Tristan and Isolde Legend Criticism - Essay

Joseph Bédier (essay date 1904)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Legend of Tristan and Isolt,” in International Quarterly, Vol. 9, 1904, pp. 103-28.

[In the following essay, Bédier examines the origin and development of the Tristan and Isolde legend and maintains that there was one single source poem from which the extant versions proceeded.]

In all the realm of legends, there is none more wonderful than the story of Tristan and Isolt. Long ago, a trouvère, dedicating it to posterity, wrote in gentle verse: “I have told this tale for those who love, and for none else. May it go down through the ages to those who are thoughtful, to those who are happy, to those who are dissatisfied, to those who are full of...

(The entire section is 12286 words.)

Roger Sherman Loomis (essay date 1913)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “A Survey of Tristan Scholarship After 1911,” in Tristan and Isolt: A Study of the Sources of the Romance, Vol. II. Reprint. Burt Franklin, 1960, pp. 565-587.

[In the following essay, Loomis comments on the critical reception Gertrude Schoepperle's 1913 study of the Tristan legend received, and discusses the origin, development, and transmission of the legend.]


The reviews of Miss Schoepperle's Tristan and Isolt were, broadly speaking, highly favorable. Her critique of Bédier's reconstruction of the poème primitif in his edition of Thomas's Tristan on the basis of its assumed logical structure and...

(The entire section is 6812 words.)

Gertrude Schoepperle (essay date 1913)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Courtly Elements in the Estoire: Its Date,” in Tristan and Isolt: A Study of the Sources of the Romance, Vol. I. Reprint. Burt Franklin, 1960, pp. 112-83.

[In the following excerpt, Schoepperle examines the treatment of love in the estoire (the French source believed by some critics to be the source of extant versions, including the Germanic and English versions), and argues that the appearance of courtly and immoral elements in some portions of the legend indicate that these episodes were composed during the second half of the twelfth century, when the “cult of unlawful love” was in vogue.]


(The entire section is 4221 words.)

Henry Goddard Leach (essay date 1921)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Tristan in the North,” in Angevin Britain and Scandinavia. Reprint. Kraus Reprint Co., 1975, pp. 169-98.

[In the following essay, Leach examines the characteristics of the Scandinavian version of the Tristan legend, which was derived from Thomas's Anglo-Norman version of the late twelfth century.]

Deim var ekki skapað
Nema að skilja.

Tristrams Kvœði

In the north-west part of Iceland there is a fjord which until modern times bore the name of Trostansfjord. It lies in a district where many names of Celtic origin have survived since the time when they were first bestowed in the ninth century by Celto-Scandinavian...

(The entire section is 7270 words.)

William Henry Schofield (essay date 1921)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Matter of Britain,” in English Literature from the Norman Conquest to Chaucer, Macmillan, 1921 pp. 201-14.

[In the following excerpt, Schofield compares the versions of the Tristan legend written by the Anglo-Norman poet Thomas and the Norman Béroul and offers a discussion of Thomas's version, including commentary on the poet's form and style.]

… It is appropriate that our study of the Tristram stories should follow directly that of the Breton lays, for in no legendary cycle is the influence of this form of Celtic material more manifest. Several of the most charming episodes in which the famous lovers appear are easily detachable from their...

(The entire section is 5234 words.)

A. G. van Hamel (essay date 1924)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Tristan's Combat with the Dragon,” in Revue Celtique, Vol. 41. Reprint. Kraus Reprint Ltd., 1966, pp. 331-49.

[In the following essay, van Hamel studies the details of the dragon-slaying episode in the Tristan legend and compares these elements as they appear in different versions of the legend.]

When Tristan and his men, in quest of the Princess of the Swallow's Hair, have reached the Irish coast and lie in the harbour, they learn that the country is being devastated by a fiery dragon, and that the king has promised his daughter and the half of his kingdom to the man who will slay the monster. The next day the hero sets out alone and accomplishes the...

(The entire section is 7156 words.)

Roger Sherman Loomis (essay date 1927)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Problems of the Tristan Legend,” in Romania, Vol. 53, 1927, pp. 82-102.

[In the following essay, Loomis examines several areas of critical disagreement regarding the Tristan legend: the influence of the Welshman Bleheris on the development of the legend, the relation of the legend to the Irish tale of Diarmaide and Grainne, and the dating of Thomas's poem.]

Readers of Romania are aware that in vol. LI M. Ferdinand Lot attacked with some severity the theory, proposed by Miss Weston and elaborated by myself, that a certain Welshman Bleheris was to be regarded as an important figure in the development of Arthurian romance1. Giraldus...

(The entire section is 7267 words.)

Eugène Vinaver (essay date 1927)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Love Potion in the Primitive Tristan Romance,” in Medieval Studies in the Memory of Gertrude Schoepperle Loomis. Reprint. Slatkine Reprints, 1974, pp. 75-86.

[In the following essay, Vinaver reviews the critical debate surrounding the nature of the origin of the extant versions of the Tristan legend. He also examines the treatment of the love potion motif found in the various versions of the legend.]

In his epoch-making introduction to the poem of Thomas, M. Bédier inserted a reconstruction of the original Tristan poem. He gave there the following version of the episode of the love potion:

«Quand le temps du départ fut venu, la...

(The entire section is 3470 words.)

James Douglas Bruce (essay date 1928)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Tristan,” in The Evolution of Arthurian Romance From the Beginnings Down to the Year 1300, Vol. I. Reprint. Peter Smith, 1958, pp. 152-91.

[In the following essay, Bruce maintains that most modern critics agree that a “single primitive Tristan romance” is the source of all extant versions. Bruce then surveys those versions, and discusses the plot of the Tristan legend and its similarity to the Irish Diarmaid and Grainne legend.]

In one important respect the study of the story of Tristan is easier than is the case with that of Lancelot: there is substantial agreement among authorities on the subject that all the mediaeval romances and shorter poems...

(The entire section is 17217 words.)

Grace Frank (essay date 1948)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Marie de France and the Tristram Legend,” in PMLA, Vol. 63, No. 2, June, 1948, pp. 405-11.

[In the following essay, Frank maintains that the Chievrefueil, a lay by Marie de France, was derived from longer versions of the Tristram (Tristan) legend.]

Chievrefueil, the shortest and perhaps the most charming of the lays by Marie de France, has troubled critics because, unlike her other poems, it seems to lack clarity. Is it not fair to assume, however, that in this instance the usual limpidity and forthrightness of Marie's narrative style may have been clouded by her modern interpreters, rather than by Marie herself? I hope to show that to her...

(The entire section is 3164 words.)

Helaine Newstead (essay date 1956)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Tryst beneath the Tree: An Episode in the Tristan Legend,” in Romance Philology, Vol. 9, No. 3, February, 1956, pp. 269-84.

[In the following essay, Newstead traces the literary history of the “tryst episode” of the Tristan legend, finding that it originated in three Celtic stories before it developed in various forms in Welsh, Breton, and French tales.]

The modern reader, schooled to appreciate the legend of Tristan and Isolt as a tale of tragic and overwhelming passion, may be startled to realize that the episode most familiar to the medieval public was no moment of exalted romance but rather a scene of audaciously successful deception. The...

(The entire section is 8797 words.)

Helaine Newstead (essay date 1958)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “King Mark of Cornwall,” inRomance Philology, Vol. 11, No. 3, February, 1958, pp. 240-53.

[In the following essay, Newstead evaluates the significance of the role of King Mark of Cornwall in the Tristan romances, observing that the character figures prominently in the stories, as does the setting of many incidents in the King's castle at Tintagel.]

In the dramatic action of the Tristan romances King Mark is almost as important as the lovers themselves. Tristan, as the son of his sister, is bound to him by close ties of kinship, and the hero's first spectacular exploit is the liberation of Mark's kingdom of Cornwall from the annual human tribute demanded by...

(The entire section is 7775 words.)