Lyric Lampoon by George Chadderdon
Adapted from Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde
Sir Trystan, Knight of Corndog (tenor)
Cuckolde, Princess of Mireland (soprano)
King Murk of Corndog (bass)
Brangagangane, Cuckolde's Faithful Handmaiden (soprano)
Cur-'n-all, Trystan's Faithful Henchman (baritone)
Zealot, Trystan's Treacherous Friend (tenor)
Morbid, Cuckolde's Ex-betrothed (bass)
A Drunken Sailor, A Swineherd (tenor)
A Gatehouse Guard, A Mirish Captain (baritone)
Sailors, Men of Mireland, Men of Corndog (tenors, basses)
On a Ship to Corndog
Lady Cuckolde is sleeping in a tent on the ship. Her faithful maid Brangagangane sits cross-legged not too far away, knitting and humming a quaint Mirish ballad. Outside a Dinglish sailor can be heard singing loudly and hoarsely.
Arr! There she blows,
Me Zephyr true.
Me bonnie lass,
Now don't ye be blue.
Me chest is 'a filled t' the brim
Wi' trinkets for you.
(groggy and annoyed)
Who dares to waken me with that rubbish?
Brangagangane, this ship doth stink,
Pray, bring another sleeping drink.
My lady's had enough, I think.
(now wide awake)
Enough?! Enough?! My life is rough.
I'm not made for this sailing stuff.
Where the hell are we anyway?
Just out of sight of Corndog Bay.
Oh, death and dismay!
Why this you say?
(with building hysteria)
Oh gloomy thunderheads.
Bringers of deluge and dread.
I beg you, gather around your mistress.
And bring to end this awful torment!
Oh Gods, I've never been so ill!
The waves they toss and turn at will.
My stomach churns with every turn
And soon its spoils will spill!
Oh savage winds, slash these sails!
Frothing waves, smash the hull!
Kindly blue bolts,
Rend this ship to canvas and nails!
Thus may Cuckolde's woes be dispelled.
My lady, really!
Do calm yourself.
What should poor old King Murk think
To hear such anguish from his bride?
Give me air!
I feel the onset of despair!
(Brangagangane opens the tent.)
Arr! There she blows,
Me Zephyr true.
Me bonnie lass,
Now don't ye be blue.
Just raise a smirk
For good King Murk.
The wild Mirish lassie shall be sped
Fair soon to our good king's own kingly bed!
(She throws an empty bottle through the tent opening. A shatter and a sharp tenor cry are heard.)
There, that should presently dispense
My ears from hearing that nasty limey's tune.
But if he dares to take it up again,
I'll set my maid upon him with a broom.
(She sees Trystan outside and suddenly begins to sob.)
Just look at him!
So lean and trim!
So full of virile vim!
Oh how my heaving bosom aches.
Pray tell me dear, what of him do you make?
Oh, mistress! I've heard many rumors,
The like you'd scarce believe!
The skill with which he
No! No more! I cannot bear the thought of it!
All those times we
Good heavens me!
I burn with curiosity!
Oh! It's such a long and painful tale.
I beg you, press me not for its disclosure!
Confide in me!
I will not tell another soul.
This time, you mean?
Last time you made that vow,
You brought an excess measure of renown
To that nice gardener boy
I'd made my secret joy.
Oh woe is me!
I didn't think Bernice would tell.
Now every guard and servant knows as well!
Never again, my lady, I swear.
But it's so painful, I can't bear
To give my voice so fully to such rue.
My lady, Cuckolde, if you do.
I'll use whatever way and wile
And any implement of guile
To place him in your grasp.
(Cuckolde gives a sharp cry and embraces Brangagangane.)
Oh Brangy! Will you?
(tenderly and coaxingly)
Why yes, my lady.
Now come, tell do.
It was the day of a great tournament.
All of our brave Mirish knights were present
Gallantly bashing each other with their lances
(Then later joining the ladies in our dances.)
Ah yes, I think I know the day.
'Twas after your Morbid went away.
My Morbid dear had gone to Corndog
To make those scoundrel Dinglish pay
For all the whiskey they had stolen
From our cellars by the bay.
But Trystan met him in the field
And with him brought a comely maid
Plucked from the lusty fields of Farce.
Henceforth my Morbid disappeared
Like a weasel in the brush,
And to me, tribute was returned,
A bottle of whiskey and a rose,
And a short note writ in Morbid's hand,
Which said, "Ne'er more I'll see fair Mireland."
The same Sir Trystan did this deed?
It was the chamberlain who told me first,
And tales from some of Morbid's men agreed.
But still you haven't heard the worst!
That day of our glorious Mirish tourney
To which our Mirish warriors made the journey
There came to me a handsome knight
Whose foot was wounded (ostensibly) in a fight.
To me he cried, "Ow! Ow! My foot! The pain!
I fear that I shall never walk again!"
I later found that to avoid the threat of knightly blows,
Before the tourney, he had dropped a shield on his bare toes.
Thus spared from the brutal might
Of our brave Mirish knights
And fully knowing of my healing arts,
With foul deception, he had purchased entrance to my hearth.
With rare herbs gathered from the braes,
I did his lame foot's fortune raise.
And he with sweet and supple tongue
Did ply forth myriad sympathies
From my soft and sensitive bosom.
His tales of a dying mother and endless wanderings
Wrung many a tear from my eye.
I asked the poor knight for his name
And this was his reply:
"I am Sir Seymour from the fen.
I've wandered high through field and glen,
But nowhere has this body been,
Where it was welcomed by good men."
"So let a woman grant you rest.
I'll gladly have you as my guest."
I cried, so deeply moved by his distress.
And so he stayed and, bye the bye,
He further did my heartstrings ply.
And soon we kissed and fondly did caress,
And I'll assume you know the rest.
So Seymour was Sir Trystan, yes?
Indeed. As I did later discover.
From a serving maid I did overhear.
"What is Sir Trystan doing here!
He who did our Morbid take,
Why is he here, for heaven's sake?"
And a word with a stable boy,
Alerted me to Seymour's lame foot ploy.
And so I righteous vengeance swore
On him that from me my brave Morbid tore.
So with a bodkin, entered I the room
Which we were sharing, eager for his doom.
I'd make Sir Trystan sing a different tune.
An octave higher would Sir Trystan croon!
But then his eyes, they opened up to me.
There was a look which bordered on a plea.
"Oh darling please, don't do this thing to me!"
I said to him. "You tricked me, fiendish man!
And took my promised husband from this land!"
"And all for you," he cried with flowing tears.
"'Tis Cuckolde I've yearned for all these years!
My youth, I set my heart on Mireland's prize
And ever dreamed of those enchanted eyes!
My darling, would you wound me for my need,
My deep affliction for you, Mirish queen?"
The hair-pin dropped; I could not do the deed,
For too well did I love him and his need.
Instead I vowed the morrow we'd be wed,
Forever more till one or both were dead.
So why was there no wedding day?
He was gone the next day!
Now he returns to make this mournful waif
The bride of a hoary, fat, decrepit king.
Oh woe to him that does this evil thing!
Vengeance will be mine ere I am dead.
So let Sir Trystan live his final hour in dread!
(Brangagangane looks horrified.)
Call him to me, that ungrateful man
Whilst I prepare a draught to seal his fate!
My lady, you don't mean it!
Just wait until you see it!
Now kindly do as I have asked.
(Brangagangane exits, pale and distraught. Cuckolde walks over to a small casket and opens it. It contains several bottles.)
I'll learn him to deceive me!
For soon we shall go to never-more,
And I shall scold him evermore,
For all eternity!
Sir Trystan is at the ship's gunwales feeding bread-crumbs to the gulls. At his feet sits his faithful henchman Cur-'n-all fiddling in quiet frustration with a Chinese finger-prison. Brangagangane enters looking fearful.
Uh oh! Heads up, my liege!
Looks like a message from Cuckolde!
What's this?! Cuckolde!
(He regains control of himself.)
Hi ho! Sweet pearl of Mireland's maid!
What has our future queen of Corndog bade?
My lady would have a word with you.
Shall I provide an alibi for you?
My liege is a very busy man.
He needs to keep this ship in hand.
Our lady wouldn't want a big sharp rock
To give our ship too harrowing a shock!
Perhaps you misinterpret what I say.
Cuckolde demands to see him right away!
(under his breath)
Oh shit. He's in for it.
Well, if she insists.
I guess I can't refuse.
But my, she will be pissed!
My manhood I may lose!
Tell her, then I'm coming
And that I bring a gift.
(Brangagangane exits hurriedly.)
Cur-'n-all. Fetch me that bouquet.
Perhaps her wrath it may yet serve to stay.
(He exits briefly, then returns with a large bouquet of roses, and hands them to Sir Trystan.)
Good luck, my master.
For I have a hunch
Cuckolde's on the war-path
And all wise men should fear a lady's righteous wrath.
(Trystan exits uneasily.)
Back in Cuckolde's tent, the lady waits expectantly and angrily staring at the tent's entrance. Brangagangane, unbeknownst to her, has replaced the arsenic in her drink with Folgiers crystals, i.e. she has poured coffee into a similar-looking bottle and hidden the actual poisoned potion. A somber march is heard as Trystan [an orchestration of Chopin's Funeral March from his 2nd Sonata in Bb Minor], with considerable dignity, like a condemned man in quiet resignation, slowly enters the tent, holding the roses out in front of him like a protective talisman.
Do you think those flowers can save you from my rage?
I think I'm in for rough seas at this stage.
(aloud, in a formal manner)
My lady. As you beck of me,
I greet your presence fair.
Some roses I bring for my queen,
To grace her beauteous hair!
To mock me with such pleasantries.
I speak in earnest.
You are lovely, even in your wrath.
Your honeyed tongue; it wags in vain.
You must at last make atonement,
For all of the sore, unending pain
You've caused me, if you wish to keep
The treasures that you hold most deep!
(She fingers one of the long pins in her hair menacingly. Trystan shudders.)
What is it my lady wishes?
First of all, stop calling me "My lady",
You who once knew that I had a name.
(losing control of her voice)
That's better! Now do tell me.
Why do you
(begins to sob)
How could you subject me to this shame!
(Trystan, now in earnest distressed, moves toward her to comfort her. But she glares at him angrily through her tears.)
Stay back, you!
Answer me there!
Why did you leave me in despair?
It is not shame I bring you, Cuckolde.
Corndog's crown instead I bring to thee.
In fact, in doing so, I have forfeit
My own claim of the throne where King Murk sits.
Damn your Corndog's crown!
It was a man I loved.
And this, I doubt, can be the reason
You flew from me that sunny season.
You won't believe my reason.
The devil filled my soul with treason.
Bullshit! What's the real reason?
The queen of silence makes me silent.
Hard-pressed I am indeed to use that line!
Your worldly queen demands you speak!
Just count to three, and all will turn out fine.
(aloud, with a defeated look)
What can I say, my lady? I am weak.
And marriage and its burden make me faint,
And I am neither martyr, nor a saint.
Cuckolde, did your mother ever tell
You of the nature of the manly soul?
It longs for change, forever change and growth.
It withers and decays in wedlock's chain.
Confinement makes existence seem in vain.
As lovely as you are, I fear to take
The vows which my own nature bids me break.
So love you as I may, I cannot bring
Myself to wear your shining wedding ring.
And yet you 'd have me wear unwillingly another's.
My uncle, good King Murk is old,
And lost his wife quite long ago.
Far more amenable is my lord than me
To marriage. He'll a truer husband be
Than either your bethrothed
Who left you for a maid he'd scarcely met.
Instead of me, I bring a surer gift
The crown of Corndog and a constant man.
But as for me, for freedom, I must flee
The snare that marriage represents to me.
Very well. You've explained your cowardice.
But now one final measure, I insist.
With me you'll share a sacred libation
Atonement's solemn distillation.
(She reaches for the cup and waiting bottle, and fills the goblet.)
Drink now, my brave servant knight,
To pledge your future fealty which is mine by right.
(Trystan approaches her gloomily.)
(aside, in shame and grim resignation)
Death is in her eyes.
Perhaps it's fitting for a coward such as I
To meet such a demise.
(He takes the cup from her and drinks. Before he finishes it, she snatches it from him.)
The rest is for me!
(She drinks the rest.)
Forever, you are mine!
(They both collapse. Brangagangane looks frightened. All is silent. Then they slowly rise, and gaze deeply at one another.)
(falling upon his breast)
My cowardly darling!
(embracing her passionately)
My beloved ball-and-chain!
(with ecstatic zeal)
Let's have children! Again and again!
Oh no! They're delirious!
(Trystan and Cuckolde are kissing each other with reckless abandon.)
My God, this is serious!
What happened? It was only coffee!
(Sailors can be heard from outside.)
(parodied off Der Fliegende Hollander's festive sailor song)
Land ho! Yohoho!
Yoho! Ho! Ho! Yohoho!
Land ho! Yohoho!
Yoho! Ho! Ho! Yohoho!
Blessed be my eyes; it's Corndog Bay,
And good King Murk is on his way!
Our good King Murk is on his way!
So all light up and say Hooray-ay-AY!
(Cur-'n-all rushes into the tent.)
Trystan! The king'll be here any minute!
(making an effort to separate the lovers)
Cuckolde! You've got to get ready!
TRYSTAN AND CUCKOLDE
Hah! Cruel world!
Forever, we leave thee to thy ruin!
If they don't cease this our ruin is nigh!
Cuckolde! Neither of you are going to die!
I switched the poison for coffee!
Oh, my darling!
Oh, my sweet!
CUR-'N-ALL AND BRANGAGANGANE
(slowly forcing them apart)
You two had better keep it more discreet!
All is well!
King Murk comes to greet his bride!
See, he nears the ship to step inside!
Oh lord, I fear our goose is good as fried!
Ach! Doom! Ach! Dread!
I feel an aching building in my head!
(Cur-'n-all and Brangagangane hurriedly prepare the yet oblivious Trystan and Cuckolde for presentation to the king.)
All is well!
King Murk comes to greet his bride!
(The curtain falls.)
In the Garden at King Murk's Castle
Cuckolde paces nervously about the garden. Brangagangane is sitting on a flower-bed playing solitaire with a Tarot-deck. A torch burns from the castle wall. The sound of hunting horns is receding into the distance.
(bouncing up and down on her tip-toes, still pacing)
Oh Brangy! Make them go away!
Have patience, lady.
Remember the lesson of the cat.
For good things, one must often lie in wait.
And cautious stealth averts unhappy fate.
(trembling and impatient)
Away, O devil horns, away!
Be gone, you harbingers of day!
This kitty wants to come outside and play!
(fearfully in whispers)
My Cuckolde, my heart is ill at ease.
I beg of you, do listen to me, please.
What I must hold in thoughts alone by day,
Now I would speak to you while they're away.
The hunting party you so fear
Yet not enough though it is yet quite near.
Oh damn them! Are they really yet that near?
Poor Trystan's longing breath is all I hear!
(in a vehement whisper)
Heed me, lady!
One among them seeks an end
To your illicit reverie.
I've watched him very carefully.
'Tis grave Sir Zealot,
Beware his jealous schemes!
Never in my wildest dreams
Could I believe Sir Trystan's friend would do
Such ills as those to make his best friend rue.
Why, I can prove Sir Zealot's heart is true!
He called this hunt to let true lovers meet,
Here veiled within the garden's fragrance sweet.
Poor girl, had you my keen, perceptive sight
To read men's minds by all the subtle turns
A face affects, you'd fear this very night.
I see a man with sweat upon his brow,
And like a little boy, his eyes are wide,
His breath is mute; he trembles like a leafy bough,
He sits in shadows waiting for his bride.
How disturbing you forget
To whom it is you're wed!
Oh you're just jealous, Brangagangane!
Think you I do not notice how you stare
At my heart's unflinching servant, Cur-'n-all?
How cruel of you to make me feel so small.
(taken aback, consoling)
No need to be upset.
To judge by his response, I think it likely you may win him yet.
But why must we prolong my Trystan's plight?
Put out the torch! Make way for loving night!
(The horns are heard, now very faint.)
I like this not, my lady, but I will
Keep watch for you lest early they return.
Mark well my whistle, high and shrill.
Thank you, my sweet Brangy!
May your watchful eye
Be ever open as the blesséd sky.
(Brangagangane departs nervously. Cuckolde turns at last to the torch.)
Oh torch that burneth on my porch,
Your light does harm to me.
It holds my sweet fast in defeat
Away in enmity.
(She yanks the torch off the wall, throws it onto the ground, and stamps vigorously on it (risking burning her sandaled feet) until it is out. It is now pitch black. Nothing is visible, not even Cuckolde.)
The final artifact of day,
By Cuckolde is swept away!
(A thud is heard.)
Ow! Blesséd me!
A lonely maple tree!
Over here, my sweet!
Ach! The roots clutch at my eager feet!
(singing an old Mirish love ballad)
Oh, when my baby comes to me.
Then, only then, will I be free
Ow! Ow! Sweet roses!
In the hand a charm,
But in the bush I fear they do my body harm.
To kiss him, kiss him endlessly,
And hold my baby close to me.
Fall before the wrath of Trystan!
To feel my hair upon his chest,
My feel his mouth against my breast,
To fondly yield to his caress
Is all that's left to
There's something warm and soft which clings to me.
'Tis I, your sweet, affectionate maid.
(exultantly and loudly)
My dearest Cuckolde!
My Trystan, sweetest darling dear.
You needn't sing so loudly; I am here.
Oh Cuckolde! Oh Cuckolde!
Why did I ever flee from thee?
Why did you ever flee from me?
'Twas but a brief insanity!
So warm, so tender.
No love of my past.
Mine! Mine you are at last!
Such art in love!
Such art in love!
The magic you weave with your hand!
Outdone, alas, by thine own lips.
So sing ye as I play thee.
So sing ye as I play thee.
Ah, night-birds raucous in their song
Have never sang so loud or long!
Beware, intrepid lovers, of the dawn!
Trystan, are you sleeping now so soon?
Let me lie, my dearest. I'm exhausted.
But I am not!
Oh spare me, wild eternal passion's flame!
I need to rest, that we may do the same
The morrow, and each night thereafter,
Light of love and light of laughter!
Like a moth shall I expire ecstatic in your flame!
This flame is getting cold, I fear.
I didn't think to bring a blanket here.
Then closer to me, dear.
Yes, my Cuckolde?
You will forever-more be true to me.
Oh yes, my sweet.
Ne'er more will I retreat.
Your soft spell binds me, hands and feet.
Oh Trystan, would you marry me,
If I were yet unmarried?
Why must you ask me, Cuckolde?
You know that marriage scares me.
(insistent, somewhat sharply)
But you would, would you not?
Ow! Be gentle with me there.
I'd marry you or not at all, I swear.
Alas, what difference does it make.
We each have our respective duties to the state.
The liquor of fatigue assails my mind.
The perfumes in the air demand I leave all thoughts behind.
At last I tire. I too would expire.
(The sky begins to lighten. Trystan and Cuckolde are lying, scantily clad, in tranquil slumber, her head perched on his chest. A shrill whistle is heard.)
The first angel did sound his trumpet...
A mouse! A mouse! Within my house!
And the second angel blew his trumpet...
The lazy maids forgot to set the traps today!
(Brangagangane's scream is heard. Enter the hunting party. King Murk and Zealot are present. Cur-'n-all rushes in with drawn sword.)
Wake up, my liege!
The shit just hit the bellows!
(Trystan and Cuckolde awaken, thoroughly startled. Brangagangane storms in and hastens to Cuckolde. The paramours hastily dress.)
(to the pair)
Oho! Mind if we join you?
Uncle! My King!
See how they betray you, my lord?
Zealot! You! Why this to me?
The good Lord spake:
Thou shalt not commit adultery.
I beg you, in the name of God, my king,
That he may perish where he lies!
(He draws his sword impetuously.)
(stepping in front of Trystan with sword raised)
The first to try that move will be the first to die!
(King Murk begins to chuckle. The chuckle broadens into a chortle, the chortle into a deep guffaw.)
Ah, what a lively show we have got here!
Let's to our amorous couple give a cheer!
Sheath your sword, good Cur-'n-all.
Hold, Zealot! Do your blade forestall.
There'll be no blood spilled here.
(Reluctantly, Zealot sheaths his sword. Cur-'n-all follows suit.)
Well this explains why as of late
My dear wife often sleeps all afternoon.
(to both the lovers)
And now I do suppose it hurts me not,
To let you both in on a little secret.
Trystan, remember you that Farcian maid
You with the wily King of Mireland paid?
(Cuckolde gasps, then is lost in thought.)
(uneasily, avoiding Cuckolde's glance)
I do indeed, my King.
Well, she forsook him for his cruel ways,
And came to me to spend her final days.
Good heaven, what a tender maid is she.
Her adoration melts the heart in me.
So I am not neglected now, you see.
My wife and clever hero, long I knew,
That something very randy was then passing between you!
The looks you gave each other when your eyes
Each others' noble figures did espy,
Were, safe to say, not idle curiosity.
And while my eyes may yet young maidens see,
I shall not fail to notice any gaze
I glimpsed so often in my younger days!
My King! How I have shamed thee!
Ah, hardly can I blame thee!
That lady there has got some flair,
Or does my sense deceive me?
What is this talk, my lord?
Where is the sentence for their sins?
Alas I find, the people have no humor.
My Trystan, I regret to say
I will be forced to banish you today.
The nobles wouldn't let me have it any other way.
Cuckolde, I do hate to ply
You with this bitter truth,
(Cuckolde is startled out of her thoughts.)
And if you wish, you may depart
With he, the hero who has won your heart,
But know it may well mean the death of many men.
For Morbid has returned again to Mireland.
And presses Corndog with dark threats of war,
Demands that I deliver
Your very person to fair Mireland's shore.
The swine! I care not for him any more,
He who first left me, now my heart abhors!
(Trystan heartily embraces her.)
This is an outrage!
A blasphemy before God!
(He draws his sword and rushes at Trystan who is unarmed. The King and the other men run towards him to restrain him, but he manages to reach Trystan, first.)
Die, filthy tempter!
(He stabs Trystan in the stomach. The women scream. The men finally manage to restrain Zealot.)
Oh, my gut!
MY GUT, DESTROYED!!
(Cuckolde throws herself sobbing on Trystan. The curtain falls.)
In Trystan's Castle
In a bedchamber overlooking the sea. Trystan lies unconscious on the bed. Cur-'n-all is leaning against a far wall with arms folded.
The sound of a solo tuba is heard off-stage playing a mournful melody [i.e. George Gershwin's Summertime]. The sound grows louder until finally a swineherd emerges with the large instrument around his neck [it's a Sousaphone] still playing. He looks with interest on Trystan then turns to Cur-'n-all.
Good friend, say how it goes with our lord.
Has he not risen yet, today?
(turns his head toward the swineherd and shakes it morosely)
I fear that if Sir Trystan wakes,
He'll only bitch and belly-ache,
Unless Cuckolde, by the tide
Makes her way fast to his side.
(aloud to the swineherd)
Say have you seen the good ship yet,
Which my old friend has surely sent?
(shakes his head)
The sea is barren, empty as can be.
But tell, me, good friend, what ails our doughty master?
Don't ask. It is a story long and tiring.
But for a hint; it is in fact related
To his latest, greatest object of desiring.
The Mirish princess?
The very same.
You seem distraught as well, my friend.
The lady's handmaid is the blame.
But I won't bore you with my own heart-ache.
You'll hear enough of that if our Lord Trystan should awake.
Watch the sea, good Henry, for that ship,
The black ship with the red and bloody sails.
My good friend, the Butch Captain Vanderwrecken,
Should be here any day if he can make
The shallow, treacherous waters of the cape,
And on his ship, will Lady Cuckolde
And her sweet maid be borne to him and me.
Make sure that if you see them,
You play a lively tune to greet them.
(The swineherd exits, and soon the mournful tuba music is heard again.)
Again, again, that soulful sound.
It wakens me, to what?
Ach. The sun burns hateful on my pillow.
Where is my darling Cuckolde?
My Trystan, patience.
The sea keeps her own time.
(rousing himself, becoming restless)
No reason, nor rhyme.
My Cuckolde, my angel, clever and sublime!
Oh stark the bed, how cold and bare
Which lacks my sweet Cuckolde's hair!
Ah, futile life! How vain the quest
When severed from Cuckolde's breast.
Her lips, her hands, her wit, her wiles,
The mischief in her tender smiles.
Her fire, her grace,
The very softness of her face.
The hunger of her fierce embrace!
(passionate, sitting up)
O flame! O wild Mirish mare!
The way you trap me in your soft and golden hair!
The sun, false hope which beckons from the ruined sky
Must pale before the dancing emeralds of your eyes!
Trystan, I beg you!
I cannot wake! I cannot dream
Of aught but you, my Mirish queen!
Oh, would that I had never fled
Your house that starry summer season!
To you, my goddess, I'd be wed!
(He jumps out of the bed.)
Cruel demonic man!
Who takes by force Cuckolde's hand,
I'd strike you down right where you stand!
(Trystan is making ominous hysterical gestures. Cur-'n-all tries to restrain him.)
(building into a frenzy)
Death to him that holds my Cuckolde!
Spurn him! Spurn him!
Ice become before him
Who would touch you, my proud Cuckolde!
Death to you, dark Morbid!
(He collapses. Cur-'n-all insures he falls into the bed. The swineherd rushes into the room.)
Woe! I pray Cuckolde soon will come!
Another tantrum like that and my lord will be undone.
I beg you, my old friend;
Bespeak what madness has devoured him!
Why is he home from Corndog's land?
Two moons ago, dame Cuckolde was queen
Of Corndog, she was consort to King Murk.
But Trystan was the consort of her heart.
Their tryst was soon discovered by a friend,
A treacherous dog, Sir Zealot. With false faith,
He called a hunt to give the lovers space,
Or so he said, but yet he led
The hunt into the place,
Then said, "My lord, see how he hoodwinks you!"
Then drew his sword to strike our Trystan where he lay.
Did this wretch bold Trystan slay?
Nay, for though the king and his good men
Did on vile Zealot try restraint,
This false friend in self-righteous rage
Did with our Trystan's blood his vicious broadsword taint.
In rage I drew my longsword and I vowed
To hew, first chance, foul Zealot's carcass down!
But the King's men held us both right fast,
Until we sheathed our swords at last.
The lady Cuckolde in haste
Sought out the herbs to heal our master's wound.
She laid a cure upon him and he swooned;
For five days not a word nor sound he made.
The meantime, there were stirrings, threats of war.
The emissary from dread Mireland's shore,
Demanded into Morbid's arms fair Cuckolde be borne,
And Corndog's men, now unprepared for fight,
They pressed the King to grant Morbid this right.
The lady Cuckolde in tears consented,
To stave off needless deaths, to be presented
To the man who once had once been her betrothed,
But in her heart, who now she deeply loathed.
Sir Trystan was yet comatose
When she made her departure.
King Murk did banish Zealot far away,
For his attack on Trystan that dark day.
But Corndog's men did clamor for, as well,
Disownment of Sir Trystan from the realm.
My lord awoke; the King bade him farewell,
And lent a ship to travel to this place,
Bright Karo, fatherland of Trystan's grace.
Thus is our lord duly restored
To this most kindly space.
But every day and every night,
He raves and rants,
Curses his waking hours,
Fears to dream
Lest he see her in his arms,
The arms of foul Morbid.
(low and whispering)
Such insane longing!
Hear him rage!
He rarely eats,
He only sleeps
Because he exhausts himself
In his wild fits.
Should Cuckolde fail to reach this place,
Within a three-day span,
I fear our lord will perish from his madness.
'Tis more serious than you did earlier allude.
So keep a tight watch, Henry, play your tune,
And make it joyous if you see that ship,
That ship, our lord's salvation, or his doom.
(The swineherd departs to return to his watch.)
My Vanderwrecken, skillful seaman, fly!
With Cuckolde from wicked Morbid's grip!
(The slow tuba strain begins again.)
That tuba strain, again recalls me
To the land of pain and longing.
My Trystan. Peace.
She's on her way.
Just give her but another day.
That's what you told me yesterday!
I'll vouch my life, she's on her way.
Now rest or rise to greet the day.
The time you needn't pass this way.
Truest of friends.
If only you could understand
The measure which she means to me.
But that I do.
I sent the Butchman and his crew
To summon her and carry her to you,
And Captain Vanderwrecken's never failed,
On every sea and coastline, he has sailed.
And what if Morbid keeps Cuckolde from
Or if she herself disdains to board it?
Of the second I'll speak firmly:
Trust Cuckolde's heart.
Of the first, with scant less measure:
Trust Cuckolde's art.
And Vanderwrecken is the greatest captain on the seas,
And clever Rodin is aboard with him,
To leave no doubt my summons will be heard
By her you dearly love and who did rue
With bitter tears to take her leave of you.
I thank you, kindest Cur-'n-all.
And now I would but have a bit of feed,
I fear I have grown wasted in my need.
(Cur-'n-all looks visibly relieved. Trystan rises and exits. The curtain falls.)
At the docks by Trystan's castle. A day has passed and no ship has been sighted. The mournful tuba music is still heard. Sir Trystan is pacing around the docks. Cur-'n-all sits on a stool warily alternating his glance between the sea and Trystan.
Where is she? Where's my Cuckolde?
(rolling his eyes, aside)
Where is my dear lord's sanity?
I too now long for Cuckolde
Almost as dearly as does he!
It could be worse, I'll freely grant.
Within his bed he is more prone to rant,
Reminded far more intimately of her absence.
And too, he ate a goodly meal
Last afternoon, and ceased to pine.
But thereafter he drank far too much wine,
And once again, my lord began to whine.
However, since he's ate, I guess I'd give
Him three more days to in her absence live.
Where is the ship you promised me?
The day is yet young.
But I am feeling older by the hour.
(suddenly snapping into hysteria)
I age! I yearn! I die!
Oh cruel ship!
(rising and approaching Trystan)
My lord, get a grip!
I've had my fill of bloody ships!
The eternal sea has lain its deathly curse on me!
All that is precious, you hoard
In that cold, decrepit heart.
The pearl of Mireland lost to me through wind and waves!
You and the Fates,
Why must you pick on me?
(now near to Trystan)
The winds fill Vanderwrecken's sails,
The waves drive Vanderwrecken on
Till Judgment Day if need be.
Through him the sea delivers her to thee!
The sea deceives you!
Think I know not its treacherous ways?
More false than Zealot on its better days!
(with mad resolve)
Oh sea! I shall confound your plot at last,
To keep me from beloved Cuckolde!
I'll brave the tide straight clear to Mireland,
More true than any ship with sails and mast!
(He makes an effort to jump off the dock but
Cur-'n-all seizes him.)
Your senses, wild man!
Et tu, Cur-'n-all?
(Trystan struggles to free himself. The swineherd's tuba suddenly, miraculously, is playing trumpet music. The swineherd in his fervor plays rapid and frenzied flourishes. A dark ship with red sails can now be seen in the distance.)
(joyful, still holding Trystan back)
Trystan! Hear the sound!
A ship! A ship!
(Trystan ceases his struggle and looks out to sea.)
Cur-'n-all, truest friend!
Never did I doubt thee!
Vanderwrecken! We are saved!
Cur-'n-all! Unhand me
That I may swim out there to meet her!
Nay, my Trystan. Just wait a little longer.
She wouldn't want to see you wet.
(trembling and hopping up and down like a boy who is begging Mom to let him open his Christmas presents early)
Oh... Eternal seconds!
(Gradually, he gets control of himself. The ship grows nearer. Cuckolde can be seen waving.)
She waves! She waves to me!
(from the ship)
(The as the ship nears the pier, Cuckolde disappears briefly. Cur-'n-all releases Trystan who skips towards the pier. Before the ship has docked Cuckolde, in a mighty bound clears the gap and runs down the pier towards Trystan ecstatically. When she reaches him, she pounces on him, bowling him over and subsequently showering him with kisses.)
I very nigh could eat thee!
(enjoying her affectionate assault)
Cuckolde! Oh darling, Cuckolde!
(The curtain falls.)
In the dining hall of Trystan's castle. Trystan and Cuckolde sit together feeding each other amorously. Cur-'n-all and Brangagangane are quietly conversing over some wine, and servants of the household are dining as well in an atmosphere of general festivity. Only the swineherd is absent.
To Vanderwrecken and his doughty crew!
(He raises his cup.)
To Vanderwrecken! May his life be long!
(sadly, to Cur-'n-all)
Poor captain! Yes, his life will indeed be long!
For through a raging tempest on his way
To Karo, did he swear that he if he may,
He'd make his way here if took him until
Oh no! I pray
The Devil didn't hear him!
By the look of him, he did.
Saw you how pale the captain was
When he our leave did take?
But, ah... no more. Let us be rid
Of all grave sorrows.
This night was made for cheerful tomorrows.
Oh darling, now at last I may sleep.
I too, and love again.
Oh faithful bride!
Did you say bride?
Yes, I said bride.
I blush with pride!
My hero Trystan casts aside his fear.
A far worse fate to be without you, dear.
(She kisses him lightly on the forehead.)
I'm yours. No more to Mireland's pleasant shore
Where I was born and which I once adored.
For I adore a loving man far more
Than any land or any warlike lord.
I will return to Morbid nevermore.
A wedding, let a wedding be the morrow
To mark the passing of all woe and sorrow!
(The swineherd makes a hasty entrance.)
My lord! Good men! I spy another ship!
A whiskey bottle flies upon on its flag!
(Cuckolde grows pale. Trystan's expression grows dark and foreboding.)
Dark tidings! It is Morbid's ship!
To arms! To arms!
My lady! To Trystan's chamber! Safety there!
(All exit in a flurry. Curtain.)
The gatehouse. Trystan, Cur-'n-all, and armed men of the household wait. Trystan and Cur-'n-all are wearing light silver plate-mail. The gate is being rammed.
The men on the battlements can't deter them!
They've nearly breached the gate!
(under his breath)
This is an awful turn of fate.
(The gate gives way and a while after, a tall, imposing man clad in a dark green cloak and dull armor strides in with heavily armed men behind him. At the rear, Zealot can be seen watching the entire gathering with keen, furtive eyes. Ominous processional music.)
(in a tone of contemptuous command)
Where is my queen, the lady Cuckolde?
Bring her at once to me,
Or soon you'll pay quite dearly!
(with contempt in return)
She is indisposed!
She gladly takes her leave of you!
(He notices Zealot.)
Zealot! You! Returned so soon
For me to finish you?!
You vile tempter and your dreams;
I'll put an end to all your randy schemes!
Return to me my queen!
MEN OF MIRELAND
Our queen! Return to us our queen!
(Cuckolde, unexpectedly strides in and joins Trystan's side, placing an arm on his shoulder. She is decked in her finest jewels and a wearing a dark green robe which closely fits her figure. All present are amazed at her boldness and dazzled by her regal appearance.)
(formally and with dignity)
Men of Mireland.
I am here by my own pleasure,
And shall not willingly be taken by force of arms.
(There is a stir among the men of Mireland. Trystan puts his arm around her waist.)
What is this, wife?
Where is your sense of duty to our land,
The land and lord who claim you as their queen?
Duty? What, dear Morbid?
Who are you to speak of duty?!
You who forsook Mireland for a Farcian maid,
And left his queen at home to pine away!
MEN OF MIRELAND
What's this? Our lady accuses the king of infidelity!
Can you deny it?
(to the men)
Was he not gone three years
To the fields of Farce?
MEN OF MIRELAND
Is it true then, as the rumors said,
That our lord went to Farce,
To Farce but for a maid?
It was a glorious campaign!
No doubt, great fortune you obtained!
How many maids did Morbid conquer?
Woman, know you the nature of your crime?
Perjury against one's lord is punishable by death!
I renounce you as my lord!
MEN OF MIRELAND
What's this? A queen renounce her king?
You? Were you the Virgin Mary,
You'd have no such right!
My men of Mireland, may you and Heaven be my jury.
Your king left Mireland for three years in discord with his duty.
Where are the riches, where the splendid bounty
He surely brought to greenly Mireland's shore?
I'll tell what bounty Morbid left you for!
A life in shameful union with a Farcian maid,
Who left him three years later for his brutal ways!
(She releases Trystan from embrace and bares her left arm before the men.)
You see these bruises, brave and noble men!
These were received while in our own dear land;
(She points accusingly to Morbid.)
Now see the one, who with a heavy hand,
Would strike his queen!
MEN OF MIRELAND
I never did believe it! Yet now we see it!
King Morbid would strike his own queen!
(Morbid approaches Cuckolde, face contorted in hatred.)
(in a low rasping growl)
You bitch! You'll pay for this!
(He nears her with his sword raised to strike, but Trystan steps in front of her, with his own blade raised. Trystan's guards and the Mirish men prepare for fight.)
You! Seducer! Die!
(They fight. Trystan's guards move in front of Cuckolde guiding her to the rear as they near Morbid and the Mirish men.)
A MIRISH CAPTAIN
God save the queen! Let Morbid be damned!
(Some of the Mirish men try to seize Morbid, but their attempt is arrested by troops loyal to the Mirish King. There is dissension among the Mirish men as the pro-Morbid faction attempts to restrain and disarm the outraged troops who have sided with Cuckolde. Trystan's men fight the foremost rank of Mirish men. Cuckolde retreats from the fighting and Zealot, unseen, slips around the fighting men and seizes her. She screams and some of the Mirish men, hearing this, break from the discord and run toward Zealot who in response places a dagger at Cuckolde's throat threateningly. Cur-'n-all manages to reach the two fighting heroes, and with a deft kick, lands Morbid in the groin. Morbid doubles over and Trystan disarms him. He places the point of his sword at Morbid's throat.)
(Trystan's guards and Mireland's men halt the fighting.)
(shouting to Trystan)
Yield, yourself, Sir Trystan!
See what sweet bird I've caught!
(Trystan looks in horror at Cuckolde who, pale, writhes in Zealot's grasp.)
Surrender or she dies!
THE MIRISH CAPTAIN
Curse you, Zealot! Unhand our queen!
The count of three I give you.
Lay down your weapons! All of you!
(Trystan lets his sword drop and back quickly away. Trystan's men also lay down their weapons. The Mirish men put away theirs. Morbid rises slowly, still in pain.)
Well done, friend Zealot.
Bring that slut to me!
I wish her to unhindered see
The end of her adultery!
(to Trystan, wickedly)
I shall be true where he did fail!
(He retrieves his sword and approaches Trystan. Zealot bears Cuckolde close to Morbid, dagger still at her throat. The armed men wait fearfully. Without warning, there is a flourish of trumpets from outside, and King Murk, dressed in red strides into the gatehouse followed by a large contingent of Corndog warriors. All are surprised at his entrance.)
Morbid! Zealot! Hold!
Who harms Trystan or Cuckolde must answer to me!
What claim do you have on me?
What claim? Just look around you!
Your men defy you for their queen.
My men, like I, have vowed to slay
Whoever shall take the life of she or he
Sir Trystan or fair Lady Cuckolde!
This exit's barred. Escape is closed!
Morbid, put your sword away,
If you would live to see another day!
Zealot, take that dagger from her throat!
You shan't escape alive if you Cuckolde harm!
(Morbid sheaths his sword and gloomily sits on the floor with his head buried in his hands. This he does for the remainder of the scene. Zealot moves Cuckolde well out of reach of all the armed men.)
(to King Murk)
Not yet, my king.
First, passage you will grant.
Open your ranks, that I may make my way,
And no intrusion lest I this woman slay!
MEN OF MIRELAND AND CORNDOG
The wretch! The knave!
(King Murk's men warily part at his signal. Zealot, still with his dagger at Cuckolde's throat walks between them equally wary, and exits the castle with her.)
No man will follow or she dies!
(after a pause with somber music, faintly)
A good show, lady; I was impressed.
I spare you out of admiration for your craft.
Be grateful for my mercy, nonetheless!
(a loud sharp horseman's cry)
(After a while, Cuckolde enters, visibly shaken but unharmed. All gaze at her except Morbid who looks down at the floor disgraced.)
(monotone, in shock)
He's gone. Rode south, I gather.
(She slowly, with great effort, steps toward Trystan and collapses in his arms.)
Men of Mireland! Men of Corndog!
Let's this day a celebration be
The union of Sir Trystan and Lady Cuckolde.
(Cuckolde awakens and Trystan turns to her smiling. They gradually become oblivious of all but each other.)
Let Corndog's blood to Mireland's blood be wed!
No more need blood between us e'er be shed.
The Pax Corndogis descends upon this land
For Trystan woos Cuckolde's healing hand!
MEN OF MIRELAND AND CORNDOG
Trystan and Cuckolde!
No fairer light we see!
(Cuckolde has been quietly removing Trystan's armor whispering inaudible things to him as she does so. Brangagangane now notices and eyes the lovers questioningly.)
Peace for eternity.
End to all enmity.
Light of hope shines in their eyes.
(Cuckolde, having now relieved Trystan of his armor, lies him gently on the floor, and merrily lays herself upon him. Cur-'n-all notices them and begins quietly chuckling to himself.)
MEN OF MIRELAND AND CORNDOG
Let Trystan and Cuckolde
Be wed eternally!
Love's sacred vow be their prize!
(Cuckolde, paying no heed to her maid, slowly removes two dangerous-looking hair-pins from her hair, and Trystan, shuddering in remembrance, smiles at her wit. She places the pins down beside them and, bends down to kiss Trystan, letting her hair spill over his head. Trystan's face lies hidden beneath a golden veil.)
Men of green Mireland,
Men from fair Corndog's strand.
Greet as fellow and as friend
'Neath their kind star
Ever and anon
Bright as the rising sun
Which burneth from afar.
The people; they're singing for you and Trystan.
This is a solemn occasion, my lady.
Mind, you're not even yet married!
Passion later. Festivity calls.
The King will want Trystan to make a speech.
Morbid still must be pressed to sign a treaty!
And of course, there's the proclamation of Zealot's unlawfulness,
Then Trystan's reacceptance
As a loyal vassal to King Murk.
Matters of state must take precedence;
Now is a time for duty!
Cuckolde, do you hear me?
(All present are suddenly silent. Cuckolde raises herself up, tenderly caressing Trystan's smiling face. Trystan's eyes are closed dreamily.)
(Liebeslust, in the manner of Isolde's Liebestod [sort of])
See him smiling,
See his fine eyes
(Trystan's eyes open. She brushes his forehead sweetly and they close again.)
Ah behold him!
See not you?
How he wants me
And I him too?
Borne in starlight
See you not?
How his heart
So proudly swells,
Full and bold
It throbs in his chest?
For my bared breast?
(Trystan opens his eyes again and inclines his head slightly, hopefully. She pats his head and they close again.)
Stirs his lips
Ah how wildly
Shallow it is!
(Trystan is growing visibly excited.)
See him, friends!
Feel and see you not?
Can it be that I alone
Can make this wondrous, glorious tone,
From him flowing,
Through me pouring,
(Trystan is sweating.)
O wild joy!
Of spring's ardor,
My noble boy!
Is this fragrance
In its vagrance
My love's gladness,
(She brushes beads of sweat from his forehead.)
Shall I breathe it,
Shall I taste it,
Dive beneath it,
Drink and eat it?
(Trystan nods vigorously.)
Oh, may I drown
In the fragrance,
Of leather and rusty
Metal chain links.
Oh, my darling,
I am sinking,
I am drinking
The nectar of your
(She bends slowly, teasingly down to resume kissing him.)
(She sinks upon him in ecstasy, her hair once again hiding his face. Brangagangane smiles at Cur-'n-all, who meekly takes her hand. The men of Mireland and Corndog tearfully turn and hug one another.)
(at the music's final cadence as the curtain is slowly falling)
George Chadderdon © 1994
Since Trystan and Cuckolde is a parody, it is fitting, and perhaps
even necessary for someone who's never seen Wagner's Tristan und Isolde,
to discuss the original work on which the parody is based. Tristan und Isolde
holds a unique place in Wagner's catalog of ambitious operatic masterpieces;
it is both musically and artistically unlike the rest of his works. The harmonic
innovations in the score are said to be fifty years ahead of their time; the
chromaticism already largely present in Wagner's music was here stretched to
its absolute limits. Often, one loses the sense of tonality altogether in the
work; this was practically unheard of until the twentieth century. In addition,
the content of the opera is probably the most directly grounded in philosophy
of any of his operas, particularly in the philosophy of the pessimistic nineteenth-century
philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.
Schopenhauer postulated that the world is Will and Idea. Our individual realities are made up entirely by our sensations and ideas, but these and indeed the entire apparatus of our minds are merely a manifestation of a more fundamental mechanism, the Will. The Will is a kind of blind sentience which imbues all things which exist in the universe, both animate and inanimate. It is a force which drives men to live, and desire all that men desire. The key is desire, desire more and more, endlessly. Never satisfaction, never happiness, only desire for more. Of course this longing brings intense sorrow and suffering. Schopenhauer's conclusion is that since the Will leads to evil and suffering, then the most desirable thing a man can do is to sever himself from the Will and the horrific longing it brings. Non-existence is the ideal, an end to all suffering. In the end, Schopenhauer considers the non-existence of any life the ideal state.
It is from this black-bile which Wagner drew at least half of his cup for the opera's essence. The other part of it was drawn from another theme which recurs again and again in Wagner's operas, redemption through self-sacrificial love. Earlier examples of this were Senta's sacrifice of her life to save the Dutchman in Der Fliegende Hollander, and Elizabeth's sacrifice of hers to save Heinrich in Tannhauser. In Tristan und Isolde, Isolde goes to Tristan with the hope of redeeming them both, not by marrying him and living happily ever after with him, but by dying with him. This would release both of them from the Will and the intense torturous desire they feel for each other. This is the ultimate goal of the lovers: death. Why they should care whether they die with each other or in each other's absence, seems rather mysterious to me in light of the underlying philosophy.
This takes place on a ship which is bound for Cornwall. The Cornish knight Tristan is escorting an unwilling Irish princess Isolde to Cornwall where she is to be made the bride of his lord, King Mark. The scene opens with a sailor singing a tune which mocks the plight of the poor, bereft princess [or maybe it is just a farewell tune of an English sailor to an Irish sweetheart]. Isolde starts at hearing this, and asks her handmaid, Brangane where they are. She tells her they'll arrive at Cornwall by the evening. Isolde goes into hysterics, calling for the ship's annihilation before this happens. Brangane, alarmed, asks what ails Isolde. She reveals that Tristan is the reason for her grief and without explanation demands that Tristan be summoned to her. Brangane goes to summon Tristan, but Tristan evades her request, and his henchman Kurwenal taunts Isolde, and the sailors hearing this join in. Tristan had earlier killed Isolde's betrothed, Morold of Ireland, for attempting to levy a tax on Cornwall, and sent his head back to Ireland as "payment" for the tax. It's of this Kurwenal and the sailors sing.
When Brangane tells Isolde of Tristan's refusal, Isolde tells him the complete tale of her sorrow. A boat had come to Ireland's shore bearing a critically wounded man, who gave his name as 'Tantris'. But Isolde, upon seeing his notched sword, noticed that a sword splinter she had discovered in Morold's severed head fit the notch on the blade. Thus knowing that this man had killed her husband, she had raised up his sword to strike him dead. But Tristan had awoken and had gazed with such anguish into her eyes that she could not slay him. Instead, well-versed in healing arts, she nursed him back to health, and he thanked her profusely and swore loyalty before departing for home. Now, he had returned to make her the wife of his lord, King Mark of Cornwall (which had originally been a vassal to Ireland). With growing frenzy, she utters a curse of death upon both him and herself for this deed.
Brangane tries to console her by reminding her that Tristan is giving her as a gift the crown of Cornwall, and by promising her that if King Mark is unloving, she'll give him a potion which makes it not so. Isolde replies by telling Brangane that the draught of death will suit her purpose better.
The sailors shout that they are near land, and Kurwenal comes to Isolde to inform her that Tristan is nearly ready to escort her. Isolde tells Brangane to put the poison in the cup, and that this will be the drink of atonement for his treachery which they will both drink. Brangane, after much scolding, seemingly does as asked, and Tristan arrives.
After Isolde expresses her rage at Tristan, Tristan offers her his sword to slay him with. She refuses this, however, and demands that Tristan instead drink with her a drink of atonement. Tristan, seeing that it is through this means she intends to kill him, nonetheless drinks, and before he is finished, Isolde snatches the cup and drinks the rest.
However, Brangane has switched the potion of death for a potion of love. This releases the inhibitions on Tristan and Isolde's desire for each other. (It is not intended by Wagner to be the cause of this desire!) Losing control they fall into each others arms overwhelmed with longing. Horrified, Brangane tells them what has happened and she and Kurwenal work to prepare the two of them for the King. The curtain falls when the King and his men arrive.
The scene is at a garden which is close to Isolde's chamber. It is a warm summer night, and Isolde and Tristan are to meet in this garden. Hunting horns can be heard in the distance. Isolde emerges from her chamber onto the steps where Brangane is sitting. Isolde tells Brangane that the horns are gone, to which Brangane informs her that her ears are deluded by her longing; the horns are yet near. Isolde accuses Brangane of lying to her, and Brangane warns her that Tristan's seemingly best friend Melot intends to betray the illicit lovers. Isolde replies that this is nonsense; Melot is Tristan's best friend and even arranged this hunt for them, and she chides Brangane for even suggesting such a thing. She tells Brangane to extinguish the torch as a signal that Tristan may approach. Brangane begs her to keep the torch lit and bemoans giving her the love-potion. Isolde replies that it was the goddess of Love's deed, not hers. She tells Brangane to go keep a look-out for the lovers. Brangane leaves and Isolde extinguishes the torch.
Isolde meets Tristan and they embrace passionately, exchanging breathless words of longing. Eventually this frenzy dies down and they begin to discuss how false the daylight is and how wonderful the night is. Honor, fame, and all worldly considerations are associated with the day, and love, peace, and ecstasy with the night. They long to never wake from this dream; and that the dream itself fade into a dreamless ecstasy of oblivion.
Brangane tries to warn them of the approaching dawn, but they do not rise. Instead they dreamily speculate on the wonders of no longer being two individuals, Tristan and Isolde, but being a single entity enshrouded in oblivion for all eternity.
They both begin singing the melody of the Liebestod (see the commentary on Act III), but before it can be completed, King Mark, Melot, and the hunting party arrive, preceded by Kurwenal who urges Tristan to run and save himself.
Melot tells the King that he has spared the King shame by revealing this treachery to him. King Mark, however, is grievously wounded by the discovery. After all, it was Tristan who had demanded most loudly that he, King Mark, take a bride, for he had been long widowed and childless. In fact, the King had made Tristan his heir to the throne, but Tristan had threatened to leave if King Mark didn't accept a bride. Tristan, though moved deeply by the King's grief, is nonetheless at a loss of words for him. Instead he turns to Isolde and asks her if she will accompany him to his homeland. She agrees to follow him, and Tristan kisses her on the forehead. This incenses Melot who draws his sword, and cries out for vengeance. Tristan draws his sword, makes a reply to Melot, and attacks him. But Tristan purposefully lets his guard down and Melot wounds him before King Mark can restrain him.
The scene is at Tristan's castle garden overlooking the sea. Tristan lies unconscious on a couch under a lime tree. Kurwenal is watching over him, listening to his breathing. A shepherd who is playing his pipe, enters the garden and goes to Kurwenal asking him how Tristan is doing, and what is wrong with him. Kurwenal prefers not to go into the details, but instead asks whether the shepherd has seen a ship yet, telling him to pipe his merriest tune when he sees it.
Then Tristan awakes and Kurwenal is overjoyed. However, after Kurwenal has explained how Tristan has arrived at his homeland Kareol again and reassured him of his imminent recovery, Tristan slowly works himself into a frenzy over Isolde's absence. He wails about now being thrust in the harsh day again, and longs for night to reclaim him. Kurwenal informs him that he has already sent for Isolde to come to Kareol by ship to heal his wound. (Why she didn't do so in Cornwall before Tristan was carried back to Kareol is a mystery to me. Why she reneged on her promise to accompany him is also a mystery to me.) In optimistic delusion somewhat parallel to Isolde's optimistic delusion in the previous act, Tristan claims he sees Isolde's ship. Kurwenal tells him that it is not so, and Tristan begins a narrative in which he describes how his mother died in childbirth and his father was dead even before then. Then, his thoughts move to the love-potion which he curses bitterly, damning himself for having brewed it himself out of his sorrows. He then sinks back unconscious and Kurwenal bitterly bemoans the cruelty of love. He fears Tristan has died but Tristan slowly comes to and bids Kurwenal to watch for the ship.
Finally, the ship arrives, and the shepherd plays a merry tune on his pipe. Tristan grows panicked as the ship passes the reef and hysterically cries all is lost until the ship reappears, and Isolde waves to him from on board. Kurwenal goes down to fetch Isolde, and Tristan, in wild ecstasy, tears his bandages off. Isolde, crying out to him, runs to him and he runs to her. Because he has torn his bandages off, however, he dies when they embrace. Seeing this, she grieves, for she wanted him to be alive longer so that they might die together. Then, thinking she hears Tristan awaking, Isolde falls upon him unconscious.
This seems like a possible ending, but Wagner stretches it out further. The shepherd sights another ship, King Mark's ship, and Kurwenal urges the men to arms. Melot rushes in and Kurwenal slays him. King Mark and Brangane try to make Kurwenal come to his senses, but he and his men still are trying to hold back King Mark and his men. Brangane sneaks in by climbing over the wall (she must be a rather skillful climber) and rushes to Isolde happy to see her alive. King Mark and his men drive their way into the gate and Kurwenal falls back wounded by Tristan's feet, and dies. King Mark sees the dead figure of Tristan and begins sobbing in despair. He had come to release Isolde from their marriage and to let Tristan and Isolde marry. Brangane tries to bring Isolde to her senses but Isolde is locked in contemplation of Tristan. Finally, ensues the famous and veritably beautiful Liebestod in which Isolde sees in her own mind Tristan waking and feels herself sinking into the rapture of their love, then expires lifeless on his body. In Wagner's stage direction, the bystanders grieve, and Mark blesses the dead. But this stage direction is seldom followed, for it is rather in opposition to what transpires musically. Indeed, the opera, after a soaring passionate rejoicing of the strings, settles down into a quiet "amen" cadence terminated with a tranquil major chord, which suggests that the bliss so long desired by the two lovers has at last been achieved.
With the task of giving the synopsis of Tristan und Isolde completed, and since the underlying philosophical ideas of the opera have been discussed, we are now ready to supply notes which are useful to consider when reading the parody Trystan and Cuckolde.
A bodkin in the sense Cuckolde means is one of Cuckolde's long hair-pins. She is assumed to wear two hair-pins when she desires that her long blonde hair be done up, which it should be for all formal occasions, given the author's understanding of how noble-women were expected to wear their hair in those days.
As in Tristan, the hero invokes the queen of silence. In Wagner's original, Tristan is refusing to say what is foremost on his mind, that he anguishes out of love for Isolde. In Trystan, its use is somewhat different.
The "festive sailor song from Der Fliegende Hollander" is mostly the beginning of the third act, before the Norwegian sailors try to rouse the Dutchman's crew. However this is mingled with some of the Norwegian crew's songs from the first act.
In Tristan, Isolde extinguishes the torch by tossing it down and letting it die out. Cuckolde is even less patient.
In Tristan und Isolde, the shepherd's pipe is of a quite amazing sort. At the beginning of the act, this pipe takes on the moody, mournful sound of an English horn, but when Isolde's ship arrives, the shepherd is miraculously granted the ability to play trumpet music on it as well, and does so with great gusto. Thus, there is precedence for the swineherd's Zaubertuba! (Perhaps a parody of Mozart's Die Zauberfloete could be written regarding this remarkable instrument.)
Captain Vanderwrecken (c.f. Captain Vanderdecken of the original
Flying Dutchman legend). It is said that this Dutch captain was damned to roam
the seas until the end of the world for having sworn to pass the Cape of Good
Hope if it took him until Judgment Day. Wagner wrote Der Fliegende Hollander
(literally "the Flying Dutchman") and added a few new ornaments of
plot not originally in the legend. Wagner never left a tale in its original
form, but always modified it to suit his own dramatic purposes. The original
Arthurian Tristram and Isoude legend had a very different cast of characters,
and Wagner both added and deleted manythings from the
original tales of romance.
Cuckolde's Liebeslust (literally "love in lust") is supposed to be sung to the exact orchestral music of Wagner's Liebestod ("love in death"). However, this might well be an impossible feat because Cuckolde's lyrics do not exactly correspond rhymically to Isolde's lyrics in the Liebestod.
With these notes in mind, the reader can now peruse the parody with a more or less full understanding of wherein the attempts (hopefully successful) at humor lie. This the reader should do before reading the rest of these after-thoughts.
Love has been said to be a miraculous thing. Wagner himself seemed to think so since it made his characters behave in such miraculous (if self-destructive) ways. However, since Wagner's heroes and heroines almost never survive his operas, they are never allowed a chance to unleash their newfound joy upon the world, and propel it to greater things. Trystan and Cuckolde have somehow managed a miracle for operatic leads; they have survived the rigors of operatic existence to grace the world with their happy union. In light of this amazing feat, what could prove impossible for our intrepid pair? Some ideas come to mind for future adventures and worthwhile accomplishments of the amorous duo:
Trystan and Cuckolde discover the New World.
Trystan and Cuckolde discover birth control.
Trystan and Cuckolde reinvent the wheel.
Trystan and Cuckolde start the sexual revolution.
Trystan and Cuckolde defeat the Pannish Armada.
Trystan and Cuckolde compose nine sympathies.
Trystan and Cuckolde rewrite Sheikspear's plays.
Trystan and Cuckolde win the fight at the OK Corral.
Trystan and Cuckolde invent electricity.
Trystan and Cuckolde storm Barlin (to defeat the Nutzis).
Trystan and Cuckolde defeat Klasperoff for the World Chess title (Cuckolde's role in this being a rather distractive one).
Trystan and Cuckolde invent the automobile (and the water-bed).
Trystan and Cuckolde postulate general relativity.
Trystan and Cuckolde topple the Woeviet Empire.
Trystan and Cuckolde make space a better place.
Trystan and Cuckolde pass the Turing test.
Trystan and Cuckolde prove that A is A.
Undoubtedly, this was one of the works I most enjoyed the creation
of. It represents another milestone for me in that it is a play which is written
in verse. The rhyme and meter are both maintained in a rather haphazard fashion,
admittedly, but the effect works; what is witty sparkles even more so for the
rhyme. What is meant to be bombastic is even more so when augmented with rhyme.
The main aim of the work is to poke a little good fun at the excesses of both opera in general, and Wagner's Tristan und Isolde in particular. As the latter is the most humorless of all of Wagner's creations, it seems the most appropriate target for a good lampooning. The composer and librettist (in this case both are Wagner) have thoughtfully provided the lampoonist with a thoroughly nutty hero and heroine. However, Wagner was stingy with their capacity for humor; in fact, one might say that Tristan and Isolde are so utterly devoid of the lighter qualities of humanity that it is doubtful that anyone (Wagner included) would be able withstand their presence for over five-minutes without running to a book of dirty limericks for consolation. Kurwenal proves to be the most cheerful fellow of the whole opera, but even he gives in under the torment wrought by the continuous association with the hero and heroine, and is reduced to a suicidal maniac by the end of the third act.
Wagner's characters in this opera are some of the most dismal wretches to shriek and bellow their way across the operatic stage. Neither hero or heroine are particularly lovable characters who inspire a great deal of human sympathy. Tristan is a bleak, wretched knight who kills maidens' future husbands and sends them their heads back to show them who's boss. Isolde is a haughty prima donna, who has obviously wanted all her life to get revenge on someone but never had a good enough cause. Isolde is particularly unkind to Brangane, constantly accusing her of being disloyal despite her maid's desperate attempts to console her and bring her to her senses. (Tristan is notably kinder to Kurwenal.) It is King Mark (and perhaps this was intentional) who I personally feel the most sympathy for. Wagner portrayed him as a kindly, sensitive, old man who was drawn quite against his will into the whole situation, and then betrayed by his most trusted friend. Brangane and Kurwenal get second and third place for my sympathy respectively for they had to endure the hysteria of their charges for the entire of the opera (Brangane edges out over Kurwenal because Isolde was on the whole quite unappreciative of Brangane's sincere attempts at friendship.)
So there you have it; Tristan and Isolde as they stand are bound to make very unpopular leading characters. Realizing this, the pair came to me one Saturday afternoon. Isolde, sobbing profusely, told me that she felt unloved and estranged from humanity, and that even sopranos often expressed a loathing for her person. At the height of her sorrow, she began waving her arms over her head and screaming for the sun to come crashing into the earth to end her misery; and Tristan had to restrain her forcibly. Tristan complained that Isolde still hadn't forgiven her for cutting off her once-betrothed's head, and that periodically Brangane had to keep switching cups to preserve both of their lives. I took pity on them but I informed them that their personalities would need some work. They reluctantly agreed so I promised to make a "kinder, more lovable" Tristan and Isolde out of them.
Since neither of them agreed to give up their adulterous ways, my first step was to give them more fitting names, Trystan and Cuckolde. After much fretting (and attempts to invoke the undead wrath of the composer), they finally allowed themselves to be called by their new titles. But it has often been observed that to generate new and more positive behavior patterns in a person, one must remove them from the environment which led them to develop the negative behavior patterns and shun the positive ones. So I teleported the pair into a parallel universe more conducive to their well-being. Trystan was sent to Corndog and made the vassal of King Murk, and Cuckolde was sent to Mireland. They felt rather silly at first, but they soon grew used to their environments. After a good deal of counseling and exposure to TV sitcoms and Shakespeare comedies, their resistance to humor began to break down. Cuckolde, already a very passionate woman, began to realize that she had been focusing her passions in such a way as to make herself less enjoyable for either Trystan or the audience. Trystan, who had essentially been an orphan all of his life, now knew what it was he really wanted most from Cuckolde, an affectionate, if somewhat dominating, mother-figure. And so it was that Cuckolde began to develop a more amorous nature, and Trystan began to behave more youthfully (to put it mildly).
Cuckolde is definitely a sexy woman, more so than Isolde because she now has no small measure of wit which she employs to thoroughly bewitch Trystan. She is much sweeter to Brangagangane as well though she still has a relapse or two, and still has a trace of Isolde's imperiosity. Like Isolde, she is a creature of feeling rather than of reason, and she isn't even quite as mature as Wagner's heroine, but she is at least of a sweeter disposition. She is also more aggressive and amorous in the expression of her passion.
Trystan is quite a bit less mature than Tristan, but he is also quite a bit less gloomy. He is more of a fun-loving adventurer who enjoys the pleasures of wine and women, and has never outgrown his adolescence. He is a hedonist who shuns commitments, until the third act, in which he has become so obsessed with Cuckolde's beauty, wit, and sexuality that he cannot bear her absence. It is in Cuckolde, the aggressive, unusually amorous Mirish princess, that Trystan has at last found his ideal mate.
Brangagangane and Cur-'n-all (who really isn't a cur at all) serve similar roles as Wagner's Brangane and Kurwenal. They are there to try to keep the hero and heroine from hanging themselves with the ample rope of their hysteria. However, they (more realistically) express their annoyance at their charges' irrational behavior, and Kurwenal in particular grows tired of Trystan's incessant whining in the third act even though he himself misses Brangagangane.
King Murk is of a very different spirit than King Mark. He is a cheerful old lecher who is more prone to be amused by the behavior of the adulterous pair than offended or hurt. His favorite knight, Trystan, is not his favorite for his brutal strength or his courtly honor, but rather for his devious cleverness which allows him to defeat his enemies without a blow (as he did with Morbid before the opera).
Zealot is developed just a trifle better than Melot, though somewhat contradictorily. He is intended to be a clever hypocrite who (though this isn't mentioned) seeks to wear Corndog's crown one day. His attempt to slay Trystan and discredit Cuckolde is an attempt to put himself next in line to the throne. His friendship with Trystan is a shallow front for his ambitions. When the attempt fails, he quickly joins forces with Morbid in hopes of winning the crown as Mireland's ally. He is not without some measure of chivalry, however. He passes up an opportunity to slay Cuckolde, presumably because he was impressed by her performance in dealing with Morbid (who he actually has little regard for), but more likely the greater reason is that he knows he doesn't need to kill her and would probably rather not kill a woman anyway.
Morbid is meant to be the darkest villain of the plot. It is assumed that when Cuckolde and Morbid were betrothed, she was not as familiar with Morbid's infidelity and abusiveness. It was when Morbid, having lost the Farcian maid, now forced Cuckolde to return to Mireland and marry him, that his physical abuses began. No doubt he was frustrated by Cuckolde's refusal to submit to his desires, and was violently jealous of Trystan's conquest over his prize possession's passions. By the end of the opera, he would most certainly have killed her after he had killed Trystan, though he probably would have had the sense to do the deed away from the men. It is the intended comic nature of the play alone which caused me to spare Morbid's life from being extinguished on Trystan's sword. However, in any case, Morbid awaits considerable humiliation as his enemies force a treaty out of him which makes Mireland the vassal of Corndog, and which makes him subject to the will of the lovers, lest they be given his place on Mireland's throne. The men of Mireland now, for the most part, despise him, having learned the truth of his despicable behavior. By comparison, Zealot makes off rather lightly.
The plot of Tristan is paralleled rather faithfully towards the beginning of Trystan, but by the end of the spoof, it is a very different story, with a somewhat unusual happy-ending. In Act I, the differences in plot between original and parody are mostly in the specifics of the history of the hero and heroine, the attitudes of the characters, and a slight reordering of how the history of the two are presented. In Act II the plots begin to significantly diverge, thanks to Morbid's continued existence. In Act III of Trystan, as in Act III of Tristan, the hero lies unconscious under the eyes of his henchman, but the circumstances are by now quite different. He is not, as in the original, critically wounded (thus I have fixed what I have always felt to be a pretty major flaw in Wagner's plot); the pain is from his hysteria alone, which is no doubt exaggerated beyond realism. Here the Flying Dutchman legend is rather impishly blended with the Tristan legend. The cause of the poor Butchman's damnation is made to be the voyage which delivers Cuckolde to Trystan. (As in reality, you win some, you lose some.) After Vanderwrecken has delivered Cuckolde, the story becomes an entirely different one. There is a short celebration scene interrupted by the arrival of Morbid and Zealot by another ship. Trystan is nearly put to death, but King Murk and his men arrive in the nick of time, and force Morbid to surrender. Zealot, through ruthless craft, manages to escape (probably on the horse of one of King Murk's men). The men of the two countries then and there decide to put aside their differences and make peace, and the scene which follows is somehow delightfully cliched, with a jubilant chorus singing of peace and prosperity and a joyful marriage. Trystan and Cuckolde, uninterested in the ensuing ceremony, decide to entertain each other instead. Gradually, everyone (except Morbid who is gloomy and withdrawn until the end of the opera) notices the pair and they put on a little spectacle for the men of the two nations which, contrary to the amusement one would expect from them under these circumstances, only makes the men even more solemn and serious in their desire for peace and friendship. The curtain falls on a somewhat incongruous "Amen." and the farce is ended.