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Themes

In The Romance of Tristan, Tristan initially conceals his identity when he arrives at Mark's court. When he finally chooses to reveal it, he has already built his reputation as an excellent knight independently of his status as the king's nephew. Throughout the story, Tristan wears numerous disguises. Because of his devotion to Yseut, he dresses as a leper or a madman. If you think about it, his madman or "fool" disguise is actually a true representation of the way Tristan's love for Yseut makes him feel, and it's one in which he can speak the truth about his relationship to Yseut freely, even in the presence of King Mark. When Yseut finally recognizes Tristan, it's because of the way he describes his sadness at his separation from her, revealing to the reader that no matter what costume he's wearing, the most important aspect of Tristan's identity is his love for Yseut.

Questions About Identity

  1. What disguises does Tristan don throughout the story? How are these disguises revelatory of some aspect of his identity?
  2. What parts of Tristan's character are most important to his identity? How do we know?
  3. How does Tristan's disguise as a madman reflect his inner state? How does it free him?
  4. At what point do Brangain and Yseut finally recognize Tristan when he visits Cornwall disguised as a madman? What causes their recognition?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The disguises Tristan dons throughout the story are actually no less part of his character than his persona as a gallant knight.

Tristan's disguise as a madman reveals the state to which his love for Yseut has driven him.

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