Beroul’s Tristan

The Love Potion

The Love Potion (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6)  The Wild as a Safe Place in Beroul’s Tristan

Nature plays an important role in Beroul’s Tristan. Eventually, Tristan escapes, rescues Yseut from the lepers, and they go in hiding in the Forest of Morrois. There, Tristan hunts for their food, and they live together happily in the wild. Perhaps, this notion of the wild as a safe place is a throwback to old pagan traditions. The castle is not safe for them (either of them) and the town is no longer safe for either of them either. The only place that remains safe for the lovers to love each other in peace is the wilds of the forest. It takes three years for the love potion to wear off. Thus, Tristan and Yseut live together in the wild for three years. Eventually, they return to civilization with the help of a hermit named Ogrin, who brokers a peace between Tristan and King Mark. The wild forest as a safe house also implies that the hermit, though he lives without certain luxuries like human contact, is actually at peace and in comfort in the wild.

Beroul.  The Romance of Tristan.  Translated by Alan S. Fedrick.  New York: Penguin Books, 1970.  Print.

7)  Yseut’s Return to King Mark

In Beroul’s Tristan, it takes three years for the love potion to wear off. Tristan repents for betraying his uncle and Yseut wants to again become a queen. They rely on a hermit named Ogrin to broker peace between Tristan and King Mark and return for surrendering Yseut, and King Mark promises mercy. Before Yseut goes back to her husband, she asks Tristan to stick around to make sure that King Mark is treating her well. After Yseut returns to her husband, she continues to secretly see Tristan. She is again watched by the barons and discovered. So Yseut promises that “no man ever came between my thighs except the leper who carried me on his back across the ford and my husband, King Mark” (Beroul 142). The story seems to be full of trickery on Yseut and Tristan’s parts (but mostly on Yseut’s part). I wonder if this trickery is as a result of the notion that women are more trickster-like than men (i.e. more cunning).

Beroul.  The Romance of Tristan.  Translated by Alan S. Fedrick.  New York: Penguin Books, 1970.  Print.

8)    Tristan’s Return to Cornwall

After she is back in court, Yseut urges Tristan to leave Cornwall. They promise to love each other and he takes off “to seek venture in foreign lands” (Beroul 149). He meets another Yseut, Yseut of the White Hands, but continues to yearn for his Yseut, Yseut the Fair, back in Cornwall. Eventually, he decides that he will never see Yseut the Fair and marries Yseut of the White Hands. But he regrets the marriage and leaves her without consummating it. He goes back to see his Yseut, who reproaches him for his marriage, but eventually forgives him and renews their love. Tristan cannot stay in Cornwall for long and continues to long for his beloved. This back and forth between the lovers makes it obvious that while though the potion had worn off, it still has a significant residual effect. Tristan and Yseut are bound to each other and will continue to be through the end.

Beroul.  The Romance of Tristan.  Translated by Alan S. Fedrick.  New York: Penguin Books, 1970.  Print.

9)   Tristan as a Trickster

Yseut is not the only trickster in the story. Tristan participates in plenty of disguises himself. At the end of the story, he returns to Cornwall, disguised as a fool and reminds Yseut of the many things that they did together. Her maid tries to convince her that the fool was indeed Tristan, but Yseut refuses to believe that, insisting that her Tristan would never say such awful things about her in public. Tristan realizes that Yseut no longer loves him and says that “once I had a lover, indeed, but it seems to me now that I have lost her” (Beroul 161). Tristan’s beloved dog, whom Yseut is caring for, immediately recognizes Tristan’s voice and goes to him. Finally, Yseut sees the ring and the dog’s reaction and realizes that she’s speaking to Tristan. These kinds of tricks are found throughout the story (they usually played them on the barons and King Mark) but here is the instance where Tristan plays a trick on Yseut.

Beroul.  The Romance of Tristan.  Translated by Alan S. Fedrick.  New York: Penguin Books, 1970.  Print.

10)    Tristan’s Tragic End

At the end of story, Tristan leaves Yseut one last time, returning to Brittany and his wife, Yseut of the White Hands. Helping a friend carry out a love affair with the wife of a neighboring night, Tristan and his friend are attacked. His friend is killed and Tristan is wounded.  Yseut of the White Hands nurses him, but is unable to cure him: “His greatest pain was beyond the skill of those physicians; it came from a poisoned wound, and he knew that only Yseut the Fair could cure it” (Beroul 164). This is another reference to destiny and the power of Yseut the Fair’s love. She is the only person who can cure him. Tristan sends a messenger to ask Yseut to come to him. If she agrees to come, the messenger is supposed to “bear white sails on his return; if not, black sails” (Beroul 164). But Tristan’s wife overhears his instructions, and, out of jealousy, lies to him. She says that the messenger is coming back with black sails. Grief stricken, Tristan dies. Tristan, the master of trickery, the person who perpetuated numerous tricks on King Mark to evade capture and continue his love affair is now tricked by his own wife.

Beroul.  The Romance of Tristan.  Translated by Alan S. Fedrick.  New York: Penguin Books, 1970.  Print.

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