John William Waterhouse – ‘I am half sick of shadows’ said the Lady of Shallot, 1916
John William Waterhouse, ‘The Lady of Shallot’, 1894. This is probably the moment at which she seeks a glance at Sir Lancelot
John William Waterhouse, ‘The Lady of Shallot’, 1888
Deaths per 1000 births.
TennysonThe Lady of Shallot
Starter• Look at the images that follow.• What is the story that they seem to tell?
Tennyson: Biography• b. 1809, 4th of 12 children.• Father = well-to-do clergyman – some siblings had mental health problems– ‘black blood of the Tennysons’• 1827+ Trinity College, Cambridge met Arthur Hallam, becamemember of ‘Apostles’, travelled Europe• 1831 Father died. Has to leave Cambridge for financial reasons.• 1832 ‘Poems’ published (included ‘Lady of Shallot’. ‘The Lotos-Eaters’.Negative reviews for dreaminess and unsuitable content for femalereaders. ’10 Year Silence’ begins.• 1833 Hallam dies suddenly whilst in Vienna. Most devastating blow ofTennyson’s life. ‘In Memoriam’ begun – pub. 1849, 17 years in the making.• 1842 ‘Poems’ published – vol. 1 = revisions of 1832 poems; vol. 2 = newwork inc. ‘Ulysses’, ‘Tithonus’. Rave reception this time.• 1850 becomes Poet Laureate on death of Wordworth• d. 1892
Exciting tapestry fact• The weaver works from the back of thetapestry.• So it was common for weavers to use mirrorsto see the progress of their tapestries fromthe side that would eventually be displayed tothe viewer.
The Narrative• A woman lives in a tower on Shalott, an island on a river thatruns, along with the road beside it, to Camelot and King Arthur’scourt.• Every day, she weaves a tapestry of the view from her window thatis reflected in a mirror, as because of a (mysterious) curse she isforbidden to look directly on the view.• She likes weaving but not looking at reflections.• One day, Sir Lancelot rides by, looking bold and handsome in hisshining armor, and singing.• She looks directly out and the curse strikes.• She leaves the tower and and floats off downriver, dying.• Reaching Camelot, the knights make the sign of the cross andLancelot remarks "She has a lovely face."
Thematic links• Mediaeval setting.• Tennyson claimed early C14 Italian story assource, but original has few features ofTennyson’s story.• Clearly draws on Arthurian legends and one incorpus in particular is similar.
Form• The poem is a quasi-ballad perhaps– Ballads are written in quatrains, use iambicpentameter, and have a refrain– ‘The Lady of Shallot’ has quatrains embedded in itsverses, rhythmically is mostly in iambic tetrameter, anddoes have a refrain• Each stanza contains nine lines with the rhyme schemeAAAAB(‘Camelot’)CCCB (‘Shalott’).• The B lines are usually curtal or bobbed to a trimeter.• The syntax is line-bound: most phrases do not extendpast the length of a single line.
Structure• The poem is divided into four numbered parts, each ending whendescription yields to directly quoted speech.• Part I and Part IV: the Lady of Shalott as she appears to the outsideworld; Part II and Part III describe the world from her viewpoint.• In Part I (4 stanzas), the pastoral world outside the castle described.• Part II (4 stanzas) = the Lady’s imprisonment, the curse, people inthe mirror (often sees a funeral or a wedding, so conflating love anddeath.)• Part III (5 stanzas) = Sir Lancelot. Arthurian Hero and Lover ofQueen Guinevere. His voice makes her peek• shift from the static, descriptive present tense of Parts I and II tothe dynamic, active past of Parts III and IV intensifies poem• In Part IV (6 stanzas) lush colour is dimmed by poor weather as thecurse strikes. Still, at least she’s pretty.
Maternal Morbidity – female deaths per 1000 births.Allows link (visible in ‘Mariana’) between love/death in Victorian England.
Language• Moves from static present to more active pasttense.• Vivid descriptive imagery.• Weather as metonym for states of mind.• Anaphoric/highly repetitious• Louder and quieter parts…
Language Task• Focus on the part of the poem you’re given.– What characterises the voice and language of thissection?– What key images would you select for commentary?– Write a brief commentaryPart 1 – the rural settingPart 2 – what the Lady sees out of windowPart 3 – Sir LancelotPart 4 – the voyage downstream
Contrasts and Links• Society/social engagement versus withdrawal• Art versus life - allegory of the nature anddangers of the human imagination.• Present tense to past tense.• The enclosed female/contemplative female vsmale world of action.• Her turn to the outside world loses hercreativity, the tools of her craft, and her life.• Artist has become art-object.• Love linked to death.