Sir Tristrem: Introduction

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Sir Tristrem: Introduction

The story of Tristan and Isolt, one of the most popular tales of the Middle Ages, has its roots in early Celtic literature and legend. The name Tristan (Drystan or Trystan, as it appears in the Celtic sources) is apparently Pictish in origin but was "borrowed fairly early by the Welsh and perhaps by the Irish" (see the note on the name in Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Welsh Triads, ed. Rachel Bromwich [2nd ed.; Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1978], p. 329). There is also early evidence of localization of the Tristan story in Cornwall, where the Tristan Stone was found near Castle Dore in Cornwall, a place associated with King Mark. The stone contains "the earliest inscribed evidence for the name" though "whether or not the man so named can really have been the prototype of the romance hero is an open question" (Rachel Bromwich, "The Tristan of the Welsh," in The Arthur of the Welsh: The Arthurian Legend in Medieval Welsh Literature, ed. Rachel Bromwich, A. O. H. Jarman, and Brynley F. Roberts [Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1991], p. 221). Nevertheless, it seems that "the Continental poets, and Béroul in particular, evidently derived their principal knowledge of the Tristan story from a Cornish source" (Bromwich, "The Tristan of the Welsh," p. 220).

Later literary versions of the legend have traditionally been divided by scholars into two branches, each deriving ultimately from an earlier "Ur-Tristan," an original or parent version of the story. The two branches have been referred to as the common and the courtly because of the manner in which they treat the story. The former tradition is represented by Eilhart von Oberge's Tristrant and Béroul's Roman de Tristran, both written in the latter half of the twelfth century. The earliest example of the courtly tradition is found in the Tristan of the Anglo-Norman poet Thomas, which survives only in fragments estimated to comprise about one-sixth of the poem. The plot of Thomas's poem can be reconstructed, however, because of the works which were based on it. It was translated by a Brother Robert into the Old Norse Tristrams saga ok Isöndar for King Hákon Hákonarson of Norway in 1226; and some years earlier (c. 1210) it was reworked into the masterpiece of medieval Tristan stories, Gottfried von Strassburg's Tristan. The Middle English Sir Tristrem, written late in the thirteenth century, has also traditionally been considered a poor adaptation of Thomas's poem (though, on this question, see below in this introduction).

There also exist a number of medieval prose versions of the Tristan legend. In these, as in Malory's treatment of the story, Tristan is presented as one of the greatest knights of Arthur's court. In the verse romances, however, there is little (in Béroul) or no (in Thomas) mention of Arthur. Because of Malory and his influence on Tennyson, this prose tradition has been an extremely important influence on modern Tristan stories in England and America, where it is common to link Tristan to Camelot. However, the tradition represented by Thomas has also been influential in the English-speaking world. Algernon Charles Swinburne, seeking to avoid the moralizing of Tennyson, looked to the Middle English Sir Tristrem, along with other medieval versions of the story, as a source for his Tristram of Lyonesse. In addition, the great French medievalist Joseph Bédier reconstructed Thomas's poem (using its Old Norse, German and Middle English descendants) in a modern French version. This was translated into English in 1903 by Hilaire Belloc. This version of the legend became widely known and influenced the resurgence of interest in the Tristan story that occurred in the early twentieth century in England and America.

The Middle English poem Sir Tristrem survives only in the great anthology of Middle English literature known as the Auchinleck Manuscript. The manuscript received its name from Alexander Boswell of Auchinleck (the father of James Boswell, Samuel Johnson's biographer), who "rescued it in 1740 from a professor of Aberdeen University who had been tearing out leaves to make covers for notebooks" (Arthur Johnston, Enchanted Ground: The Study of Medieval Romance in the Eighteenth Century [London: The Athlone Press, 1964], p. 179). Boswell gave the manuscript to the Advocates' Library in Edinburgh. It remained there until 1925 when it was given to the newly established National Library of Scotland, where it is currently located and designated Advocates' MS 19.2.1.

Originally this vellum manuscript, compiled about 1330-1340, contained "considerably more than 386 leaves, of which there survive 331 leaves and 14 stubs in the main part" as well as ten other leaves identified as having belonged to the manuscript but now in three different libraries (Edinburgh University Library, University of London Library, and St. Andrews University Library) (The Auchinleck Manuscript: National Library of Scotland Advocates' MS. 19.2.1, introduction by Derek Pearsall and I. C. Cunningham, p. xi). The significance of the Auchinleck manuscript is not only in the sheer number of religious poems and romances that it contains but also in the fact that many of the works collected in it are unique. In his introduction to the facsimile edition, Derek Pearsall notes that of the eighteen romances, which account for three quarters of the manuscript, "eight are in unique copies, and all the remainder, except Floris . . ., are here in their earliest copies" (p. viii). One of the romances which appears only in the Auchinleck manuscript is Sir Tristrem.

Walter Scott, the poem's first editor, believed that Sir Tristrem was written by Thomas of Erceldoune and therefore assumed it was in a Scottish dialect. When George P. McNeill edited the poem, he did so for the Scottish Text Society and defended its Scottish origin. While Angus McIntosh's 1989 article "Is Sir Tristrem an English or a Scottish Poem?" argues effectively that the forms some earlier scholars had cited as evidence of Scottish origin support no such conclusion, the poem's dialect still needs further study. McIntosh believes that the poem is in a northern, not a Scottish, dialect. To be sure there are northern forms. For example, there are words which retain the OE long a, such as "stan" (lines 115, 270, etc.) The forms "ta" and "tan" appear for "take" and "taken" (lines 607, 2767; 111, 753, 895, etc.). However, in his investigation, McIntosh was virtually assuming a northern (either northern English or Scottish) origin of the poem. Yet, as Bertram Vogel pointed out in his article on the dialect of Sir Tristrem in 1940, there are actually far more non-northern forms in the poem than there are northern. On page 542 of his article, Vogel summarizes these forms. His evidence includes, for example, the fact that Old English hw is always wh, never Nth. qu(h) [see, for example, "who," line 4; "when," line 101; and "while," line 209]; the fact that "the pronoun for the third person feminine singular is either sche [see lines 79, 99, etc.] or hye [see lines 101, 103, etc]. Nth. scho is not used"; the fact that "for the genitive and the objective cases of the pronoun for the third person plural, non-Nth. h-forms are regularly used" [see lines 15, 112, etc. [for genitive case] and lines 41, 144, etc. for objective case]; the fact that "non-Nth. miche, michel are used in 15 instances; Nth mikel is not found;" etc.

McIntosh, who does not cite Vogel, assumes that these forms are scribal, as do some earlier scholars; but this remains an assumption. The preponderance of non-Northern forms must be given due weight in a discussion of the dialect of the poem; and Vogel is certainly correct in asserting that we should not assume Sir Tristrem is northern. Rhyme words, often prized as linguistic evidence since they are more likely to be authorial, appear in both southeastern and northern forms. Perhaps it is impossible to decide absolutely; but the question of the poem's dialect is worth further consideration. It may even be that additional literary-critical study of Sir Tristrem will shed some light on the question.

Though Scott's edition of Sir Tristrem was popular and Swinburne looked to the medieval poem as inspiration for his Tristram of Lyonesse, twentieth-century critical judgment has generally been less than favorable. This is due in large part to the pronouncements of Joseph Bédier in his edition of the Anglo-Norman poet Thomas's Roman de Tristan. Bédier reacted with considerable pique to the fact that the English poem was of little use in reconstructing Thomas's fragmentary French text: "Par son extrême brièveté, par les contraintes de versification qu'il s'est imposées, par son style tourmenté, il s'est interdit de jamais traduire son modèle, et nous ne lui devrons jamais de retrouver une phrase authentique de Thomas" (2, 88).

The influence of Bédier can be seen even in the account of the poem given by Helaine Newstead in the first volume of A Manual of the Writings in Middle English 1050-1500 (New Haven: The Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1967). Newstead speaks of "the drastic condensation of the story and the elimination of the debates and soliloquies characteristic of the original" which result in "a much coarsened version of its subtle and moving original, significant chiefly because it preserves, however inadequately, the lost episodes of its source" (p. 79).

Although T. C. Rumble argued in 1959 that the changes made by the English poet were designed to make the story "more consistent with . . . the tastes of the English audience for which his version was intended" and Cedric Pickford in 1973 claimed that the poem is "an interesting social document" and also "a fresh retelling of a great story, presented simply and directly" (p. 228), recent opinion seems unchanged by their studies. Susan Crane argues that "an audience capable of enjoying the length and thematic complexity of Beues of Hamtoun, Guy of Warwick, and Amis and Amiloun cannot be invoked to explain the extraordinary reductions and simplifications of Sir Tristrem" (pp. 192-93). Crane concludes that in the English poem "the Tristan story has lost the significance developed for it by Thomas, and it has not gained a new one" (p. 195).

The criticisms of the poem and even the defenses in terms of a less sophisticated audience and a simple and direct retelling all point to certain undeniable characteristics of the poem. There is an abbreviation of the episodes found in the Thomas version, the "extrême brièveté" that Bédier disapproved of, and there is a less than courtly cast to much of the material. That this version, different from the standard Tristan story, may be objected to is something that the author himself recognized:
Tho Tomas asked ay
Of Tristrem, trewe fere [true companion],
To wite [know] the right way
The styes [ins and outs of his story] for to lere [learn].
Of a prince proude in play [battle]
Listneth, lordinges dere [noble lords].
Whoso better can say,
His owhen he may here
As hende [politely, courtly].
Of thing that is him dere
Ich man preise at ende. (lines 397-407)
It may even be that the author concedes that his version is not as courtly as the original when he says others may tell their versions "As hende." McNeill suggests that this means the others should wait and thus tell their stories politely in their turn. But it may mean that others can tell of Tristan in a more polite (i.e., courtly) manner. However one reads this phrase, there is ample evidence in the poem to suggest that Sir Tristrem is not merely a poorly constructed abridgement of Thomas's courtly version or a coarsened version for a less sophisticated English audience but rather a deliberate parody of the received version.

When one looks at Sir Tristrem as a parody rather than as a poem poorly imitating the masterly psychological and courtly performance of Thomas, some scenes become wonderfully comic. For example, when Tristrem and Ysonde drink the love potion, the tragically romantic moment is comically undercut by having the ill-trained hound Hodain lap the cup:
An hounde ther was biside
That was ycleped [called] Hodain;
The coupe he licked that tide
Tho [When] doun it sett Bringwain. (1673-76)
Rumble sees this scene as "an obvious attempt to give some rational explanation for the unusual faithfulness of Tristrem's dog" (p. 225). Such an explanation, however, hardly seems necessary; and the scene is more farcical than expository - especially in the light of the poet's comment a few lines later. After describing Tristrem's delight in being able to spend his time making love with Ysonde night and day (lines 1684-90), the author notes that "Thai loved with al her [their] might / And Hodain dede also" (lines 1693-94). This scene is particularly telling, first of all in the use of the word "play" twice [lines 1686 and 1690] to describe the cause of Tristrem's delight. No courtly euphemism is used to elevate the action. The word, used frequently in the text to describe the lovers' activity, almost takes on the connotation of the modern phrase "to fool around." But even more important is the blatant absurdity of including Hodain in the sentence about the ardor of their love. This very uncourtly love-play seems to be the dominant and determining activity of the lovers. After Tristrem slays the giant Urgan and is reconciled with Mark, they return to their love-play: "Thai playden al bituene, / Tho tuo" (lines 2439-40). When Mark is again incensed by their actions, he banishes them to the forest as his revenge upon them: "Ful wele awreken to ben" (2446). The poet emphasizes the absurdity of the punishment by telling his audience that they were never happier: "Blither, withouten wene, / Never ere nar thay" (lines 2452-53); and this idea is repeated in lines 2463-64. Their joy comes from the fact that "For love ich other bihalt, / Her non might of other fille" (2496-97). When Mark and his knights find the lovers sleeping with a sword between them, they decide that "Thai no hede nought of swiche play" because "trewe love it is" (lines 2549 and 2552). As soon as Tristrem and Ysonde are back at court, however, they "Stalked to her [their] play" (2578). While this scene follows the outline of the action in the analogous Tristrams saga (translated from the Norse by Paul Schach as The Saga of Tristram and Isönd and used here for comparison since Thomas's version is so fragmentary), it is precisely those qualities objected to by some earlier critics, the compression of the action and the uncourtly nature of the references to the love-play, that give it its value as parody. There is a wide stylistic gulf between the English poem's account of the resumption of love-play:
So bifel bidene
Opon a somers day
Tristrem and the Quen
Stalked to her play (lines 2575-78)
and the account found in the saga:
Tristram could by no means restrain his will and desire and therefore he made use of every opportunity he could find. It happened one day that he and Isönd were sitting together in an orchard, and Tristram held the queen in his arms. (p. 104)
The very fact that there is no contrast similar to that between "trewe love" and the "play" to which the lovers must "stalk" but only Tristram's unrestrainable will and desire ("fysn ok vilja" [p. 81 of Kölbing's edition of the saga]) makes the saga passage thematically quite different. Even Tristrem's heroic deeds are subordinated to his desire for physical contact with Ysonde. Just before Tristrem goes to Wales and kills the giant Urgan, the author explains:
For [Because] he ne may Ysonde kisse,
Fight he sought aywhare [everywhere]. (lines 2298-99)
Thus his battle becomes a kind of sublimation of his desire.

Parody can be seen in other aspects of the poem as well. When Tristrem brings Ganhardin to the territory of the giant Beliagog in order to see the statues in the hall of images, Beliagog, whose leg Tristrem has cut off earlier, enters "on a stilt [peg leg]" (line 2956). The scene has a comic effect lacking in the Norse version, where Tristram makes a wooden leg for the giant immediately after the combat so the giant can follow and serve him (p. 116) but is not mentioned in the chapter that parallels the Middle English lines under discussion. Later, when Ganhardin sees the image of the fierce giant Beliagog in the hall of images, he bangs his head on the wall of the cave as he turns to flee from the statue. Then, the author comments,
Ganhardin schamed sore [was very ashamed];
His heved ran on blod [was covered with blood]. (lines 2982-83)
Again, in the Norse text, there is a parallel scene. Kardin (Ganhardin's name in the saga) sees the giant and "was so frightened that he almost lost his wits . . . . And because of this fear and the fragrance [described earlier in the same chapter as "the sweet fragrance of balsam and of all the sweetest herbs there"] that filled the room, he was affected so strangely that he fell into a swoon" (128).

The unheroic bleeding head is paralleled by an earlier episode. In the crucial encounter with Morgan, who has usurped Tristrem's patrimony, Morgan insults Tristrem's parents:
Thi fader thi moder gan hide [cohabit with secretly]; (lines 861-62)
In horedom [fornication] he hir band [had intercourse with].
Tristrem's initial response is to slap him and give him a nosebleed
On his brest adoun
Of [from] his nose ran the blod. (lines 870-71)
Though he goes on to slay Morgan, the initial response seems comically inappropriate. One might compare the action here with the encounter between Sir Gawain and Sir Gayous in the Alliterative Morte Arthure (lines 1346-54 in Larry Benson-Edward Foster edition in King Arthur's Death [Kalamazoo: Western Michigan University Press, 1994]). Gayous says that the Britons are "braggers of old" and calls Gawain a "boy" (knave). In response:
Then greved Sir Gawain at his grete wordes
Graithes toward the gome with grouchand herte;
With his steele brande he strikes off his heved . . . . (lines 1352-54)
The flyting or exchange of insults is a convention that has its origin in early Germanic heroic poetry, but it does not usually take the "your mother was a whore" form that it has in Sir Tristrem; and the slap in the face and resulting nosebleed seem deliberately inappropriate to a society so conscious of honor that insults demand an immediate response like Gawain's beheading of Gayous.

Even the fight with the dragon loses some of the heroic quality it has in the saga where the confrontation is presented as a fierce and fearless attack by Tristram:
He struck his horse with his spurs and thrust his lance forward with such fearful force and fury into the dragon's mouth that all of its teeth that the spear struck flew far out of its head. The iron lance head ran right through the heart and came out through the belly, so that Tristram buried part of the shaft in his neck and body. But the fire that the dragon flung out killed and dispatched his horse. Tristram nimbly sprang from its back, drew his sword, made at the dragon and cut it asunder at the middle. (p. 56)
By contrast, in the English poem Tristrem charges with his lance "As a lothely lioun," and strikes with a "spere feloun" [deadly spear] (lines 1444 and 1446), but the heroic imagery is undercut when the blow "no vailed o botoun" [availed not a bit, literally, not a button] (line 1448). The commonplace, almost colloquial, expression seems intentionally at odds with the lofty claims of the preceding lines. When the dragon slays Tristrem's horse, the hero does attack and slay the monster with his sword - but only after rushing behind a tree and saying a prayer that he will not be killed (lines 1459-63). Then when he strikes the dragon, he first cuts off its lower jaw so that fire rushes out and shamefully disfigures Tristrem's shining armor (lines 1473-74). The poet presents the threat as one to Tristrem's noble appearance rather than as one to life and limb.

Tristrem's courtly knowledge and skill, as well his accomplishments as a lover and a hero, are also parodied in the Middle English poem. In a couple of places, his accomplishments seem obnoxious smugness. In her book on Hunting in Middle English Literature (Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 1993), Anne Rooney notes that in contrast to the Tristan stories by Gottfried and Brother Robert, the author of Sir Tristrem "pays no attention to the hunters' interest in the terminology of the hunt. Instead, he concentrates on Tristrem's dismay at their treatment of the carcasses, their willingness to learn the new techniques and their delight in the lesson" (p. 92). In fact, Tristrem's dismay is less than courteous: he tells the hunters that they slaughter animals foolishly ("folily ye hem spille," line 462). Similarly when he heard a harper composing a lay at Mark's court he berated ("aresound," line 552) the fellow minstrel and boasted of his ability to construct a better one (lines 555-56).

Another of Tristrem's courtly achievements, his skill at chess, is presented in a distinctly parodic manner in the English poem. In the saga, after a deal is concluded for the purchase of hawks, Tristram plays chess with one of the merchants "for a high wager" (p. 21). The merchants, impressed with his skill and his accomplishments, believe that "if they were able to abduct him, they would stand to gain greatly from his abilities and great knowledge; and also, if they wished to sell him, that they would receive much money for him" (p. 22). So they sail off while he is engrossed in his game.

In Sir Tristrem, the contest is presented very differently. For one thing, the details of the wager are spelled out. Tristrem bets twenty shillings against a hawk. Then the poet comments that:
He dede als so the wise:
He gaf has he gan winne
In raf [winnings]. (lines 326-28)
These lines seem to suggest that Tristrem plays cleverly by letting his opponent win sometimes. If this interpretation is correct, Tristrem becomes a chess hustler. The outcome seems to support this reading: "Tristrem wan that day / Of him an hundred pounde" (lines 340-41). When they sail off with him, the act is called a "tresoun" - and that immediately after a line saying that "Tristrem wan that [what] ther was layd [wagered]," as if the two actions were linked (lines 342-43).

The practical, almost mercenary, interest in specific amounts of money and the emphasis on the winnings rather than on the skill of Tristrem undercuts the romantic story. Similarly mercenary is the scene in which Tristrem, put ashore by the mariners, encounters two pilgrims. In the saga Tristrem uses his wits ("he answered them craftily," p. 25) and suggests he has friends nearby but has become separated from them while hunting; then, upon learning that the pilgrims are heading for "Tintajol," he claims to have business there and accompanies them, gleaning news of the region as they travel. In the Middle English poem, however, it is not Tristrem's wits but his offer of ten shillings to each of the pilgrims that gets him to Tintagel. Later when Rohand enters the realm he encounters the same two pilgrims and also offers them each ten shillings to bring him to court. An incident which does not appear in the saga, this is clearly designed to parody the romance world where events happen by chance or providence rather than, as in the real world, because of practical transactions.

In the saga, Róaldur (as Rohand is called there) does give Mark's porter an unspecified "gift" (p. 31) to gain access to the court. The English poet not only makes the gift a "ring" but also has Rohand offer a bribe at yet another level, to the "huscher" (the "usher" or door-keeper) to gain access to the king's hall. When Rohand sees his ward after the third bribe, Tristrem, contrary to the text of the saga in which Tristram immediately recognizes Róaldur, fails to recognize him because of his clothes, made ragged as he searched through seven kingdoms for his ward. In this scene, the author presents Tristrem as a little too spoiled and pompous. He says of his hero:
He no trowed it never in lede [would never have believed it]
That Rohand robes were torn,
That he wered swiche a wede [wore such clothing]. (lines 651-53)
In his edition of Thomas's fragments, Bédier, echoing Kölbing, observes that the author "raconte à l'ordinaire comme si ses auditeurs savaient déjà dans le moindre détail ce qu'il raconte" (I, 87). I believe this to be true. The author of Sir Tristrem does seem to expect his audience to know the story as well as some of the conventions of romance. It is precisely this knowledge that makes effective the parody of romance conventions which runs throughout the poem.

As a parody, Sir Tristrem must be considered alongside works with similar intent, such as Guillaume le Clerc's Romance of Fergus and Chaucer's Tale of Sir Thopas, rather than as a poor imitation of Thomas's poem. In this light, it becomes a poem of much more interest and merit than it has previously been given credit for.
Bibliography
Select Bibliography

Manuscript

The Auchinleck MS (Advocates 19.2.1), fols. 281a-299b, in the National Library of Scotland, c. 1330.

The MS is reproduced in facsimile: The Auchinleck Manuscript: National Library of Scotland Advocates' MS. 19.2.1. Introduction by Derek Pearsall and I. C. Cunningham. London: The Scolar Press in association with The National Library of Scotland, 1979.


Previous Editions

Sir Tristrem; A Metrical Romance of the Thirteenth Century; by Thomas of Erceldoune, Called The Rhymer. Ed. Walter Scott. 3d ed.; Edinburgh: Archibald Constable and Co., 1811. (Scott's edition first appeared in 1804.)

Sir Tristrem: Mit Einleitung, Anmerkungen und Glossar. Ed. Eugen Kölbing. Heilbronn: Gebr. Henninger, 1882.

Sir Tristrem. Ed. George P. McNeill. Scottish Text Society 8. Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1886.


Translation

Sir Tristrem. In The Chief Middle English Poets: Selected Poems Newly Rendered and Edited, with Notes and Bibliographical References. Ed. and trans. Jessie Weston. 1914. Rpt. New York: Phaeton Press, 1968. Pp. 141-73.


Analogues

Tristrams Saga ok Isondar: Mit Literarhistorischen Einleitung, Deutscher Uebersetzung und Anmerkungen. Ed. Eugen Kölbing. Heilbronn: Gebr. Henniger, 1878.

The Saga of Tristram and Isönd. Trans. Paul Schach. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1973.

Thomas. Le Roman de Tristan: Poème du XIIe siècle. 2 vols. Ed. Joseph Bédier. Société des Anciens Textes Français. Paris: Firmin Didot, 1902.


Criticism

Crane, Susan. Insular Romance: Politics, Faith and Culture in Anglo-Norman and Middle English Literature. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986. Pp. 190-96. Crane suggests that Sir Tristrem shares with other insular romances a "tendency to portray lovers' commitment coexisting easily with other kinds of devotion" (p. 194). Nevertheless, she believes that while Tristrem's "exemplary ability or breeding or bearing substitute for Thomas's exploration of fatal love as the significance of the Tristan story," the English version of the story "has lost the significance developed for it by Thomas, and it has not gained a new one" (p 195).

McIntosh, Angus. "Is Sir Tristrem an English or a Scottish Poem?" In In Other Words: Transcultural Studies in Philology, Translation, and Lexicology Presented to Hans Heinrich Meier on the Occasion of His Sixty-Fifth Birthday. Dordecht, Holland: Foris Publications, 1989. Pp. 85-95. McIntosh examines the linguistic and other evidence for the provenance of Sir Tristrem and concludes that "it is unlikely to have been further north in England than Yorkshire"(p. 92). A useful appendix to his article lists forms appearing in the poem but not recorded in any work known to be written in a Scottish dialect.

Pickford, Cedric E. "Sir Tristrem, Sir Walter Scott and Thomas." In Studies in Medieval Literature and Languages in Memory of Frederick Whitehead. Ed. W. Rothwell, W. R. J. Barron, David Blamires, and Lewis Thorpe. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1973. Pp. 219-28. Pickford believes that Sir Tristrem has suffered "from the critical judgements of Continental scholars" (p. 225) like Bédier for whom "less meant worse" (p. 226) but that actually the English poem may be seen both as "an interesting social document" and also "a fresh retelling of a great story, presented simply and directly" (p. 228).

Rumble, T. C. "The Middle English Sir Tristrem: Towards a Reappraisal." Comparative Literature 11 (1959), 221-28. Rumble argues that "the cumulative force" of the changes made by the author of Sir Tristrem suggest that poem is not a "garbling" of its source as some critics have claimed but an attempt to make the material "more consistent with . . . the tastes of the English audience for which his version was intended." He calls on future scholarship to evaluate the poem "in terms of its own intrinsic worth" (p. 228).

Vogel, Bertram. "The Dialect of Sir Tristrem." JEGP 40 (1941), 538-44. Vogel offers significant evidence that Sir Tristrem is not "unequivocally Northern" and argues that there is more evidence for a southeast-Midland origin. He concludes that "it may well be that, after all, the author of Sir Tristrem was, in reality, a cosmopolitan Londoner who perhaps spent part of his youth in the North, but who, at any rate, was familiar not only with the Northern dialect, but also with Northern literary tradition" (pp. 543-44).


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