Document Type


Date of Award



Tristan, Romances, History and criticism

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


English, General Literature, and Rhetoric

First Advisor

William H. Snyder

Second Advisor

Bernard S. Levy

Third Advisor

Gerard F. Schmidt


The story of Tristan and Isolde was long a favorite of medieval poets. This is attested by the numerous versions which have survived and the many manuscripts in which these various versions are preserved. It is also apparent that portions of the story must have possessed a long oral tradition before finding their way into the narratives as we know them. Efforts to isolate and reconstruct some of these elements by analysis of surviving texts and comparative examination of literary parallels to the Tristan legend have included speculations on origins in several national literatures.


Of particular interest is the duel between Tristan and Morholt which is described in detail by many redactors of the romance, while the fragments of Béroul mention it only casually. Although there seems to be agreement that the episode existed in oral tradition before it was written down, there has been much contention concerning its origins and its relationship to similar episodes in other literatures. Authorities in the field of the early Tristan romance also conclude that the duel is of Scandinavian origin. One such authority is Wolfgang Golther…William Hertz, Eduard Löseth, and Felix Piquet essentially support Golther’s view. Gertrude Schoepperle, however, rejects this interpretation flatly with the suggestion that there is nothing in this episode that would not conform to medieval French tradition. James Bruce is of the same opinion as Schoepperle.

The same scholars have commented upon the origin of the name of Morholt, which appears in similar forms throughout most of the redactions. Because of the description given to Tristan’s adversary, some scholars have attempted to relate the name to Celtic roots, which would suggest some kind of sea monster, later given human attributes in the medieval redaction. Others conclude that if the name is somehow connected with the sea, Morholt is a Viking seaman from a Scandinavian settlement in the British Isles. Still others assert that the name has no connection with Vikings or sea monsters.

These observations indicate that some investigation has been done concerning the origins and relationships of this particular episode as well as of the entire Tristan poem. However, in contrast to the whole poem, the Tristan-Morholt combat episode offers a large amount of material for further study, as evidenced by the controversy about it. This episode, therefore, will be the central theme of this dissertation, the purpose of which is to investigate the possibility of Scandinavian, specifically Old Norse, influences upon it. The emphasis will be put primarily on Morholt, the possible origin of his name and whatever connection he may have had with the Vikings. The next task is to study the duel in which the two opponents engage in order either to affirm or deny the existence of Scandinavian influences there.

The procedure of the study will begin with a general survey of the various extant medieval redactions of the Tristan poem along with a reconstruction of the story now lost to the present generation. Then a brief survey of the various extant versions of the poem will be given to show their interrelationships. This survey will indicate the sources to which these redactions can be traced. In turn, such an analysis should demonstrate the lengthy evolution of the Tristan poem from its more ancient origins.