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Thread: Melot in Tristan und Isolde

  1. #1
    Member bravenewworld's Avatar
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    Default Melot in Tristan und Isolde

    In the opera, Melot is one of Tristan's good friends and yet he betrays him to King Marke. Was Wagner implying that Melot was seeking to curry favour with Marke by doing this, or was Melot actually just doing the right thing (in the day-realm at least) by dutifully reporting to the King what was occuring underneath his nose and suppressing his own desire to do right by his friend? Essentially, was Melot just a simple villain or was he motivated by something beyond self-interest?

    This question has been occupying my thoughts and I'd appreciate if others could shed some light on this character.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    At the end of Act 2, Tristan gives us his view on this. He says:

    This was my friend,
    exalted and dear was his devotion to me;
    for my honour and reputation
    none was more concerned than he.
    To impetuousness
    he drove my heart;
    he led the crowd
    that urged me
    to add to my honour and renown
    and to give you to the King as bride!
    The sight of you, Isolde,
    blinded him too.

    Out of jealousy I was betrayed
    by my friend
    to the King, whom I had betrayed.

    At the beginning of the act, Brangaene warns Isolde:

    But there was one,
    as I clearly perceived,
    who looked only into Tristan's eyes.
    With a threatening gaze
    full of malevolent guile
    he sought to find in his expression
    whatever would serve his purpose.
    Spitefully listening
    I have often found him.
    Of him who secretly sets snares for you both,
    of Melot, be warned!
    What makes me suspect him
    makes him dear to you!
    From Tristan to Mark
    is Melot's path:
    there he sows malignant seeds.
    Those who decided today
    on this night hunt,
    so promptly and quickly planned,
    have a nobler quarry
    than you imagine
    as the target of their huntsmen's cunning.

    Tristan's perception that Melot was moved by jealousy to plot against him seems most plausible. The "nobler quarry" to which Brangaene refers may well be Isolde herself. In any case it appears that Melot's relationship with Tristan was not without ulterior motive.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Oct-11-2018 at 00:05.

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Melot has of course uncovered treachery in that Tristan has taken the Kings girl. But as Wagner wrote the opera when under the spell of infatuation with another man's wife he presumably saw Melot as a villain. In the case of sexual infatuation things become rather complicated!

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    It seems that the Melot of the opera is a conflation of two characters in the Tristan of Gottfried von Strassburg.

    Marjodoc was a baron who "sought Tristan's friendship for the sake of the charming Queen, for whom he had a secret attachment." He wasn't an old friend, but one of the people who had lost influence once it was revealed that the new arrival Tristan was Mark's nephew. At any rate after being friendly with Tristan to get at Isolde, Marjodoc chanced upon seeing Tristan and Isolde together and was upset because he wanted to be the one having the affair with the Queen, but didn't say anything at the moment because he was scared of what Tristan would do to him. Marjodoc went to Mark and told him of a rumor about Tristan and Isolde, but even working together they could not catch the lovers.

    Melot was a different character, a dwarf and mystic at court, known for his sneakiness and cunning. Marjodoc enlisted Melot in helping him catch the lovers. Melot also found them together, but, again, was unable to show anyone else. There are many tricks and traps - including Mark going out for a hunt and returning early to surprise Isolde - but Mark does not catch them together.

    Mark eventually banishes them both, just because the rumors won't stop and they won't stay apart. He does not want to kill his nephew or his wife, and he doesn't seem that heartbroken or jealous, and only seems to care with regard to keeping up appearances. It hadn't been his idea to marry; that was contrived by jealous courtiers to disinherit Tristan (in favor of any heir produced, whom they could control). (I can't recall if they also knew that Tristan already fancied Isolde).

    At any rate, for the opera, I think it makes sense that this backstory was assumed, and Melot, like Marjodoc, represents the people around Marke who feel threatened by Tristan, because their are jealous of both Marke and Isolde's affection for him. There's no specific support for that, but it works with what Melot does. It fits with Tristan's comments after they are caught, and Brangäne's suspicions to Isolde before the lovers meet.

    It should be also noted that Melot risked his head to convince King Marke to break off from the hunt like this; he really wanted the King to see this. And that Melot arranged the reveal so that everyone would be around, not just King Marke. And that once King Marke had been told (by Brangäne) of what the actual situation was... his response was (eventually) to bless the union of his nephew and his queen (or at least their bodies).

    Melot is not interested in the happiness of the King. He is using the law for his own benefit, not because it results in any good in the world. King Marke is wise enough to understand that the law is not more important than love. Though he takes his time, and it is indeed too late for Tristan and Isolde.
    Last edited by mountmccabe; Oct-12-2018 at 18:17.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    ^^^ Lovely summation. We can see Wagner's impeccable dramatic sense in conflating two characters for the sake of simplicity, clarity and impact. Old romances and myths are typically full of characters and rambling and redundant narrative incidents which are charming to read at leisure but untheatrical. Wagner pares away with a sure hand all redundancies and everything merely picturesque or entertaining.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Oct-13-2018 at 17:32.

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  9. #6
    Senior Member Granate's Avatar
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    Thank you, mountmccabe. I had a more oportunistic/traitor view of Melot as the character that shatters the lovers' dreams for the sake of his own promotion to Tristan's rank (I had not taken into account the "family bonds" between King Marke and him in the original book). I suppose I have to stop looking at everything around me as a power struggle.

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