Iseult is the "heroine of one of the most
famous love-stories in literature, perhaps the first to portray a mutual
passion that is a law unto itself, overriding all others and not condemned for
that."* Iseult's lover is, of course, Tristan, who is sent to Ireland to bring
her to King Mark to be married. Iseult's maid accompanies Tristan and Iseult
on the voyage back to Cornwall, and brings a magic potion of love for the
bridal couple. Tristan and Iseult drink the potion by accident and are doomed
to perpetual love. She marries King Mark, but cannot help but love Tristan.
Mark never quite knows what is happening, while Iseult is cunning in getting
her love. Tristan, in a state of exile, eventually marries Iseult of the
White Hands because he is drawn to her name and her looks. He never
consummates the marriage because of his fidelity to the original Iseult.
Later when he is ill, he sends a messenger to bring his beloved Iseult to him
to heal him, but she comes to late (either because of a storm, or because
Iseult of the White Hands lies). The story is ultimately "furtive and
* All quotes are from: Lacy and Ashe. The Arthurian Handbook.
Garland Publishing: 1988.
Iseult of the White Hands
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