The Woman Who Pretended to Be Who She Was: Myths of Self-Imitation

By Wendy Doniger | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Resurrection and the
Comedy of Remarriage

One Hero died defiled, but I do live,
And surely as I live, I am a maid.”
“The former Hero! Hero that is dead!

Hero and Don Pedro, Shakespeare,
Much Ado about Nothing (1598–1600)


TRUE AND FALSE ACCUSATIONS AND ORDEALS OF ADULTERY

By placing his sword between himself and Brünnhilde in bed, Siegfried absolves himself (for a while, at least) of what may or may not be a valid suspicion that he has cuckolded his king. When Tristan similarly lays his sword between himself and Isolde, the suspicion that he thus temporarily quiets is without question valid; eventually it provokes King Mark to force Isolde to submit to a more formal ordeal (grasping a red-hot iron), which she evades through self-imitation:

Tristan put on the costume of a pilgrim, stained and blistered his face, and disfigured
his body and clothes. He went to the place of the ordeal, and when Mark and Isolde
arrived there by ship, the Queen saw him and recognized him at once. She asked the
pilgrim to carry her from the ship’s gangway to the harbor; he did, but when he came to
the shore and stepped on to dry land he dropped to the ground, falling as if by accident,
so that his fall brought him to rest lying in the Queen’s lap and arms. “Would it be sur-
prising if this pilgrim wanted to frolic with me?” asked Isolde with a smile. “You have
all clearly seen that I cannot lawfully maintain that no man other than Mark found his
way into my arms or had his couch in my lap.” When it was time for her to swear the

-64-

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