The Romance of Tristan

Bad Tristan and Jolly Good King Mark

The themes of misinterpretation and passivity are threaded throughout Beroul's text "The Romance of Tristan": characters often misread signs and events, as well as each other. There are several key misinterpretations in the story that reveal where the author's true sympathies lie. Because most of what happens to Tristan can be attributed to people or events that are out of his hands, he is blamed by neither the other characters nor himself, and never assumes a truly penitent role. Though this may be Tristan's romance by title, he is certainly not the character with whom readers are intended to empathize. King Mark often misinterprets circumstances as well, but to vastly different ends. His indecisiveness is at times endearing, and though he is the enemy of our "hero", his character is ultimately cast in a more positive light than the titular protagonist.

The events that take place in the text are rarely motivated by Tristan's hand: Tristan makes few, if any, decisions on his own. A pattern emerges in which Broul repeatedly reveals Tristan's inefficacy to the reader, but because the other characters in the text do not see Tristan's flaws, he remains the hero. He is in love with Isolde,...

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