The story of the love between Tristan and Isolde is a classic one. It tells of a unique and irresistible passion magically induced in two people whose conflicts with the world are resolved only in death. What position can a third party occupy in respect of so exclusive a society? The aim of this thesis is to answer this question by defining how Brangaene, the maid and the confidante, relates to the themes and genesis of Tristan.
Matthew Arnold ("On the Study of Celtic Literature” in Lectures and Essays in Criticism, ed. R.H. Super, (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, III , 1962), p. 322] wrote disparagingly of the medieval story-teller, particularly the Celtic one, ''pillaging an antiquity of which he does not fully possess the secret" and certainly Brangaene, like many of her medieval fellows, is a composite and a polyglot. But she is also the product of a long and intricate creative process, a process of joining one motif with another, of assimilating elements from widely disparate sources, of creating, in effect, an elaborate work with a new truth of its own. By analysing how Brangaene's personality and functions have been shaped to accord with the new truth of mutual and passionate love it will be shown that she is part of a sophisticated narrative tradition that embraces Thomas of Britain, and Gottfried von Strassburg as well as the generally undervalued Eilhart von Oberg.
To fully appreciate the wealth of invention and diversity of modes by virtue of which the composite character grew, I have undertaken a comprehensive examination of her appearances in all the major medieval versions of Tristan.