Thursday, January 13, 2011

In the Western Tradition...

2. The Romance of Tristan & Iseult As Retold by Joseph Bedier Translated by Hilaire Belloc and Completed by Paul Rosenfeld

As the list of authors/translators etc. implies, this work can only be described as a mishmash and not a consistent narrative in any respect. That is, it is told as a consistent narrative, but it is not. Bits and pieces are taken from French and English poets that are themselves transcribing older legends and the more modern author put in some of his words in keeping with the older dialect, and THEN it was translated by more than one person!

However, I think the point of Arthurian legends and the associated stories (and Arthur comes into this surprisingly little, considering how often Tristan shows up in Le Morte D'Arthur), is that they're not "accurate" in language, the themes of romance and death and fate and Christianity are what is important and the characters are the vessels of these lessons. It is amazing how God is always on the side of the adulterous lovers in Tristan and Iseult, at least it's not always so clear cut with Lancelot and Guenivere. One story I hadn't heard before was that of the fairy dog Pticru, which Tristan gives to Iseult. Everyone accepts the existence of this fairy thing and doesn't view it as evil, though earlier Tristan was accused of being a warlock. As my professor said, older stories got pushed together with Christianity so that neither fully makes sense.

I wonder why people of this time period were so fascinated with illegitimate love and eager to legitimize it from a Higher Power. I suppose this is due to the oft-cited fact that women were basically bargaining chips to be married for political gain. In modern eyes, that would make adultery much more understandable. What is less understandable from a modern viewpoint is how Tristan gives Iseult up to Mark even after they have drunk the philtre that will cause them to love each other to death. This must have to do with the honour or code of chivalry between men that is evoked to explain all sorts of behavior in the Arthurian legends. If neither love nor honour can be scorned, then death does seem fated indeed. We've let whatever this notion of honour was (and I haven't entirely pinpointed it) become eclipsed by love in our culture, and therefore romance no longer always carries the death sentence it once did.

3. Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare

I've already reviewed this, but I read it again for my Shakespeare class, so there will be plenty more of the Bard to come. Adriana and Luciana remain some of my favorite of Shakespeare's women (though truth be told, I think I like them all, except Juliet and Desdemona and even they have their moments), the Antipholi remain blindingly obtuse, and the Dromios as droll as ever. I mostly just wanted to say Antipholi, as this is apparently the correct way to refer to them!

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