Camelot in the Nineteenth Century: Arthurian Characters in the Poems of Tennyson, Arnold, Morris, and Swinburne

By Laura Cooner Lambdin; Robert Thomas Lambdin | Go to book overview
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Chapter 3
Matthew Arnold

The Tristram legends seem to have originated in the lateeighth-century Pictish kingdom in Scotland. The original Tristram was probably Drust, son of the Pictish King Talorc, who ruled in Scotland around the year 780 ( Barber 74). From here, Tristram legends can be traced through Welsh, Cornish, and Breton sources. In one of her lays, Marie de France mentioned Tristram as an ideal lover, and Chrétien de Troyes also claimed to have written about the hero, although this work is no longer extant. The earliest surviving long poem about Tristan is a version by Thomas of Britain, who wrote at the Plantagenet Court in England after 1150. Thomas was followed by Eilhart von Oberge around 1170, and also by another Norman poet, Béroul, about 1190. Further, from Thomas Tristan a condensed version, Sir Tristrem, was composed in Middle English approximately a century later; this is the only other treatment of the subject in Middle English, except for Malory's reworking that comprises about one-third of the Morte Darthur. Over many years, the Tristram romances became very complex, "with comic and tragic, savage and civilized, cynical and idealistic parts" ( Loomis 82).

When Matthew Arnold published "Tristram and Iseult" in Empedocles on Etna, and Other Poems ( 1852), it was important as the first English retelling of the story in nearly 400 years. Arnold's poem was followed by Richard Wagner opera Tristan und Isolde (first performed in 1865), Tennyson poem "The LastTournament"

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