IRONY OF PLOT AND CHARACTERIZATION IN GOTTFRIED'S "TRISTAN" (GERMANY)
HORNUNG, ROLPH CARL
Doctor of Philosophy
This study joins the scholarship on Gottfried's Tristan on the side that evaluates the lure of Tristan and Isolde positively. A second point of departure is that the scholarship has hitherto overlooked the substantial irony present in the plot development, as well as in the characterization of numerous secondary figures in Gottfried's romance. Developments in the plot which would seem to doom the love affair of Tristan and Isolde quite ironically create situations in which the love affair can flourish. The scheming Cornish count, by sending Tristan to Ireland in an attempt to murder him, actually gives Tristan the opportunity to practice his highly individual talents in Ireland, resulting finally in his meeting Isolde. Conversely, the apparently benevolent and paternal intentions of Rual, Tristan's foster father, involves Tristan in a morally dubious, and almost fatal, war of revenge, and were also aimed at forcing Tristan into a kingly role to which he is not by his nature suited. Characters in this romance which have in the scholarship been seen as figures of authority or even respectability are revealed in the light of irony, to be the least authoritative and respectable characters. Two prime examples are King Mark and Queen Isolde, both monarchs of worldly stature, yet both also utterly powerless to carry out their dearest worldly intentions. An important contrast is established between characters of this sort and Brangaene, who stands in an uncannily sympathetic relationship to Tristan and Isolde that is not determined by any social role. She is the lovers' servant and their only confidant, at the Irish court and in Mark's bed, and also their teacher, in the episodes of the lovers' ruses. Brangaene performs vital service for the lovers by helping to conceal their love and also by enhancing it through her verbal instruction and the positive example of her actions.