Tristan and Iseult

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Tristan and Iseult, one of the most popular stories of the Middle Ages. From roots in Celtic myth, it passed into written form in Britain a century after the Norman Conquest and almost immediately spread throughout northern Europe. It tells of a Cornish knight and an Irish queen, Tristan and Iseult, who accidentally drink a love potion, at the same time, on the same boat, travelling to Cornwall. She is due to marry Tristan’s king, Mark. Tristan and Iseult seemed ideally matched and their love was heroic, but could that excuse their adultery, in the minds of medieval listeners, particularly when the Church was so clear they were wrong?

Play on BBC Sounds website


  • Laura Ashe 10 episodes
    Associate Professor of English at Worcester College, University of Oxford
  • Juliette Wood 11 episodes
    Associate Lecturer in the School of Welsh at Cardiff University
  • Mark Chinca 2 episodes
    Reader in Medieval German Literature at the University of Cambridge

Reading list

  • Early Fiction in England: From Geoffrey of Monmouth to Chaucer
    Laura Ashe (ed.) (Penguin, 2015) Google Books →
  • The Romance of Tristan
    Beroul (trans. Alan Fedrick) (Penguin, 1978) Google Books →
  • The Arthur of the Welsh: The Arthurian legend in Medieval Welsh literature
    Rachel Bromwich, A. O. H. Jarman, Brynley F. Roberts (eds.) (University of Wales Press, 2008) Google Books →
  • The Arthur of the French: The Arthurian Legend in Medieval French and Occitan Literature
    Glyn S. Burgess & Karen Pratt (eds.) (University of Wales Press, 2006)
  • Gottfried von Strassburg: Tristan
    Mark Chinca (Cambridge University Press, 1997)
  • The Lais of Marie de France
    Marie de France (trans. Glyn S. Burgess) (Penguin, 1999) Google Books →
  • A Companion to Arthurian Literature
    Helen Fulton (ed.) (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009) Google Books →
  • The Arthur of the Germans: The Arthurian Legend in Medieval German and Dutch Literature
    W. H. Jackson & Silvia Ranawake (eds.) (University of Wales Press, 2000)
  • Tristan with the 'Tristran' of Thomas
    Gottfried von Strassburg (ed. A. T. Hatto) (Penguin, 1967) Google Books →
  • Tristan and Isolde: A Casebook
    Joan Tasker Grimbert (ed.) (Routledge, 2002) Google Books →

Related episodes

Programme ID: b06sny88

Episode page:

Auto-category: 800 (Literature)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello, the story of Tristan and Iseult was one of the most popular of the Middle Ages.