The Romance of Tristan Summary
King Rivalen of Lyonesse marries the sister of King Mark of Cornwall, a woman named Blanchefleur who dies giving birth to a son, Tristan. When Tristan comes of age, he travels to his Uncle Mark's court, where his knightly and courtly skills quickly make the king think he's the best thing since yearly baths.
When Morholt, the brother of the Queen of Ireland, arrives in Cornwall demanding a tribute of Cornish slaves, Tristan is the only knight who dares to face him in one-on-one combat. He kills Morholt but receives a poisoned wound that no healer in Cornwall can treat. So he does the logical thing and gets into a rudderless boat with a prayer to God to take him to someone who can heal him. He lands on the shores of Ireland. There, the daughter of the King and Queen of Ireland, Yseut the Fair, heals him. Tristan returns to Cornwall.
King Mark's barons tell him that the only thing missing from his life is a wife, and he responds that he will marry the woman whose golden hair a bird drops before him one day. Tristan sets out with some companions to find this woman, landing again in Ireland, apparently the only place where there are blond people. While there, he defeats a dragon that has been terrorizing the kingdom but receives a terrible wound in the process.
Guess what happens next? Yseut the Fair—hey, Morholt's niece!—heals him again but also discovers that a missing part of his sword matches the piece that her mother found lodged in her uncle's skull. Nevertheless, the King and Queen of Ireland reconcile with Tristan after discovering his true identity, and they give him Yseut as a reward for defeating the dragon.
Tristan announces that he will give Yseut to King Mark. This must be great news for Yseut, but hey, no one asked her. Before Tristan and Yseut leave for Cornwall, the Queen creates a love potion that she instructs Yseult's maid, Brangain, to give to Yseut and Mark on their wedding night. You know, as long as they're in love… On the boat ride back to Cornwall, Brangain shows her utter incompetence by accidentally(?!) giving this potion to Tristan and Yseut, causing them to fall deeply in love. Looks like Brangain needs to GAIN a BRAIN. Anyone? No?
So, you guessed it, Tristan and Yseut immediately get it on. Yseut asks Brangain to take her place in bed on her wedding night. Brangain says okay, and Mark is fooled. Yseut later takes her place as Mark's queen. She and Tristan continue to get it on in secret.
Mark's barons become suspicious of Tristan and Yseut. They convince the King to kick Tristan out of the palace. From a nearby town, Tristan arranges secret trysts with Yseut in the palace garden. A dwarf named Frocin learns of these meetings and tells Mark to hide in a tree near their prearranged meeting place. When Tristan and Yseut approach the tree, they notice Mark's shadow and engage in an elaborate deception in which they pretend not to be lovers and lament that Mark has believed the "lies" of his barons. Convinced by this performance, Mark reconciles with Tristan.
Three of Mark's barons still have it in for Tristan and, with Frocin, arrange to catch him with the queen by spreading flour on the floor between her bed and his. Tristan sees the flour and leaps from his bed to hers—the things he does for love—but a wound of his reopens in the jump. He bleeds all over the floor and Yseut's bed. Based on this evidence, Mark condemns Tristan and Yseut to death by burning. As Mark's guards escort Tristan to the pyre, however, he manages to escape by leaping from the window of a cliff-side chapel to the seashore below. (No wounds reopen this time!) He rescues Yseut and, with her and his steward, Governal, escapes to the nearby Forest of Morrois.
In Morrois, Tristan and Yseut eat venison and sleep in bowers made of tree boughs. Their life is hard, but they don't mind because they're so deeply in love. One day, they meet a hermit named Ogrin who urges them to repent of their sinful love. They tell him that because of the potion, they can't. So the camping trip continues.
Meanwhile, Mark has offered a reward for their capture. But when Governal kills one of the barons who betrayed Tristan and Yseut while he's out hunting in the woods one day, everyone in Cornwall becomes afraid to enter the forest. Tristan and Yseut remain undiscovered until a forester finds them sleeping alone in a bower.
The forester leads Mark to the bower, but when the king discovers the lovers sleeping fully clothed with a sword between them, he becomes convinced of their innocence. He exchanges his ring for Yseut's and his sword for Tristan's as a sign to the lovers that he has been there and means them no harm. But when they wake up and discover Mark's ring and sword, they become convinced that Mark means to return with more men to capture them. They decide to flee to Wales.
After three years, the love potion, which made it possible for Tristan and Yseut to get through a life of hardship in order to be together, wears off. Both lovers immediately regret all they have sacrificed for love, and Tristan resolves to return Yseut to Mark. On Yseut's advice, he seeks the help of the hermit Ogrin, who helps Tristan write a letter to Mark declaring the lovers' innocence and asking that Mark take them back. Mark's barons advise him to accept Yseut, but to send Tristan away for a while, which he does. Rather than leave Cornwall, though, Tristan hides out in a friend's basement to make sure that Mark treats Yseut well.
At the instigation of Mark's barons, Yseut offers to clear her name of the charge of adultery in front of all Mark's household, with King Arthur—yes, the big A himself—and his household there to back her up. She arranges for Tristan to dress as a leper and carry her across a muddy bridge so that she can honestly say that she's had no man between her legs except Mark and the leper she rode over the bridge. Har har.
Arthur promises to defend Yseut's good name before anyone who disses it in the future, and he makes Mark agree not to believe his barons' bad-mouthing anymore. So things are great until, like, the next day, when Tristan and Yseut get it on again (hey, what happened to that potion wearing off?) and a spy betrays them to the three barons. Tristan kills two of them as they attempt to catch him in the queen's bedroom. He flees to Brittany to avoid capture.
Tristan helps the king of Brittany defend his lands from an invading army. He buddies up with the king's son, Kaherdin, and his daughter, Yseut of the White Hands. (You heard it right, folks: there are two Yseuts in this story.) When the king offers his daughter to Tristan in marriage, he accepts, believing he will never see Yseut the Fair again. But on his wedding night, the sight of a ring Yseut the Fair has given him reminds him of his love for her, and he refuses to consummate the marriage with his wife. You can bet Kaherdin is thrilled when he hears about that! However, after traveling to Cornwall and meeting Yseut, Kaherdin acknowledges that she is hotter than his sister and therefore the worthier love interest. (Don't get mad at us. We're just the messenger.)
Tristan gets the blues, and he gets 'em bad, the more he realizes that he may never see Yseut again. He disguises himself as a fool and travels to Cornwall, where he convinces Mark that he is a madman. After Mark goes out hunting, Tristan attempts to reveal his true identity to Yseut by recalling the events of their life together. She does not believe it is really him until he shows her the ring that she gave him, at which point she makes up for not recognizing him by making sweet love with him until Mark returns. Tristan does not stay long in Cornwall.
Back in Brittany, Tristan helps Kaherdin conduct an affair with the wife of another knight. One day when leaving a tryst, Kaherdin is killed and Tristan horribly wounded by the knight's men. Tristan knows that only Yseut the Fair can heal him, and he sends a messenger to fetch her. Upon his return, the messenger is supposed to raise a white sail if he brings Yseut with him and a black sail if he doesn't. Too weak to leave his bed when the ship returns, Tristan asks his wife to tell him the color of its sail. But she has overheard Tristan's arrangement with the messenger and, in a fit of jealousy, tells him that the sail is black when it is actually white.
Believing that his love has failed him, Tristan dies. Yseut hurries to Tristan's chamber. She kisses Tristan and dies embracing his dead body. The bodies of the lovers are transported back to Cornwall, where King Mark has decided to give them an honorable burial. He buries them on either side of the apse in the church. Two trees with intertwining branches grow up repeatedly over their graves despite Mark's attempts to curb their growth, a phenomenon people attribute to the presence of the love potion in Tristan and Yseut's bodies.
- (Plot summary re-constructed from other versions of the story because this portion of the manuscript has been lost)
- Rivalen, King of Lyonesse, receives the hand of Blanchefleur of Cornwall in marriage as a reward for helping her brother, King Mark, fend off an attack on his kingdom.
- Blanchefleur dies giving birth to a son, Tristan. Alert: That's the love-and-death theme, folks. It's going to keep coming.
- Rivalen has Tristan tutored in arts of war and peace by a man named Governal.
- Tristan travels to Cornwall in disguise with Governal. His skills and character soon make him a favorite with King Mark and his seneschal, Dydan.
- The brother of the Queen of Ireland, a man named Morholt, arrives in Cornwall demanding a tribute of slaves.
- Tristan asks to be knighted so that he can face Morholt in one-on-one combat in lieu of tribute, and Mark agrees.
- Tristan defeats Morholt in a fierce fight by splitting his head with his sword, a piece of which lodges in Morholt's skull. Morholt's sister saves the piece of sword, preserving it carefully.
- In the fight, Tristan receives a wound from a poisoned spear. Unable to find healing for it, he takes to the sea in a rudderless boat in the hope that God will steer him to someone who can help him.
- Tristan lands on the coast of Ireland (God has a sense of humor) and pretends to be a minstrel named Tantris.
- Tristan's harp-playing attracts the attention of Ireland's king, whose daughter, Yseut, is able to heal his wound. Tristan returns to Cornwall.
- Mark's barons are all like, "Dude, you're the king, life is good, you've got it all. But there's one thing you don't have, and that's a wife. What are you going to do about it?" The King declares that he will marry the woman whose hair falls from a swallow's beak in front of him. Yeah, we don't recommend this as a dating strategy for anyone but medieval kings.
- Tristan sets out with a few companions to find the lady with bird-food hair. They land in Ireland (uh oh), where the king has promised his daughter in marriage (UH OH) to the man who can defeat a dragon that's terrorizing the land. You see where this is going.
- Tristan defeats the dragon but is rendered unconscious by its poison tongue. The king's seneschal happens by and steals the head, then claims to be the slayer.
- Yseut and her mother find Tristan's body by the dragon and heal him. He reveals himself to be the Tantris Yseut healed previously.
- Yseut discovers the notch in Tristan's sword and matches it to the piece from her uncle's skull. At this point, Yseut is like, "Fool me once –" But then Tristan is like, "Yeah, if you kill me, you're going to have to marry the seneschal, because he's all strutting around saying he killed the dragon." Now there's a dilemma. Yseut decides it would be better to spare Tristan than to marry the seneschal. As we will see, this is one princess who has some ideas about what she wants in a mate.
- Yseut reveals Tristan to the Irish court, who pardon him for Morholt's death and grant him Yseut's hand in marriage. Tristan announces he will give Yseut to Mark.
- Before she departs, Yseut's mother prepares a love potion, which she gives to Yseut's maid, Brangain. She tells Brangain to give it to Mark and Yseut on their wedding night, possibly because she knows her daughter isn't that into older men.
- How competent is Brangain? Let's find out! Okay, on the way to Cornwall, Brangain goes ahead and just gives the potion to Tristan and Yseut by mistake. (Mistake or "mistake" – who's to say?) They declare their love and consummate it. Potion 1, Brangain 0.
- As their ship approaches Cornwall, Tristan and Yseut beg Brangain to take Yseut's place in Mark's bed on the wedding night, and she agrees. Potion 2, Brangain 0.
- Mark treats Yseut well. She and Tristan continue to meet in secret.
- Yseut attempts to have Brangain killed, since Brangain is the only one who knows about her and Tristan's affair. Potion 3, Brangain 0.
- Brangain does not reveal the affair to the men Yseut sends to kill her. When Yseut learns that Brangain didn't rat her out, she feels really bad about trying to kill her. The two make up.
- A strange knight so pleases Mark with his rote-playing that he offers him anything he wants as a reward. The knight chooses Yseut. This is getting embarrassing, Mark.
- Tristan rides to rescue Yseut. He charms the knight with his harp-playing, then carries Yseut back to Cornwall on horseback. He warns Mark to take better care of her. Now there's some irony for you, folks.
The Tryst Under the Tree
- Mark's barons make him suspicious that Tristan and Yseut might be lovers, leading him to force Tristan to take lodgings in town, from where he arranges trysts with Yseut in the palace orchard.
- Tristan signals his presence to Yseut by throwing twigs into a stream that flows through the palace grounds; when Yseut sees these twigs, she hastens to their pre-arranged meeting place.
- A wicked dwarf named Frocin tells Mark that he can prove the lovers' guilt. He advises Mark to climb a tree near where Tristan and Yseut plan to meet.
- When Tristan and Yseut arrive at their meeting, both of them notice the king's shadow. (What is this, amateur hour? You've got to give the guy credit for trying, anyway.)
- Tristan and Yseut engage in an elaborate deception in which they pretend to be unaware of Mark's presence while having a conversation that clears them of wrongdoing:
- Yseut tells Tristan not to send for her again, and that Mark's barons are trying to dishonor them both by convincing Mark that they are lovers.
- She claims she would rather have her ashes scattered to the wind than love a man who is not her lord, and that she only loves Tristan like a brother, for Mark's sake.
- Recognizing her ruse, Tristan responds by expressing his sorrow that Mark has believed the "lies" of his barons.
- Tristan asks Yseut to intercede on his behalf with the king, even promising to walk through fire or undergo one-on-one combat to prove his innocence.
- Yseut responds that she is too afraid of what Mark will do to her if she talks about Tristan to say anything to Mark about it.
- Yseut leaves and Tristan laments his misfortune some more, announcing his plan to go into exile with Governal.
- Convinced by Tristan and Yseut's ruse, Mark decides to hang the wicked dwarf who convinced him of their guilt, and to believe his wife from now on, instead of his barons.
- However, the dwarf, Frocin, can predict the future by looking at the courses of the stars and planets. He learns that Mark is about to have him killed and goes into exile in Wales. (Don't question it. It's just how things went down back then.)
- Yseut tells Brangain what happened at the stream and how she and Tristan managed to deceive Mark. Brangain thanks God. Governal does too, when he learns from Tristan what has happened.
- Mark comes to Yseut's chamber and asks her whether she has seen Tristan. After promising to tell him the whole truth, she responds that she has seen and spoken with him underneath the pine tree.
- Yseut repeats the sentiments she expressed under the pine tree: that she honors Tristan on account of Mark and that his barons are liars. She also tells Mark of Tristan's plan to go into exile.
- The king embraces and kisses her, promising never again to distrust her or Tristan.
- He tells Yseut that he was hiding in the pine tree. He talks about how guilty and sorry he felt when Tristan recalled how he fought Morholt for him. He tells her that their exchange convinced him of their innocence.
- Mark sends Brangain to fetch Tristan. Brangain complains that Tristan is mad at her because he thinks she is the cause of Mark's suspicion.
- Brangain tells Tristan to pretend to be angry with her and reluctant to come to King Mark.
- When Tristan arrives, Mark asks him for forgiveness for both himself and Brangain.
- Tristan responds that Mark has deeply wounded him, that he and Yseut never thought of becoming lovers, and that Mark should not trust those who slander him or Yseut. It's hard to keep the truth straight with all this pretending going on! Whose side are we on, anyway?
- Mark agrees, and they reconcile. Tristan moves back into the palace.
The Flour on the Floor
- Who can be in love and not reveal it?! Tristan and Yseut flirt in the sight of others and continue to have secret meetings.
- Three of Mark's barons have seen Tristan and Yseut lying naked together in Mark's bed while Mark has been out hunting. Oops. They resolve to tell Mark and demand that he send Tristan away.
- The barons threaten to withdraw their support from Mark if he does not do so. They advise him to send for the prophetic dwarf, Frocin, which he does.
- Frocin advises Mark to tell Tristan he must carry a message to King Arthur in Carlisle early the next morning, predicting that Tristan will want to speak with Yseut before he leaves.
- Frocin buys some bags of flour, which he ties to his belt. Because why not.
- Before bed, Mark tells Tristan that he must carry a message to Arthur the next morning. Tristan plans to cross the floor between his bed and Mark's to speak to Yseut.
- Tristan notices that the floor between their beds has been covered with flour. Man, these tricks keep getting better and better.
- Mark and Frocin leave the room around midnight, at which point Tristan leaps from his bed to Mark's.
- A wound Tristan received from a boar earlier that day re-opens (you totally did not see that one coming, did you?), but he does not notice it bleeding all over the bed as he gets it on with Yseut.
- Outside the chamber, Frocin can see Tristan and Yseut by the light of the moon and sends Mark into the room.
- Tristan hears Mark coming and leaps back into his bed, but his blood drips onto the flour. (Fellas, seriously: make sure your boar-wounds are properly wrapped. This was completely avoidable.)
- Seeing the bloodied sheets and flour, Mark's barons seize Tristan. Mark tells him not to waste time defending himself, since his guilt is obvious from these clues.
- Tristan begs for mercy for Yseut. He offers to clear himself of the charge of adultery in trial by combat, which is sort of the medieval equivalent of going on Oprah to clear your name of something you probably actually did.
- Tristan allows himself to be bound by the barons. He firmly believes that he will be allowed to defend himself in a trial by combat.
The Condemnation and Escape of the Lovers
- Word spreads throughout the city that Tristan and Yseut have been taken together and condemned to death.
- As you may have imagined, public opinion favors the lovers. People are mad at the barons and the dwarf that enabled them to be caught; everybody remembers the great service Tristan did for Cornwall when he fought Morholt.
- Mark calls all the Cornish people to the palace. He announces his plan to burn his wife and nephew, ignoring his people's request that he give them a fair trial.
- As prisoners are led to their death, they pass by a chapel on a cliff overlooking the sea. When Tristan is led by, he begs to be allowed to go inside to pray.
- Tristan's captors unbind him. Once inside the chapel, he climbs out a window behind the altar and leaps to the rocks below, escaping.
- Governal, who has fled the city, meets Tristan on the beach near the chapel. Tristan complains that without Yseut, his escape is meaningless.
- Governal advises Tristan to hide in a bush and wait to hear news of Yseut; he must live on to avenge her death if she is burnt.
- Governal gives Tristan his sword and hauberk (a.k.a. chain mail), but prevents him from riding to rescue Yseut because Mark has threatened to kill anyone who helps Tristan escape.
- When Yseut learns of Tristan's escape, she cares not at all about her own death, rejoicing only that those responsible for their capture will get what they deserve. We're not totally sure what that is, but we'll go with whatever makes her happy.
- As Yseut is being led to the fire, the seneschal Dinas begs Mark to give her a fair trial, warning him that Tristan will take vengeance for her death. Mark refuses.
- A leper named Yvain meets Mark and Yseut on the way to the fire. He tells Mark that he knows of a better way for Mark to punish Yseut. Do tell, Yvain.
- Yvain proposes that Mark give Yseut to the leper colony to be held as their common woman, arguing that it will be worse for Yseut to suffer this indignity than burn. Well, that's a charming suggestion.
- Mark agrees, handing her over. Mark. MARK. Seriously?
- Governal and Tristan see Yseut being led away by the lepers. Yseut leaps from the bush on horseback and fights the crutch-brandishing lepers. You can't make this stuff up.
- Tristan, Governal, and Yseut ride off into the forest together.
The Forest of Morrois
- The three spend the night in the Forest of Morrois, where Tristan uses a bow Governal procures from an archer to shoot a roe-deer.
- Tristan makes a bower out of branches and Governal cooks. The three spend a long time living in the forest like this.
King Mark's Horse's Ears
- Frocin tells Mark's barons that he knows an important secret of the king's. He offers to tell it to them by putting his head into the cavity formed by a hawthorn bush's roots, then speaking the secret.
- Talking to the "hawthorn bush, not the barons" (we are totally using this method to gossip with impunity from now on), Frocin reveals that Mark has horse's ears. Yes, folks, you read that right.
- One day, the three barons who have heard the secret reveal their knowledge of it to Mark.
- Mark tells them that he has this affliction because of the magic of the dwarf. Whoa, whoa, hold up. What? That wasn't just a joke? The ears are real? How did no one notice them before? You know what, whatever. These medieval people can do what they want.
- Oh, and they do: Mark up and cuts off Frocin's head. This makes lots of people happy; they still hate the dwarf because of what he did to Tristan and Yseut.
The Hermit Ogrin I
- One day, Tristan and Yseut meet a hermit named Ogrin. He tells them that Mark has offered one hundred silver marks for their capture, and that God will pardon the sins of a man who confesses them in good faith. (We're not sure: God is kind of a jokester in this romance, if you think about it.)
- Tristan explains that he and Yseut love one another because of a love potion, and there is nothing they can do about it.
- He says he would rather live as a beggar than leave Yseut. Yseut shares his feelings.
- Ogrin gives them lodging for the night.
- The couple remains in the woods, avoiding open country. They live on venison that Tristan kills and are troubled by a lack of bread.
- The word that there is a reward for their capture spreads throughout the whole kingdom.
- Tristan's dog, Husdant, is very sad about Tristan's disappearance. He refuses to eat anything. He scowls and paws the ground with tears in his eyes.
- Everyone says that if Husdant were theirs, they would let him off his leash. They would not want such a fine dog to go mad.
- The three barons advise Mark to let the dog off his leash to determine whether or not he is mad.
- When Husdant is released, he picks up Tristan's scent and follows it, with a crowd of people behind him.
- Husdant follows Tristan's last journey through Cornwall, eventually leaping out of the chapel onto the beach.
- When Husdant runs into the forest, the people stop following him. That's a lucky break!
- Tristan hears Husdant barking and hides, afraid that Mark is tracking him.
- Husdant greets the group joyfully, but Tristan thinks he has to kill him, afraid that his barking will lead King Mark to them. He asks for Governal and Yseut's advice.
- Yseut advises him to train Husdant not to bark when hunting, to which Tristan agrees.
- Tristan begins to train him by stopping him from following prey whenever he begins barking, and after a month, he hunts silently.
- Husdant is a great help to the group, killing many animals and covering their bodies with branches, then leading his master to them.
- Tristan, Yseut, and Governal are constantly on the move, camping in a different place every night to avoid being captured.
- They have no bread, and their clothes become ragged. Both Tristan and Yseut are sorry about what they're putting the other one through. They both worry that the other will fall out of love.
- One day, Governal hears the noise of hunting dogs. These dogs belong to one of the three barons whose plotting led to the capture of Tristan and Yseut.
- Governal hides behind a tree, waiting for the man.
- Governal leaps out and cuts off the man's head, leaving the body behind.
- When the baron's men find the body, they believe Tristan has killed him.
- From then on, no one wants to enter the woods, because they're afraid of Tristan's sword.
- Governal enters the bower where Tristan lies with Yseut, brandishing the head. Tristan is very happy that Governal has killed the baron.
- Tristan invents a bow called "Fail Not," a trap for large animals that provides them with many stags to eat.
- One hot summer day, Tristan comes back to the bower from hunting and decides to take a nap.
- Tristan and Yseut lie down on a pile of leaves, fully clothed. Tristan places a sword between them.
- The lovers embrace one another around the sword as they sleep. Yseut wears her gold and emerald wedding ring, and a ray of sun falls on her face.
Mark's Discovery of the Lovers
- A forester comes across the bower where Tristan and Yseut are sleeping and offers to lead King Mark to it.
- Mark insists on meeting the forester at the crossroads alone, despite his barons' warning that it is dangerous. He intends to kill Tristan and Yseut when he finds them.
- The king enters the bower alone with his sword drawn. He decides not to kill them when he sees that they are fully clothed and keep a sword between them.
- Mark decides that they are not lovers.
- Afraid that if he wakes them, a fight will ensue, Mark instead takes Yseut's wedding ring and Tristan's sword, leaving his own in their place. He means this as a sign to them that he has been there and that no one wishes them dead.
- Yseut dreams that while she is in a fancy tent in a forest, two lions approach her but take her by the hand instead of killing her. She wakes up in fright, waking Tristan.
- When they see the king's sword and ring, the lovers conclude that the king has been there and will return with more men to capture them. They decide to flee to Wales.
The Love Potion
- The love potion Yseut's mother crafted only lasts for three years. The depth of the love it produces enables the lovers to endure a life of hardship without weariness.
- Tristan is hunting a stag one day when the potion wears off. He immediately feels bad about all the sadness he has caused Mark, the knightly life he has lost, and the hardship Yseut endures.
- Tristan resolves to leave Yseut, returning her to Mark.
- The potion wears off on Yseut, too. She laments the queenly life she has lost, and she tells Tristan that she believes they have gone astray because of the potion.
- Tristan tells Yseut that if Mark believes that they have not committed adultery, he will continue to serve Mark. If not, he will go to Brittany or Dumfries but always remain at Yseut's service.
- Tristan remarks that he would not separate from Yseut if he believed there were a way for them to remain together, but he believes that because of him, Yseut does not have the good life she deserves. He asks for Yseut's advice.
- Yseut reminds Tristan that the hermit Ogrin had once told them to repent. She suggests they return to seek his advice, and Tristan agrees.
The Hermit Ogrin II
- Ogrin greets the lovers by remarking on what great suffering they endure for love. Again, he urges them to repent.
- Tristan tells the hermit that they did not suffer for three years. Now, however, they wish to reconcile with the king. Tristan says that he wishes to serve King Mark again.
- Tristan falls at the hermit's feet, telling him that she loves Tristan as a friend, but their physical relationship has come to an end.
- Ogrin says that when a man and woman love truly, but then repent their sin, God will forgive them. He says that to cover up the wrong, they will have to tell some lies. (What else is new?)
- Ogrin advises Tristan to send a letter to Mark asking him to take the queen back and promising to fight with anyone who accuses him of adultery.
- Ogrin says that he gives him this advice because no knight will be willing to challenge Tristan on the field.
- The hermit remarks that everyone remembers how Tristan offered to stand trial when accused before but wasn't allowed.
- The hermit continues, saying that God obviously protected Tristan when he leapt into the sea and kept him and Yseut safe in the forest.
- Tristan must remind Mark of this, and tell him that he fled with Yseut because he felt responsible for her safety.
- He must write that he wishes to serve Mark again, but that he will go to Dumfries and serve another king if Mark does not agree.
- Tristan agrees, but asks Ogrin to add to the letter that he doesn't trust Mark since he offered a reward for his head. So, he dares not tell Mark where he is.
- Tristan decides he will affix the letter to a post at the crossroads and trust any letter from Mark he receives in response.
- The hermit writes the letter for him and seals it. Tristan decides to carry it to the crossroads himself, despite Ogrin's protest.
- When Tristan enters the town of Lantyan, the watchmen blow their horns. He sneaks through a ditch to the window of the king's bedchamber.
- Tristan calls out to the king and identifies himself. He sets the letter on the windowsill.
- Mark begs him not to go, but Tristan escapes from the city and returns to the hermitage.
- The chaplain reads Tristan's letter to Mark. He is pleased and rounds up all the barons.
- Mark tells his barons that he wants them to listen to the letter. Dinas declares that everyone must listen and give their king good advice.
- The letter the chaplain reads reminds Mark of how Tristan slew a dragon to win Yseut for him. It says that Mark believed the lies of his barons.
- Tristan offers to defend himself in combat. He declares that he and Yseut never shared a wrongful love.
- If he is not able to defend himself at Mark's court, he says, Tristan will defend himself before an army.
- Tristan explains that he and Yseut escaped thanks to God's grace, adding that he kept Yseut with him in the woods because he wished to protect her.
- Tristan concludes the letter by offering to serve Mark again if he takes Yseut back, or to travel to Dumfries and serve another king.
- If Mark does not take Yseut back, Tristan says, he will return her to Ireland.
- Mark's barons advise him to take Yseut back, but to send Tristan to fight for the king of Galway in his war with the Scots.
- Mark agrees and sends his letter off to the crossroads, where Tristan retrieves it before midnight.
- Ogrin reads the king's letter to him, which tells how he will be ready to receive Yseut in three days at the Gué Aventurous.
- Although sad to part from Yseut, Tristan accepts the separation as a way to make up to her for all the suffering she has endured on his account.
- Tristan proposes they pledge their love to one another and always remain in touch.
- Yseut asks Tristan to leave her his dog, Husdant, in memory of him. She will give Tristan her jasper ring, which he must send with his messages so she knows they come from him. They seal their gift exchange with a kiss.
Yseut's Return to King Mark
- Ogrin buys nice clothes and a horse for Yseut at the market at St Michael's Mount.
- The day and place of Yseut's return are proclaimed throughout Cornwall and all the people gather there, eager to see their beloved king.
- King Mark and his people cover the meadow with tents and pavilions.
- Tristan rides through them with Yseut at his side, wearing a hauberk because he still fears for his life.
- Tristan hands Husdant over to Yseut, and Yseut reminds him to send any message of his with her jasper ring.
- Yseut begs Tristan not to leave the land until he knows how Mark is treating her. She still fears the three barons that betrayed them, and she advises Tristan to stay with the forester Orry. There, she intends to send him messages. Tristan agrees.
- Mark approaches, with Dinas at his side. Tristan greets him, He asks once again to be allowed to clear his name in trial-by-combat and to remain in Mark's service.
- Mark's nephew, Andret, advises Mark to retain Tristan so that men will fear him more. This seems like a pretty good idea to Mark. He and Andret step away to discuss further.
- Yseut is dressed very richly. Her eyes and hair shine brightly as she talks with Dinas.
- The three barons tell Mark that if he allows Tristan to remain, he will seem to be consenting to their adultery. Mark agrees to send Tristan away for a year.
- The king announces his decision to Tristan and offers him gold. But Tristan refuses to take any money, saying he will go to serve the king who is at war.
- Everyone watches Tristan depart. Dinas begs to accompany him, but Tristan asks him to remain behind and to give Governal anything he asks if Tristan sends him there. Dinas agrees.
- Tristan tells Dinas that he is parting with a lovely woman whom he one day intends to be with again.
- The Cornish people are sad at Tristan's departure, but celebrate Yseut's return by decorating their houses with rich cloth.
- The bishop comes out to meet Yseut and leads her to the church altar. Dinas presents her with a rich silk cloth, which she leaves as a gift to the church. It remains in St Samons's today, as a chasuble (clothes for the clergy).
- At the palace, Yseut is honored with a feast as great as the one on her wedding day. In celebration, Mark frees one hundred serfs and knights twenty squires.
- Meanwhile, Tristan takes refuge in the home of the forester Orry, who provisions him with wild venison. There, Tristan hears news of Yseut carried by the squire Perinis.
The Vindication of Yseut
- One day, Mark goes hunting with the three wicked barons. They tell Mark that Yseut must clear herself of the charge of adultery, advising him to ask her how she will do so.
- Annoyed, Mark reminds the barons that Tristan offered to defend himself of the charge and none of them would fight him. He accuses them of trying to shame him and threatens to send for Tristan.
- The barons are frightened of Tristan. They tell Mark that they only give him advice out of loyalty, but that they will never speak about this issue again.
- Mark exiles them from his land, saying that he is pained he has banished Tristan for their sake.
- The barons, Godwin, Ganelon, and Denoalan, leave Cornwall for their well-defended castles.
- Mark returns to his castle, Tintagel, in a very bad mood. When Yseut sees him, she thinks he has captured Tristan, and faints.
- Mark explains that he has sent away three of his barons for suggesting that she should clear herself of the charge of adultery.
- Yseut offers to clear her name in any ordeal Mark's barons propose. She wishes to do so in front of King Arthur and his household so that she will have someone to defend her if anyone accuses her again.
- She asks Mark to summon everyone in the kingdom to Blanche Lande, which he does for fifteen days hence.
- Yseut sends a message to Tristan, asking him to dress as a leper and to wait at the end of a bridge over a marsh called Malpas in Blanche Lande.
- Tristan is supposed to carry a cup and staff, and to beg for alms from passers-by. He is to keep the silver he receives for Yseut until he sees her privately.
- Tristan promises to be there and not to bathe until he has repaid the barons who have accused her. Not that medieval people are known for bathing that frequently to begin with.
- The messenger, Perinis, continues on to Caerleon, where he finds King Arthur, at Stirling, with his household and the Round Table.
- Perinis tells Arthur about Yseut's trial, and that she has asked King Arthur to act as witness and guarantor of her oath, since she has no kinsmen there to do so.
- Everyone in Arthur's court weeps that Yseut is being asked to do this, and Arthur promises to act as witness and guarantor.
- Sir Gawain recalls besting Ganelon in a joust once, and he swears to treat him roughly when he meets with him in Cornwall.
- Sir Griflet tells the king that the three wicked barons have hated the queen for a long time, and promises to lance him in a fight.
- Sir Evain says that Denoalan delights in making accusations. He swears to tell Mark this and to hang Denoalan if ever he meets with him.
- Perinis tells Arthur that he is sure the three barons will meet a bad end, since no one ever made a boast in Arthur's court on which they failed to make good.
- King Arthur tells all his knights to make ready, because they'll be jousting in front of Yseut very soon.
- Arthur escorts Perinis part of the way home. Along the route, everybody talks about Yseut and the jousting that will soon take place on her account.
- Arthur tells Perinis to say hi to Yseut and to tell her that he promises to do as she has asked. He also says to remind Yseut of "the throwing spear which was fixed in the post" (a vague allusion to another Tristan poem, whose reference is unclear).
Yseut's Ambiguous Oath
- Tristan leaves his hiding place dressed in the poor, soot-blackened clothes of a leper (that not bathing thing has worked out pretty well), with a sword hidden under his clothes.
- Governal advises him to take care not to be recognized. That's for sure.
- Tristan asks Governal to be in hiding near the ford with his horse, shield, and lance. He intends to joust in disguise later on.
- Tristan makes his way to Malpas, where he seats himself on a mound near the crossing. When people pass by, he begs for alms.
- Some people give him alms, but others abuse him and attempt to hit him. He strikes out at the latter with his crutch. (Yeah, we laughed, too.) Everyone believes he is really a leper.
- The crowd begins to gather in the marsh: people build pavilions and tents, and the hooves of the knights' horses tear up the soft mud until they begin to sink in up to their chest.
- Everyone gets very muddy; Tristan laughs at them and continues to ask for alms.
- Arthur and his knights joust nearby. Tristan asks Arthur for alms, commenting on the richness of his clothing and begging for his hose, which Arthur gives him. Yes, folks, King Arthur just took off his pants and handed them over to leper Tristan. We'd like to see that in the movie version.
- When Mark rides by, Tristan begs from him and receives his fur cloak.
- Tristan tells Mark that he is a Welshman who contracted leprosy from his lover, the wife of a lord. Mark laughs when Tristan tells him that only Yseut is as beautiful as his lover. Oh, Tristan, you devil, you.
- Coatless Mark meets hoseless Arthur and informs him that Yseut is on her way through the Malpas, with the help of Sir Andret. They keep watch for her.
- When the three evil barons ask Tristan which is the best way through the pass, he points them to the muddiest quagmire, where their horses sink up to their chests. This stuff is getting good.
- Tristan tells them to flap their arms, a technique he promises has helped many others.
- Yseut laughs when she arrives and sees the spectacle. Tristan offers Denaloan his staff to help pull the baron out of the muck, but Tristan lets go at the last second, claiming his muscles and joints are weak. You're killing us, Tristan.
- Yseut sends her horse across the marsh alone, then stands at its edge and calls for Tristan.
- Yseut asks Tristan to carry her across the bridge so she can avoid muddying herself, instructing him to turn his back to her so she can ride him like a horse. Ahem.
- Everyone gapes at the strange sight of the queen riding the "leper."
- After they have crossed the bridge, Tristan asks Yseut for alms. Arthur and Mark encourage her to give them. Yseut refuses, however, claiming that she felt lots of food in his pouch. (The medieval sexual innuendo just keeps coming!) She also adds that he can earn lots of money by selling the rich clothes Arthur and Mark gave him.
- Tristan finds Governal. They mount two fine horses. Tristan covers himself completely with black serge, and Governal covers his face with white cloth.
- Attached to Tristan's lance is a pennant Yseut has made for him.
- When Governal and Tristan pass through Blanche Lande, Sir Gerflet tells Sir Gawain that he thinks they must be enchanted knights of the Black Knight of the Mountain. Mark and Arthur notice the two men because of how well they wear their armor.
- Tristan jousts with Andret, unhorsing him.
- Governal kills the forester who betrayed Tristan and Yseut's bower to the king.
- Some of Arthur's knights ride after Governal and Tristan, but let them escape when they are too scared to follow these "phantoms" over the ford.
- Everyone makes their way to the encampment at Blanche Lande, where fancy tents and pavilions are set up, the floors covered with flowers instead of rushes.
- That night, the kings hear the requests of their people. Rich people exchange gifts with one another.
- Mark visits Arthur in his tent. The two men discuss how Yseut will acquit herself the next morning.
- Everyone gathers before Mark's tent when the watchmen sound their horns at daybreak.
- In front of the tent, a rich gray cloth lies covered with all the holy relics in the kingdom.
- Before all the people gathered there, Arthur tells Mark that those who have accused Yseut have acted disloyally, and that Mark should not believe their lies. He promises to defend Yseut against anyone who accuses her in the future.
- Arthur announces that Yseut will hold her right hand out over the relics and swear that she never loved Tristan or any man shamefully.
- Mark claims that he believed the barons' lies against his will, but that after the trial, anyone who dishonors the queen will have to answer for it.
- Arthur tells Yseut that she must swear that Tristan never loved her wrongfully, but only with the love he owed his uncle's wife.
- Yseut swears by the relics before her and all the relics in the world "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." Well played, Yseut. Well played. But seriously, folks, is that the truth? Is it a lie? What are we supposed to think?
- Those who hear Yseut's oath applaud it for its completeness. They curse anyone who mistrusts her now.
- Arthur declares to the three barons in particular that anyone who speaks wrongly of Yseut from now on will have to defend himself before Arthur.
- Arthur tells Yseut that he has made Mark promise never to believe slander about her again.
- Tristan, Yseut, and Mark are now free of worries. But Mark's barons are on the watch for any sign of betrayal and continue to cause trouble.
- A spy tells the barons that Tristan visits the queen when Mark goes hunting. He tells them to watch Yseut's window and see Tristan come visit her wearing some arrows and the sword.
- The spy makes them promise to pay him a silver mark if they see Tristan through the queen's bedroom window.
- The spy promises that if someone waits at a curtain-covered opening near the queen's bedroom, they will be able to see through a gap in the surrounding garden to her window.
- Godwin is the first to keep watch, on a night when the king is away and Yseut sends for Tristan.
- When Tristan reaches the garden, he notices Godwin coming toward him, and he hides in ambush. Godwin goes the other way, however.
- Next, Tristan sees Denoalan traveling through the thicket where he is hiding, intent on flushing out a boar using his greyhounds.
- Tristan leaps on him and cuts off his head, saving the hair so that he can show it to Yseut.
- Tristan hurries to Yseut's chamber, where she waits with Brangain and Perinis. Godwin sees him approach, carrying some arrows and a handful of hair.
- Yseut notices Godwin's shadow just as she rises to greet Tristan.
- After Tristan tells her how he has killed Denoalan, she tells him to "stretch" his bow to "see how it is bent." When Yseut asks him to string it, he realizes that she has seen someone and finally notices Godwin's shadow.
- Asking for God's help in bringing vengeance on the man who has wronged him, Tristan lands an arrow through his eye and into his brain, killing him instantly.
- [The Béroul fragment ends here, and the following is reconstructed from another version of the legend.]
- Yseut tells Tristan he must flee for his own safety. The two exchange love-tokens and promise to be always at one another's service.
Tristan in Brittany
- Tristan arrives in the land of Duke Hoel of Brittany. He helps the Duke drive off invaders to his land and becomes friends with his son, Kaherdin, and daughter, Yseut of the White Hands.
- Kaherdin hears Tristan singing a sad love song about Yseut the Fair, and he assumes that Tristan is in love with his sister. He tells his father, who offers his daughter to Tristan.
- Tristan decides to marry her because she is beautiful and has good family connections. He figures he'll never see Yseut the Fair again anyway. And whatever, she has the same name, so it's cool.
- Oh, wait. On his wedding night, the ring she gave him reminds Tristan of Yseut the Fair, and he refuses to consummate his marriage. Yseut of the White Hands is one lucky gal.
- Kaherdin learns about Tristan's refusal and fusses at him for insulting his family.
- Tristan tells Kaherdin of his love for the other Yseut and offers to prove that she is more beautiful than his sister by taking him to Cornwall to see. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, our hero just insulted some dude's sister and then said he couldn't help it because some other woman with the same name was way hotter. And then offered to prove it.
- Naturally, Kaherdin is like, "Yeah, let's see!" So off they go. On the way there, they learn that Mark is due to pass by on the road with Yseut and his whole court. They lie in wait for them.
- Kaherdin is struck by the beauty of all the Cornish ladies, but especially Yseut.
- Tristan manages to get a message through to Yseut, who arranges to meet him at a nearby castle. She reproaches him for his marriage, but forgives him. After all, love means never having to say you're sorry. Or something.
- Kaherdin and Tristan return to Brittany, their friendship renewed.
- [End of re-construction; What follows is an anonymous version of a later episode in the legend, called "The Tale of Tristan's Madness."]
- Meanwhile, back in Cornwall, Mark lays a formal complaint against Tristan before his barons. He offers his love to anyone who can tell him where Tristan is.
- Dinas sends a message to Tristan about Mark's efforts to find him.
- Tristan is bummed out about his fate, sorry that he abandoned his first love and will probably never see her again.
- Tristan wonders why he has had to suffer so much for love, describing himself as "wounded."
- Tristan asks love to grant him his desire to hold Yseut once more in his arms, and God not to let him die before seeing her again.
- Tristan says that he is agitated all day and all night because of his love for her.
- Tristan gets the idea to cut off his hair and dress in altered clothing so he can travel through Cornwall without being recognized.
- Tristan walks from Hoel's lands to the shore, changing his name to Tantris along the way. Things are so rough that he nearly goes mad.
- When he arrives in Cornwall, Tristan tears his clothes, scratches his face, and strikes out at anyone who crosses his path. He is trying to make everyone believe he is a madman.
- Pretending to be a fool, Tristan is able to walk straight into Mark's castle. He tells Mark he is named Picous, that he is the son of a walrus and a whale, and that he has a sister named Bruneheut for whom he will exchange Yseut.
- Tristan tells Mark that it was because of Brangain's potion that Tristan and Yseut fell in love, and that he and Yseut drank it. If Yseut says this is a lie, then "it is a lie I have dreamed every night since."
- "Picous" claims to have leaped, thrown reeds, balanced sharpened twigs, and held a queen in his arms.
- Tristan/"Picous" recalls the day when Mark found the lovers in the woods and moved a branch to block the sunlight from Yseut's face.
- When Yseut curses the "fool," he responds by saying he still has her ring, and he still regrets parting with her. He asks her to repay his suffering with sweet kisses.
- King Mark goes out to watch his hunting birds, and Yseut calls the fool to her.
- Brangain is surprised when the fool calls her by name, and she demands to know what enchanter has told it to him.
- Tristan responds by asking for her help in getting repaid for a quarter of his service to her and half of what he has suffered for her.
- Noticing the man's shapely body, Brangain realizes now that he is too hot to be a fool. She promises to help him, but asks him not to do anything that could dishonor her or the queen. Also, she asks him not to use Tristan's name.
- Tristan agrees but remarks that thanks to the potion Brangain gave them, all he can think about is obeying the dictates of love. He complains that the potion affected them unequally, for he now pines for Yseut while she seems to feel nothing for him.
- Brangain finally recognizes the fool as Tristan, and she leads him to Yseut.
- Tristan tells Yseut she can cure him of his sickness by returning his love. Yseut does not believe it is Tristan, however, because Tristan would never say such evil things about her.
- Tristan explains that his love of her drove him to dissemble (not the first time!), and asks her if he does not resemble the knight who rescued her from Gamarien.
- Tristan recalls the circumstances of their first few meetings, from the time Yseut first healed his wound until they drank the love potion, but Yseut still does not believe it's him.
- Tristan then recalls his leap from the chapel and his escape with Yseut into the woods.
- When Yseut still does not believe him, Tristan complains that he once had a lover but has now lost her, because she will not return his love.
- Tristan asks about the fate of his dog, Husdant, swearing he will recognize him. When Brangain unties him, he runs straight to his master, joyfully greeting him.
- Finally, Tristan produces Yseut's ring. On seeing it, Yseut finally believes he's Tristan, and begs for forgiveness for failing to recognize him.
- Yseut promises to reward Tristan for all his suffering, asking Brangain what the reward should be. Brangain tells her to dress him in nicer clothes, then make love to him until Mark returns. Presumably not in those clothes. Okay, Brangain.
- [End of "The Tale of Tristan's Madness"; what follows is re-constructed from other versions of the complete legend.]
- Tristan does not remain long in Cornwall, finally returning to Brittany and the other Yseut.
The Death of the Lovers
- Back in Brittany, Tristan helps Kaherdin carry on a love affair with—surprise!—the wife of another knight.
- One day as they are leaving the knight's castle, the rival knight's retainers attack them. Kaherdin is killed and Tristan badly wounded.
- Tristan knows that only Yseut the Fair can heal his poisoned wound. He sends a messenger to her, bearing her ring.
- If Yseut returns with him, the messenger is supposed to raise white sails on the ship; if not, black sails.
- Once the messenger reaches Cornwall, Yseut immediately leaves for Brittany with him.
- No longer able to leave his bed, Tristan asks his wife to tell him the color of the sails when he learns that the ship is in sight.
- Yseut of the White Hands has overheard Tristan's instructions to the messenger and, out of jealousy, decides she's not going to roll with this game. She goes and tells Tristan that the approaching sails are black.
- Believing that his beloved Yseut has failed to come, Tristan dies.
- When Yseut reaches Brittany, she knows from the people's lamentation that Tristan has died. She hurries to the palace, where she kisses Tristan then dies embracing his body.
- The bodies are taken to Cornwall, where King Mark has decided to give them an honorable burial in the church there, one on either side of the apse.
- A story is told that two trees with intertwining branches grew up over their graves. King Mark had the trees cut down three times, but each time, they grew back. It is said that the love potion was the cause of this miraculous growth.