The Nymph Dies

A Play by Evald Flisar

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Synopsis from Collected Plays, I (Texture Press, 2006)

The subject of this play (originally presented as Tristan and Iseult: a play about love and death) is one of the most complex European myths -- that of romantic love. "Romantic love is the single greatest energy system in the Western psyche; in our culture it has supplanted religion as the arena in which men and women seek meaning, transcendence, wholeness and ecstasy," says Robert A. Johnson in his book We.

But Flisar's Iseult says, "God wasn't kind to us when he gave us desire." Dissatisfied with things as they are, she starts to long for what-could-have-been. "Why shouldn't Desdemona strangle Othello?" she asks at the start of her search for an alternative reality. Tristan, her man, can slip into most roles she finds for him, but he cannot become what she needs – a hero, a knight. That is why Iseult – through a web of games with which she tries to alleviate the boredom of everyday life-- draws them into a dance of deceptions, pretenses and lies that eventually escape her control and ruin them both.

The lovers know that they are acting a comedy which cannot produce heartfelt laughter -- it is the laughter of the grotesque, in which the joy of life has been killed. The visits of imaginary lovers soon come to an end. In the second act, a new dramatic and psychologi­cal function is introduced -- playing with real jealousy and a real possibility of sexual and emotional betrayal. The lovers' playing field had turned into a battlefield, their love into a war between the sexes.

By making Iseult dream of Ireland and Mark/Minstrel of India, the author confronts two typical romantic myths of the Western man -- one from the 12th, the other from the 20th century, both concerned with man's search for love as the highest meaning of life: the first with finding eternity (God) in another human being, the other with finding eternity (God) within oneself. With this new situation, the theme and the plot of the play are lifted from the erotic level to the existential one.

The centerpiece of the second half of the play is a deconstruction of the basic existential conundrum: crossing the line behind which life begins afresh. Moving from the world of Iseult the Fair to the world of Iseult of the Earth is catastrophic for both our protagonists, for both have lost their projection field -- and they are incapable of (or unwilling) to accept a world robbed of illusions. Because they cannot enter into the life beyond ideals, their death, too, cannot be more than theatrical. That is why Tristan and Iseult will continue to rise from the dead and play their roles on the world stages night after night -- there is no end to their reincarnations. Flisar is telling us that the myth of romantic love is --despite its destructiveness -- indestructible.

Useful Links:

Tristan and Iseult

Tristan + Isolde (dir. Kevin Reynolds, 2006)

Tristan + Isolde (dir. Kevin Reynolds, 2006) official movie site