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Tristan and Iseult and the medieval culture of emotions (404)

Principal Investigator:

There’s more to the biggest love story ever told than just love. Due to the rich variety of emotions represented in this medieval novel, Tristan and Isolde is of special interest for research into the history of emotions.

The research project re-examines the medieval Tristan novels and was started in collaboration with colleagues from US institutions. The major goal of the final phase lies in the completion of a monograph on Tristan and Isolde, and the Emotional Cultures of the Middle Age. It is conceived as a study that uses new theoretical approaches to cast a new perspective on a classic text and the literary traditions surrounding it, with special regard to the intersections of emotionality and performativity.

Over the past several years, the paradigms of performance and performativity have inspired the development of new methods to guide the application of both the exploration of communicative and corporeal aspects of emotional expression and the tendency to ritualize and to stage emotions to various contexts within literary texts. Concepts of performativity grounded in speech act theory allow for an interpretation of emotions not only as a condition for action but also as actions themselves – and this is all the more true with regard to medieval texts.

While there are few medieval stories that have received and continue to receive as much scholarly attention as the story of Tristan and Isolde, remarkably no one has yet examined the story from the perspective of emotion studies. Yet, one of the most striking aspects of the story, especially in the version composed by Gottfried von Straßburg, is the development of a highly complex emotional world.


Eming, J. (2009). On Stage. Ritualized Emotions and Theatricality in Isolde’s Trial. MLN 124 (3). 555-571.