumes.
  14. ^Alan Lupak (editor). Lancelot of the Laik and Sir Tristrem. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications. 1994.
  15. ^ von Rudolph, Meissner (trans.), Die Strengleikar : ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der altnordischen Prosalitteratur (Halle a.S : M. Niemeyer, 1902)
  16. ^N. J. Lacy (et al.). Tristan from The New Arthurian Encyclopedia. New York : Garland Publishing, 1991.
  17. ^The Tristan Legend Hill. Leeds England: Leeds Medieval Studies. 1973.
  18. ^N. J. Lacy (et al.) (1991). The New Arthurian Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Publishing.
  19. ^N. J. Lacy (et al.). Czech Arthurian Literature from The New Arthurian Encyclopedia. New York : Garland Publishing, 1991.
  20. ^Kipel, Z (c. 1988). The Byelorussian Tristan. New York: Garland Publishing. ISBN0-8240-7598-6.
  21. ^Hardy, Thomas (1923) The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall at Tintagel in Lyonnesse. London: Macmillan; two drawings by Hardy reproduced as plates
  22. ^'Films named Tristan and Isolde'. Internet Movie Database.
  23. ^ abcdefghHarty, Kevin J. 'Arthurian Film from the Camelot Project at the University of Rochester'.

Tristan Und Isolde Opera Paris

External links[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Tristan and Iseult.
  • Tristan and Iseult public domain audiobook at LibriVox
  • (in French)Tristan and Iseult, audio version
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