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As Tristan's pupil in formal education as well as trickery, Isolde the Blonde (distinct from the two other Isoldes, the Queen of Ireland and Isolde of the White Hands) for a brief time demonstrates her own acumen as a trickster before it unravels when Marke discovers them.
An example from the text is helpful in uncovering the complexities to be expected in Gottfried's brand of trickery. In a sense, it is easy to explain the motivation the adult Tristan has in exercising trickery; to continue his affair with Isolde, he must trick those who would hinder it. It is more difficult to explain, for example, his motivation when he first encounters the friendly pilgrims upon his arrival in Cornwall, to whom he lies without any apparent provocation:
Now Tristan was shrewd and cautious for his years and started to tell them a pretty tale. "Good sirs," he told them, "I was born in this country and with some others was to have ridden out hunting in this forest here today, but (myself I know not how) I rode out of touch with both huntsmen and hounds. Those who knew the forest-paths all fared better than I, because, having no track, I rode astray and got lost. I then hit on a cursed trail which brought me to the edge of a gully where, try as I would, I would not curb my horse from plunging headlong down. We ended up, my horse and I, lying in a heap together. Then I failed to get to my stirrup in time to prevent its snatching the reins and careering off into the forest. And so I came to this path, which has brought me as far as this. But I cannot say where I am, nor in which direction I must go." (76)

This elaborate story is a miniature autobiography and the pilgrims respond with sympathy, giving Tristan further reason to persist with his trickery. The pilgrims happily take Tristan with them for a while until huntsmen appear in the distance. Tristan identifies them as his purported hunting party, and joins up with them as the pilgrims take their leave.
Tristan's words serve as an introduction to his own playfulness. Tristan deceives in that, as far as he is concerned, he is from Parmenie, the land of his parents Rual and Floraete. In all actuality he is from Cornwall and the son of Blanscheflur, the sister of King Marke of Cornwall, and Riwalin of Parmenie, circumstances his adoptive parents kept hidden from him to protect him and his inheritance. His unconscious expression of an objective truth when he says, "I was born in this country" turns the trick of his deception of the pilgrims back on himself; thinking he is lying and apparently intending to lie, he utters a statement that is demonstrably true in the constituted reality of the text.
Yet more interesting is the sudden appearance of the hunters to whose company Tristan falsely claimed membership; by a stroke of luck, or by the hand of an excessively accommodating author, circumstances arrange themselves such that Tristan's falsehoods, as if by magic, become true or already were true, if only in a technical sense. According to intention, Tristan can be said to lie: the narrator supplements this conclusion with the approving admission that the precocious Tristan greets them with a tall tale. The context of his words and his knowledge reveal his words to be a falsehood, yet they hold up to the scrutiny of textual evidence, which ...Show more


The theme of trickery and the figure of the trickster loom large in Tristan and Isolde. With specific reference to Gottfried's version of the tale, this research will critically analyse the theme of trickery and the trickster figure. In this epic tale, three tricksters can be easily identified: the narrator, Isolde as lesser tricksters, and, chief among them, Tristan himself…
Author : bmcclure
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