The passion that Tristan and Isolde already felt for each other is
heightened when Isolde’s maid Brangäne changes the deadly poison
they were going to drink for a love potion. Just when they are
about to disembark in Cornwall, where Isolde is to marry King
Marke, Tristan’s uncle, the two young people are overwhelmed by an
uncontrollable extasy. The relationship continues in secret after
Isolde’s marriage to Marke, until they are discovered by Melot, one
of the King’s knights, who confronts Tristan and seriously wounds
him. At his castle in Kareol, Tristan is being attended by his
faithful subject Kurwenal. He yearns to see Isolde again, but when
she arrives it is too late and he dies in his lover’s arms. Isolde
collapses on Tristan’s body and undergoes a transfiguration.
Tristan, the nephew and faithful subject of King Marke, is
travelling from Ireland to Cornwall. He is escorting his uncle’s
fiancée, the Irish princess Isolde, on board his ship. The long
time spent on the ship proves too much for Isolde to bear, as she
is uncertain of her future in a marriage to an older man whom she
does not love and does not even know. She wishes the ship would
sink and never reach Cornwall. Her maid, Brangäne, tries in vain to
On deck, and not far from Isolde’s awning, Tristan is accompanied
by his companion Kurwenal. Isolde sends her maid to summon Tristan,
but he refuses sending back evasive replies. Kurwenal rudely sends
Brangäne away, and Isolde, who has overheard his comments, is
furious. When she calms down, Isolde tells Brangäne how she met the
knight who is now avoiding her: she had saved his life by curing
his serious battle wounds with the miraculous potions her mother
had taught her to prepare. While Tristan was still recovering from
his wounds, Isolde had found out that he had killed her fiancé
Morold. She then wanted to kill him too, but when he opened his
eyes she felt a strange mixture of love and hate for him, as he lay
wounded, and she was unable to kill him. When he had recovered from
his wounds, Tristan swore he would always be grateful to her for
nursing him back to good health. But instead he has offered her to
his uncle in marriage.
Brangäne tries to convince her mistress that it is no dishonour to
marry a king, but Isolde thinks differently: not only has Tristan
not shown his love for her, but he has also offended her during the
voyage. Prepared to put an end to her misfortune, Isolde asks
Brangäne to fetch the deadly potion from the chest where she keeps
the magic potions her mother prepared for her. Kurwenal interrupts
the women telling them to prepare to disembark. Isolde says Tristan
must come to apologise to her, otherwise she will not meet King
Marke. Tristan receives the message and has no choice but to go to
the princess. After reproaching him and expressing her resentment
for having killed her fiancé Morold, she suggests they make peace
and drink to friendship. Isolde offers Tristan the goblet that has
been poured by Brangäne, with the intention of taking his life.
Isolde also drinks from her goblet. But instead of them both dying,
which is what Isolde expected, they both feel an uncontrollable
passion that makes them fall into a passionate embrace. Brangäne
had prepared a love potion, instead of the deadly poison that
Isolde had told her to prepare. Sailors’ voices announce they are
to disembark in Cornwall.
A garden in the vicinity of King Marke’s castle. Isolde has
arranged a secret rendezvous with Tristan, taking advantage of the
fact that the king is out hunting, and she waits impatiently.
Brangäne warns her mistress that Melot, one of Marke’s knights, is
spying on the lovers in order to catch them out. Isolde does not
take Brangäne’s suspicions seriously as she believes Melot is
Tristan’s loyal friend, and she asks Brangäne to put out the torch
so that her beloved will know there is no one around and can draw
near. Afraid that the romance will be discovered, the maid is
reluctant to put out the torch and regrets being responsible for
the uncontrollable passion that has taken over the hearts of
Tristan and Isolde. Not prepared to waste time arguing, Isolde puts
out the torch and asks Brangäne to keep watch so that they are safe
during their secret rendezvous.
Tristan approaches excitedly. A dreamlike atmosphere surrounds the
romantic meeting, under the cover of the forest with the magical
darkness of the night, protecting their secret and impossible love.
The lovers feel a great happiness and do not want to part, despite
the warnings from cautious Brangäne on the danger that lies in
wait. But the idyllic atmosphere of the moment is broken when
Kurwenal suddenly appears to warn Tristan that the king and his
entourage are approaching. But it is of no use. Melot comes across
the lovers, followed by Marke. The king cannot understand Tristan’s
betrayal, as it was Tristan who suggested the king marry Isolde.
Tristan gives no explanation and asks Isolde if she is willing to
follow him. Isolde accepts. Melot, who is secretly in love with
Isolde, becomes jealous and draws his sword on Tristan. The two
knights confront each other. Wounded, Tristan drops his weapon and
falls into Kurwenal’s arms. Marke arrests Melot.
Tristan’s castle on the top of a cliff in Kareol. Seriously wounded
and tended by his loyal Kurwenal, Tristan desperately awaits the
arrival of Isolde, the only person who can miraculously cure him
with her magic ointments. The wait is endless and the fever causes
him to faint and be delirious. A shepherd at last announces that
Isolde’s ship approaches. Tristan stirs and sits up to greet her.
But he only has enough strength to utter the name of his beloved
and then he dies in her arms. Another ship with King Marke and his
entourage, which was following Isolde’s ship, reaches the castle.
The king is willing to bless and unite Tristan and Isolde, once
Brangäne has told him about the love potion. Unaware of the good
intentions of the royal visit and devastated by Tristan’s death,
Kurwenal attacks Melot and kills him. Kurwenal also dies in the
confrontation. Oblivious to what is happening around her, Isolde is
mesmerized by her lover’s dead body. Liebestod. After
serenely gazing at him for some time, she falls dead, as if
transfigured, upon Tristan’s body.