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Themes

Lies only lead to more lies, or so the theory goes, and that's definitely true in The Romance of Tristan. Tristan and Yseut make up all kinds of stuff to hide their adultery from King Mark. Our two star-crossed lovers turn out to be skilled deceivers, dissemblers, and performers. Despite the inherent wrongness of what they do, though, the story makes it seem like their deceit is okay. We're encouraged to think of Tristan and Yseut's deceptions as justifiable to protect their love and the deceivers as clever for getting away with it.

Questions About Lies and Deceit

  1. What is an "equivocal oath?" Where do they occur in The Romance of Tristan? How are they dependent upon deceit in order to function?
  2. Where else, aside from the equivocal oaths, do characters tell lies that are technically true, but false in spirit?
  3. Why does the hermit Ogrin tell Tristan and Yseut to invent some "suitable falsehoods" to tell Mark? What do his reasons suggest about the story's attitude toward lying?
  4. In what way might the barons' accusations be considered false despite the fact that they are technically true?

Chew on This

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

Yseut's equivocal oaths rely on misunderstandings of identity and deliberate deception in order to function successfully.

Ogrin's authorization of lying suggests that social harmony is a more important value than honesty in this story.

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