Addicted to Love
In Gottfried Von Strassburgs retelling of the ancient romance, Tristan, loves portrayal as a psychological disease is considerable. For Rivalin and Blancheflor, Tristan and Isolde, and also King Mark, the affliction causes them to act in a way that they would normally shun.Love changes the perspective on life of those who become intoxicated by its power; whether its shared as a couple or entirely unreciprocated, the lust to attain and secure its presence is consuming.
Loves torment of Tristan and Isolde is a sweet torment that “noble lovers” endure. Grieves are shared, blessings are doubled, and embraces are electrifying on both the physical and emotional levels. One sided love is a hell like no other. Here, passions of the heart will override the sensibilities of the mind. This agony filled state is where Marks resides. This theme of unreturned love is as relevant today as it is in Gottfrieds time. Marks perception of the world, mentally and even at times physically, is greatly skewed by loves drunken haze. Broken on the wheel of love, Marks heart is tortured until he confesses that Isolde is unfaithful; then just as cruel, he is fooled into believing she is his. This repeated scenario of torture is by far the highest tragedy in the romance. The climax of the abuse is when Mark questions his own senses after the discovery of the couple copulating in the garden. Blinded by the violent inebriation of amour, he disavows empirical proof of Isoldes betrayal. While through the omnipotent narration the reader sees that Isolde never loves Mark, the king is nevertheless betrayed. First of course, he betrays himself. All indication points to the affair. His heart is not a friend at this point for Mark. Isoldes betrayal goes beyond betrayal of the state; the real issue is that of betraying the heart. It is only through this betrayal that love is able to rape Marks psyche. Coupled with the fact that his dearest friend and confidant, Tristan, is embroiled in this nightmare; Mark is to be pitied greatly. Gottfried has Mark suffer the three greatest betrayals a person can encounter: his own, that of his lovers and that of his friends. The love Mark has for both Isolde and Tristan only work against him; for had he been free of loves grip, he would have trusted his senses and his intuitions.
Although void of all supernatural occurrences, Rivalin and Blancheflor fall as deeply in love as will their unfortunate son.The ultimately fatal addiction to the euphoria is nearly instantaneous. For both Rivalin and Blancheflor the danger involved in consummating their love is twofold. Bearing a bastard child would result not only in the cataclysmic loss of societal position, but quite possibly her death. Rivalin, less prudent then his future son, risks the wrath of an angry Mark by out right eloping with his true love. Under the influence of loves tyrannical reign, both disregard their reservations and good sense; blinded by passion they escape to Parmenie to be legally wed. Like a wounded cowboy in a classic western film who downs whiskey to avoid the pain of a gunshot wound or snake bite, love appears to ease the pain of Rivalins wounds after a battle. Although on what is almost his death, the passion for Blancheflor numbs his hurt and allows Tristan to be conceived.
As perfect lovers, Tristan and Isoldes addiction to Cupids opiate is surpassed by none. This is proven by the trials Brangane endures, the disregard for Isoldes personal acts of treason, and also the blows to Tristans honor and loyalty to his uncle. Once Isolde has the epiphany that the killer of her Uncle Morold is bathing in the next room, she is enraged. However, she is unable to extract revenge on Tristan. Gottfried suggests this is due to a feminine instinct; simply, that Isolde was too refined to commit such an uncouth act. This delicate characterization of Isolde would not last long. Upon the accidental ingestion of the love potion, Isolde is assaulted by the silent waylayer of hearts. Under siege by love, Isolde and Tristan both transform into a creature of love whose only objective is that of self preservation. Support for this is found each time that Gottfried turns to parallelism when describing the couple. This use of language signals the birth of a new animal, one that is bent on surviving. Once the libation of love is imbibed, Tristan is Isolde, and Isolde is Tristan. Brangane, through no fault of her own, nearly falls prey to the ravenous beast that had become the couple. Gottfried has Brangane nearly suffer two deaths at the hands of the lovers. The first death the maiden suffers is that of her honor. Isolde manipulates her long time friend and servant by playing upon the guilt of her friend. Only under the influence of love would she have asked so much of her friend. This injury, however, is perhaps forgivable. Given the incident in the bath with her future lover, it seems implausible that Isolde could ever have dreamed of having Brangane killed; therefore she must not have been the same person as before. Indeed she was not. Thus love not only changes Isoldes relationship with Brangane, but it changes her relationship with herself. Gottfried is emphasizing that noble lovers have different priorities. First, if the King discovers she is no longer a virgin, then death will quickly follow. This recklessness does not mean that Isolde doesnt value her life. Her loss of innocence is proof of the power of loves coercion. Otherwise, she obviously would have avoided the disgrace. Going further, the only reason she doesnt commit suicide from shear melancholy is because she fears hurting her beloved Tristan. This idea is furthered again, by Gottfrieds use of parallelism. The symbiotic life the lovers are now leading has changed Isoldes perception of herself, because now her identity is linked indefinitely with that of Tristans. They are one in the same, as if they share a mutual physical body. Tristan is not immune to such a change either. Interestingly, the only time he really is able to overcome loves enslaving bonds is during the return trip to Tintagel. Here loyalty and honor win out over loves might. This inconsistency is an odd departure from Gottfrieds theme of loves overwhelming capacity. However, loves reign quickly returns, and proves to be the tragic flaw of the otherwise perfect Tristan. A man who treats loyalty, honor, and chivalric codes as a religious-like ethics, has no trouble betraying not only his uncle and his friend, but his king. Gottfried is emphasizing the corruptive nature that love has over the individual. When in love, the infected wretch changes their entire perspective on life; their goals, their ethics; having all other personal desires subordinated to the intense passion to keep loves fire raging.
Once drunk with love, the victim is likely to assume traits foreign to their character. No matter if its a sip from the chalice or a long draught from the jug, the connoisseur will risk life and limb to maintain the high. In Gottfrieds version of Tristan, loves potency renders much pain and heartache to those who choose to pick up the habit.