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The Lady Of Shalott Essay, Research Paper

What are the main themes in Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ‘The Lady of Shalott’,

and how are they presented?

Alfred Lord Tennyson was born in Somersby, Lincolnshire on August

6, 1809. It was his father, Reverend George Tennyson, who initially

educated him and recognised his poetic abilities, whilst he was still

in his early teens. Tennyson wrote, The Devil and the Lady, when he

was just fourteen. The atmosphere in which Tennyson was raised was

one of bitterness and relative poverty. Tennyson lived an extremely

troubled life; the death of his friend Arthur Hallam shocked him most

profoundly. This grief led to most of his best poetry being written,

including In Memoriam. It was the success of this and other poems that

led to him being appointed as Poet Laureate in 1850. He was finally

established as the most popular poet of the Victorian era and wrote more

than a hundred poems before his death in October 1892. In this essay I

intend to look closely at his poem The Lady of Shalott.

Tennyson wrote The Lady of Shalott in 1832. An example of Arthurian

literature, it tells the story of a woman who lives in isolation in a

tower on an island called Shalott. In this poem, Tennyson is very much

the Romantic poet he admired in Keats and Shelley. The Lady, who could

not be more unattainable, perfectly embodies the Victorian image of the

ideal woman, virginal, mysterious and dedicated to her womanly tasks. A

curse has been put upon her meaning that she must stay in the tower and

not look down to the nearby town of Camelot. The Lady of Shalott contains

various different themes and ideas, which I feel that Tennyson conveys to

the reader through the vivid descriptions and images that he uses. His

keen interest in narrative is displayed in his poems, which tend to be

romantic and provide an escape to a simpler, happier world. The Lady of

Shalott and the poems within Idylls of the King take place in medieval

England and capture a world of knights in shining armour and their

damsels in distress.

The Lady of Shalott is a 180 line narrative poem divided into four

sections of nine-line stanzas. The four sections separate the important

developments of the narrative making it easier to understand because

it is set out more like chapters of a story. The rhyme scheme of the

poem is aaaabcccb. It is almost entirely composed in iambic tetrameter,

except for the last line of each stanza, which is written in iambic

trimeter. The fifth and ninth lines of almost every stanza end with

Camelot and Shalott respectively. This constant repetition helps to

establish the monotony of the Lady’s weaving. This repetition is only

interrupted twice by the word Lancelot (in the fifth line of the ninth

stanza and the ninth line of the twelfth stanza). I feel that this is

meant to symbolise how the Lady’s new-found love for him brings to an

end her task and allows her to escape the tower. I will now go on to

discuss the themes within the poem and how they are presented. One of

the main ideas within the poem is ‘isolation’. At first we feel that

the Lady is happy being on her own in the tower, and occupies herself

by weaving a tapestry: There she weaves by night and day


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