Academic journal article German Quarterly

Love Me, Hurt Me, Heal Me-Isolde Healer and Isolde Lover in Gottfried's Tristan

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Love Me, Hurt Me, Heal Me-Isolde Healer and Isolde Lover in Gottfried's Tristan

Article excerpt

"Ez tuot vil wê, swer herzeclîche minnet" - it hurts a lot when someone loves dearly - thus sings one of the most wehleidig of all German minnesingers, Heinrich von Morungen (MF XIX.XV1, I).1 In "Sach ieman die vrouwen," Heinrich moans: "diu liebe und diu leide / diu wellen mich beide / vürdern hin ze grabe" ("love and suffering, together they wish to drive me to my grave"; MF XIX. VIII.2, 9-11). In yet another poem he complains: "Des bin ich an vröiden siech únd an herzen sère wunt" ("because of this [the unrequited love for a lady] my joy is ailing and I am sorely wounded in my heart"; MF XIX.IX.2, 7). And in one of his most well-known poems he whines:

Vrowe, wilt du mich genern,

sô sich mich ein vil lützel an.

ich enmác mich langer niht erwern,

den lîp muoz ich verlorn hân.

Ich bin siech, min herze ist wunt.

vrowe, daz hânt mir getan

min ougen und din röter munt (AAF XTX.XTX.1, 1-7).

Lady, if you want to heal me, then glance my way once in a while. I can no longer defend myself, and soon I must die. I am sick, my heart is wounded. Lady, that was done to me by my eyes and your red mouth.

Poor Heinrich. It probably was of little solace to him that he was not alone in his suffering. Endless descriptions of emotional and physical suffering endured within the German context by almost exclusively male narrators are, as is well known, an essential part of GermanMinnesang poetry. AndMinnesang poetry is not the only medieval literary genre that indulges in lengthy depictions of lovesickness. The pathology of unanswered desire also drives the plot in various examples of medieval Reimpaardichtung and, of course, in one of the most influential high medieval epics, Gottfried von Strassburg's Tristan.

It is Gottfried's epic that constitutes the focus of this article. However, the question that will occupy me is not so much that of lovesickness per se - though my argument will touch on medieval theories of amor heroes - but rather the depiction of women as healers in the epic. Mary Frances Wack's study of lovesickness in the Middle Ages draws attention to the strongly gendered ideas that inform medieval notions of lovesickness. The present study demonstrates that depictions of female healers partake in a similar set of gendered assumptions. It argues that Gottfried's casting of women - Queen Isolde, Isolde the Fair, and Tristan's mother Blanscheflur - as healers further emphasizes notions of gender disparities that lie at the core of medico-scientific and literary depictions of lovesickness. Gottfried, however, in contrast to other authors whose names are associated with the Tristan and Isolde story (e.g., Béroul, Eilhart and Thomas) creates two Isoldes out of one.2 By carving the character of Queen Isolde out of Isolde the Fair, Gottfried, I argue, ingeniously separates the hurtful and healing Queen Isolde from the lover, Isolde the Fair. In doing so, he abandons the tension that is constitutive of the depictions of unfulfilled love inMinnesang poetry in which women both wound and heal, cause both intense joy and unbearable misery, and carry the key to the greatest physical wellbeing as well as to death. He is able, in turn, to create the experience of love - though still painful - as something based on parity and correspondence. Gottfried's subtle rewriting of the roles of Isolde the Fair and Queen Isolde, especially with regard to their capacities as healers is a key element in his text's novel reconception of male-female relationship, commonly referred to by scholars as Tristanminne. Nevertheless, the epic as Gottfried found it in his sources concludes with the hero's death resulting from a wound but precipitated by his lover's ostensible failure to hurry to his sickbed and produce his cure. The epic's end, in other words, in which Isolde the Fair - Tristan's lover - cannot but be cast in the role of the hero's healer would have led Gottfried back to precisely the gendered disparities that he managed to avoid by recasting Isolde the Fair as two individual women: another reason, perhaps, why the end to Gottfried's epic had to remain unknown to his authences. …

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