Tristan And Chivalric Love


Create a 6 to 7-minute video presentation in which you provide an analysis and thoughtful response to Denis de Rougemont’s essay on Tristanism and Chivalric Love (in the Norton book). Feel free to also help yourself to the Introduction to Part IV in the textbook (which briefly covers some of the essential elements and dynamics associated with Tristanism and Chivalric Love), as well as to the video lecture by Professor Salyer.

Keep in mind that I am NOT looking for a summary of the essay (since we are all reading that essay, we all know what de Rougemont says, so there’s no need to repeat the same content in your presentation; this is not a book report). Rather, what I’m looking for is for you to actively and thoughtfully engage with this fascinating and thought-provoking essay, and that you do so with intellectual sophistication.

As you already know by now, Rougemont’s analysis very emphatically contradicts most popular interpretations regarding this famous story (including the celebratory way that Professor Salyer seems to view it). In addition, we can now also start to make all sorts of references to questions we’ve already touched in previously:

Though he does not address this explicitly, for instance, it’s easy to see that, in Rougemont’s view, the love of Tristan & Iseult is a kind of expression of the first horn of the Euthyphro dilemma (Link will open in this tab.) (the one based on the idea of an unconditional love that is ultimately arbitrary and empty, as opposed to one that is justified, but in which the beloved becomes fungible).

Rougemont’s essay also addresses, explicitly this time, the question that Aristophanes’ story (in Plato’s Symposium (Link will open in this tab.)) about what it is exactly that the lovers cut in twain ultimately desire: asked by the god Hephaestus whether they would like to be welded together for the rest of their lives, the lovers say ‘yes!.’ But as we saw in the Nussbaum essay, she doesn’t buy this response by these broken people. So what is it exactly that the lovers desire? Rougemont’s answer is both fascinating and disturbing, and one worth thinking about as we consider and reflect on our own individual desires.


So, there is a lot of fascinating work we can do here as we aim to apply some sort of theoretical framework to understand this popular love story. In addition to this, there are all kinds of new elements and themes you can wrestle with as well. To list just a few of the most obvious ones:

The duality of the pharmakon as a love/death potion.

  • The potency of the pharmakon wearing off over time.

Feudal vs chivalrous codes of behavior.

Responses to the institution of marriage.

Faithfulness and faithlessness in chivalry.

Libido over credo.

  • Death as the fulfillment and redemption of passionate love.


This assignment is not really about your own personal opinion about the Rougemont essay. Rather, it’s about how well you can defend whatever thesis it is that you want to establish in your response to his arguments. As such, what should be driving your project is the evidence, reasons and arguments that you can muster in order to create a coherent picture that should help your audience better understand how to understand the story of Tristan & Iseult.

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