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File:Tristan and isolde 5663.png

Tristan and Iseult: the Older Than Print tale of two Star-Crossed Lovers, namely Tristan/Tristram, a Cornish knight, and Iseult/Isolde, an Irish princess. Although she is married to his uncle, a series of mishaps generally involving a Love Potion cause them to fall hopelessly in love. Emphasis on hopelessly. Various shenaningans ensue until their eventual, inevitable and very tragic deaths.

There may have been a historical basis to the legend, but it was largely the invention of medieval romancers, who also decided that Tristan should be a Knight of the Round Table, as this was the proper place for talented knights who had affairs with their queens (cf. Lancelot and Guenevere). There are numerous versions of the legend, but this troper could find only one that ended happily. It has spawned poems, plays, opera and even a recent film.

Tropes used in Tristan and Iseult include:


  • Arranged Marriage
  • Courtly Love: Everyone knows Courtly Love just means rampant adultery!
  • Death by Despair
  • Everything's Better with Princesses
  • Guile Hero: Tristan, though he's very good with a sword. Isolde as well, for engineering one massive deception involving swearing under oath and holy relics.
  • Hero Worshipper: Fairly standard version given to Tristan by his squire Curvenal.
  • Instant Awesome, Just Add Dragons: Random dragon-slaying usually occurs.
  • Kick the Dog: Tristan manages to convince a neighboring king to part with a prized "fey dog" whose fur changed color and wore a magic bell. The net effect is to act as a Care Bear Stare that can cheer up anyone, which was for the king his sole comfort. So Tristan gives it to Iseult to help console her during his absences. The little dog comforts her... and she kills it, because she prefers to be in anguish over his absence than have a moments comfort.
    • Note that in some versions it's just the chime of the bell that will bring one hapinesss -- Iseult throws the bell into the sea for the above-mentioned reason but keeps the dog as a reminder of her beloved.
  • King Arthur
  • Love Triangle: Fairly standard--Tristan, Iseult, his uncle.
    • Although, include secondary characters in amorous pursuit of one or the other eponymous characters such as Iseult White Hands, Palomides, Bellise, a Steward, Karhedins, and you have yourself a Love Dodecahedron.
  • Love Potion
  • Meaningful Name: Tristan's name is explained in-story as derived from the French "triste", meaning "sad" or "sorrowful". In reality, it's derived from the Pictish name "Drystan" (latinized "Drustanus").
  • One Steve Limit: Another Iseult marries Tristan and often brings about his death
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Iseult's name has been spelled in too many ways to count. The most popular are probably "Isolde" and "Isolda".
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: The eponymous couple.
  • Together in Death: In many versions, a hazel tree springs from Tristan's grave and a honeysuckle twines around it from Iseult's grave. Aww. (In some versions it's a briar and a rose - a trope of its own which echoes down through folksongs to the present day.)
  • Treacherous Advisor: The three nobles who are jealous of Tristan.
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