Great Romances – Tristan and Isolde

Ah!  You’ve got to love a centuries old love story, celebrated throughout the ages, a legend remade as an opera and a film, and enduring love story … that isn’t really a love story.

The story of Tristan and Isolde was one of the epic stories of the Middle Ages.  It was retold time and again with countless variations and outcomes.  It endured for centuries.  But for whatever reason it isn’t really talked about much today.  Sure, there was a pretty cool film made about it a couple of years ago starring James Franco and Sophia Myles, but other than that you don’t hear much about it these days.

It’s a crying shame.  Because it’s a good story.  And depending on which variation you hear it actually isn’t much of a love story at all.  Which is why it’s so cool.

Here is my favorite version of the tale.

Tristan was a great Cornish knight.  He fought in the service of King Mark, his surrogate father.  In some versions Mark is his uncle.  Tristan goes to Ireland, fights an epic battle, and kills Morholt.  Morholt just happens to be Isolde’s fiancé.  As a prize Tristan snatches up Isolde, intent on bringing her back to King Mark as his bride.

Isolde hates Tristan.  I mean, she seriously, seriously hates him.  He killed her fiancé, after all.  Isolde is also a powerful healer, capable of making amazing potions.  On the boat ride back to Cornwall she concocts a deadly poison, intent on killing Tristan.  But her nurse swaps out the deadly poison with a powerful love potion.  Bot Tristan and Isolde drink the potion (Isolde was feeling a little suicidal after the death of her fiancé).  And BOOM!  They fall in love.

(In some versions Isolde makes the love potion so that she will fall in love with her intended, King Mark, but she and Tristan drink it instead.)

So these two people who just can’t stand one another are suddenly magically hot for each other.  Tristan delivers Isolde to King Mark.  Isolde and King Mark get married.  Isolde actually likes King Mark.  He’s a nice guy.  But because of the dratted love potion she continues to burn for Tristan, and Tristan for Isolde.

They can’t help themselves.  The love potion forces them to seek each other out as lovers.  It takes some serious conniving, but they meet in the forest and proceed to have wild monkey sex all day … until King Mark (or his henchmen in some versions) find them.

Well, Tristan and Isolde manage to use trickery to escape adultery charges, but King Mark is heartbroken.  Especially since the forced lovers keep meeting up and getting caught.  Finally, really pissed off, King Mark decides to hang Tristan and burn Isolde at the stake.  But Tristan miraculously escapes and saves Isolde.

At least that’s one version.

In another version Tristan is so ashamed after he is caught with Isolde that he leaves and goes to France … and marries someone else named Isolde who looks exactly like the first Isolde.  Many years later, when Tristan is mortally wounded in battle, he knows that the only one who can save him is the real Isolde, because she’s an amazing healer.  He sends for her, but his wife Isolde number two is jealous and makes him believe she isn’t coming.  He dies in despair, and when Isolde arrives and finds Tristan dead she dies of a broken heart.

Of course, another version of the story is that the love potion only lasts for three years.  Then it wears off.  Personally, I think this version has the best potential of them all.  Imagine hating someone so much that you would try to poison them to death, drinking a love potion instead that caused the two of you to have wild monkey sex, then having it suddenly wear off one day years later.  Personally, I think that version could be awesome.

So yeah, I think it’s time we bring this classic story in all of its various glories out in public again.  It’s as good as any modern melodrama.

Does anybody have any other versions of the story that they’ve heard?

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One thought on “Great Romances – Tristan and Isolde

  1. There is something about him being wounded and the other Isolde fiinds him and heals him…Isolde of the White Hands. Not sure where I read this one….I have the movie, got it cheap and never watched it yet! Guess I should have a look!

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