Carlisle Fragment 2

The Carlisle fragment can be compared to 3 different texts based on Thomas’s Roman de Tristan; the correspondence helps confirm on the one hand that these texts are indeed related (i.e. Carlisle is indeed from the French original of these works) and on the other hand how freely the translators worked in deciding when to follow Thomas, when to elaborate, and when to condense the original.


Gottfried von Strassburg’s “translation” of Tristran and Ysolt’s avowal of love after drinking the potion is lengthy and, while it clearly refers to some of Thomas’s literary ideas, including the pun on “lameir” (love/the sea/bitterness), it adds a great deal; the Carlisle Fragment’s 160 lines or so correspond to about 720 lines of Gottfried’s poem. Oddly enough, Gottfried includes in his version of the heroine’s reception at Mark’s court the lines in French, “Isot, Isot la blonde, / marveil de tu le munde!” (Ysolt the blond, marvel of all the world!), which are not in the Carlisle fragment. Since Gottfried’s version is so long, I will not attempt further comparison here.

Tristrams saga

The Norse Tristrams saga summarizes the events after the drinking of the potion thus: “And they were both now tricked by this drink, which they drank, because the servant-boy made a mistake; and from this there came to them a sorrowful life, torment and long anguish, along with physical desire and constant longing. Because of this Tristram cared only for Isond and her care was all for him, with such an exceeding love, that no remedy could separate them.” This corresponds to the first 90 lines of the Carlisle Fragment, and probably a few dozen more lines on the previous page.

After this,however,  the saga author follows Thomas surprisingly closely, as can be seen from the following juxtaposition of lines.

Thomas, Carlisle frag., tr. J. Shoaf

The lovers travel in joy,
Sailing over the smooth high seas,
Towards England at full sail.
Those on the ship see land–
They are all happy and joyful
Except for Tristran the Lover,
For if he could travel by his own desire,
He would not wish to see it for a long time;
He would rather love Ysolt at sea
And carry on with their caresses.

Nevertheless they go towards the land;
By the eyes of the people
Tristran’s ship is recognized.
Before it comes to shore.
A young man is on his way
On a swift horse to the king;
He finds him in the woods and tells him
That he saw Tristran’s ship arrive.
When the king hears this, he is happy-
He makes the youth a knight
For telling him the news
Of Tristran and the maiden.
He goes to meet them at the shore,
Then sends for all his lords.
He leads Ysolt before [them];
He does what is proper to [honor her];
He has married her with great [display],
And they enjoy themselves all [day].

Ysolt was very [clever? Worried?]
She goes to her bedroom
With Tristran.
They call [Branguen] into counsel;
[Ysolt] weeps tenderly, [asking her]
To [help] her tonight
With the king in [her] place
Because he knows her to be [a virgin].
(And she is not [a virgin] at all.)
They persuade her so
And plead and [swear],
That she [agrees to] their request.
Branguen [gets ready]
As if she were a queen.
[She goes to bed] for her lady,
And the queen [wears her clothes].
Mark is…

Tristran [puts out] the candles.
That man takes Branguen [in his arms]
And [takes] her virginity.
[Ysolt] is very worried-
She thinks she will [betray them]
to the king;
Because she is enjoying [herself]
She will not want to leave.
She [waits] close by;
When the king had [finished? fallen asleep? called for wine?]

And the queen [got in].
After the wine, [Mark sleeps with Ysolt]
So that he never [notices]
That she is different.
He finds her [the same woman? just as compliant?].
He shows her [affection]
[He takes] such great joy [in her].

From Ch. 46, trans. J. Shoaf

Now they sail with all sails spread
and they are on the right course for England.
Next the knights said they saw land rising from the sea,
And they were all glad of it,
except Tristram the Lover,
for if he could have done as he wished,
they would never have seen land-
he would rather have traveled with his love
and pleasure and enjoyment.

Nevertheless they go towards the land and land in a good harbor.
Men recognized
Tristram’s ship,
and one young man mounted a swift horse
and rode as fast as possible to the king
and found him in the forest hunting and spoke to him
“My lord (he said), we saw Tristram’s ship land in the harbor.”
When the king heard this news, he was delighted and very happy
and he made the young man a knight
and gave him a fine suit of armor
for telling him this welcome news.
The king rode down to the shore
and sent an invitation to all his kingdom
and held his marriage to Isond
with great honor
and in a kingly manner,
and they amused themselves all day,
with great good cheer for all of them who were there.

But Lady Isond was the cleverest woman.
When evening came,
she took Tristram by the hand
and they went together to the king’s sleeping-house.
And they called to them Bringvet, her maid, to counsel,
and Isond began to weep and ask her with pretty words
to help her tonight
and be in the queen’s place in the king’s house and bed
as if she were herself the queen-but the queen was dressed like Bringvet–
for she knew that she was an unspoiled maiden,
but she knew that she herself was none such.
They asked the maiden for so long
with sweet and lovely words,
that she agreed to their request,
and she dressed herself in all the queen’s clothes
as if she were a queen herself
and she went to the king’s bed for her lady,
but the queen wore Bringvet’s clothes.
The king was happy and joyful and a little drunk,
when he went to bed;
and Tristram put out the lights on all the candles.
The king took Bringvet in his arms
and amused himself with her.
But Isond was worried and feared
that she would turn traitor
and tell the king what was going on.
Because of this, she stayed close all night
and was aware of what they said.
When the king was asleep,
Bringvet got out,
and the queen lay down beside the king.
And when he awoke, he asked for some wine to drink,
and Bringvet artfully gave him the wine the Irish queen had prepared. But the queen drank none of it this time.
A while later the king turned to her and slept with her,
so that he never realized
that she was not the same.
And because he found her pleasurable and desirable,
he showed her great love and joy and happiness,
so that Isond was very pleased.


Sir Tristrem

Finally, the Middle English Sir Tristrem gets through the entire potion episode, from the drinking of the potion up through the wedding-night, in a mere 66 lines. While, like the saga author, this poet takes for granted the emotions of two young people in love, he (or she?) adds the detail that Tristrem’s dog Hodain licks the potion cup andlbecomes the third party in faithful love. The following stanzas correspond to the material quoted above:

cited from Sir Tristrem, from the TEAMS edition online, ed. Alan Lupack, beginning with line 1695:

Tuai wikes in the strand
No seyl thai no drewe.
Into Inglond
A winde to wille hem blewe.
The King on hunting thai fand.
A knave that he knewe,
He made him knight with hand
For his tidinges newe
Gan bring.
Ysonde, bright of hewe,
Ther spoused Mark the King.

He spoused hir with his ring;
Of fest no speke Y nought.
Brengwain, withouten lesing,
Dede as hye had thought.
Sche tok that love drink
That in Yrlond was bought.
For Ysonde to the King
Brengwain to bed was brought
That tide.
Mark his wille wrought
On bed Brengwain biside.

When Mark had tint his swink,
Ysonde to bed yede;
Of Yrlond hye asked drink;
The coupe sche gan hir bede,
Biside hir sche lete it sink.
Therof hadde sche no nede
Of non maner thing
Ogain Tristrem, in lede,
As tho.
No might no clerk it rede,
The love bituen hem to.