Tennyson's Lady of Shallot

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Alfred Lord Tennyson is one of the most well known writers of the Victorian period. Critics of Tennyson's works have ascertained that everything he has written has a basis of several characteristics. These characteristics being: a recurrent motif of individual isolation and the use of voyage or odyssey, dramatic monologue, an effort of equilibrium between the public and private obligations of the poet, experimen- tation with form, the resolution of a war between the ancients and moderns through the use of fables, and a dedication to the principle that sound is the main vehicle of the senses. Tennyson's poem "The Lady of Shallot" shows prime examples of each of these characteristics. Tennyson's Lady shows us the full characterization of being imprisoned. She is imprisoned on her isle, "Four grey walls, and four grey towers, Overlook a space of flowers, And the silent isle embowers The Lady of Shallot."(Anderson, Ln. 15-17). The key behind the Ladies imprisonment lies in the fact that she will be cursed if she looks down on Camelot and tries to take part in real life. "She has heard a whisper say, A curse is on her if she stay, To look down to Camelot" (Anderson, ln. 40-42). In Elizabeth Lee's essay, she states that "She (the Lady of Shallot) is cursed under the pain of death never to participate in the actual lives she sees" (Lee, 1). The only way that the lady of Shallot can take part in real life is by watching things transpire below her through a magic mirror that she uses to weave. "And moving through a mirror clear, That hangs before her all the year, Shadows of the world appear" (Anderson, ln. 46-48). The lady of Shallot is growing tired of being alone and only viewing shadows of the world. She can sit at her loom and watch all the world pass by her, but can never take part in what she sees. "But in her web she still delights, To weave the mirror's magic sights, For often through the silent nights A funeral with plumes and lights and music, went to Camelot; Or when the moon was overhead, Come two young lovers lately wed; "I am half sick of shadows," said The Lady of Shallot."(Anderson, 64-71). This point is a pivotal part of the story. The lady is growing tired of her surroundings and her embowerment. It is at this point in the story that we know that it would take very little for her to risk the curse and leave the loom. It is then that the lady sees Lancelot in her mirror, and it is Lancelot who causes her to leave the loom and bring the curse upon herself. "She left the web, she left the loom, She made three paces through the room, She saw the water lily bloom, She saw the helmet and the plume, She looked down to Camelot" (Anderson, ln. 108-112). This is when the use of voyage and odyssey comes into play. The lady leaves her tower and makes her way down to the river where she finds a boat. "Down she came and found a boat Beneath a willow left afloat, And round about the prow she wrote The Lady of Shallot." (Anderson, ln. 123-125). According to popular criticism this action is symbolic of an artist leaving their work to take part in life outside of their creativity. The lady of Shallot floats in the boat all the way to Camelot. She knows that she is dying while she travels on the river. And before she even reaches Camelot she is dead. "For ere she reached upon the tide The first house by the waterside, Singing in her song she died, The Lady of Shallot." (Anderson, ln. 150-152). In the viewpoint of one critic, "The Lady of Shallot illustrates the spirit of the artist, one that distances itself from humanity and creates images from life's reflections. When the artist tries to gain acceptance in the public life, she dies and her work is never seen" (Lee, 1). The next basic characterization of Tennyson's poetry that can be found in "The Lady of Shallot" is that of the dramatic monologue. The first dramatic statement of the poem is made by the lady herself. She says, "I am half sick of shadows" (Anderson, ln. 71). This is the beginning of the end for the lady of Shallot. All it takes at this point is just a little push to convince her to leave the island. This comes in a song that she hears Lancelot singing, "Tirra Lirra by the river sang Sir Lancelot" (Anderson, ln. 108). For the lady, Lancelot equals temptation, a temptation that she can not conquer. Perhaps the most important instance of dramatic monologue comes at the end of the poem. After the lady has left the loom and died on her voyage to Camelot, Lancelot has a chance to see her. "But Lancelot mused a little space; He said "She has a lovely face; God in his mercy lend her grace, The Lady of Shallot"" (Anderson, ln. 168-170). Lancelot never knows that she did what she did because of him, but he still feels compassion for this woman whom he never had a chance to know. Then we must face the public and private obligations of the poet. The exact meaning of the allegory in this poem is uncertain, but it is generally held that the lady is a poet or artist, the castle an ivory tower, the tapestry and mirror met- aphors for the creative imagination. (Anderson, footnote) The public obligation of the poet or artist is to maintain the quality of his/her work and to give to the people what they want and need. But privately all artists dream of being on the other side of the pen. It's like being outside of a window and staring in, only in "The Lady of Shallot" she is trapped within and unable to get out except through the images she sees in her mirror. When the artist does attempt to rejoin reality she dies. An artist without their work is nothing according to the masses. They are no longer fulfilling their public obligations to the people. According to one critic: The tension between Tennyson estab- lishes between the interior and the exterior world, between

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