Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote The Lady of Shalott in 1832. Tennyson was known for his visual aspect and was able to create images that correspond to mood, situation and emotion. The Lady is in love with Sir Lancelot but she is doomed to life in the tower due to the curse. The Lady of Shalott takes place in a tower on the island of Shalott, in a river near Camelot. The Lady is a beautiful woman who is under a curse and must constantly weave a magic web without looking directly out at the world.
The Lady can only look into a mirror which reflects the busy road and the people of Camelot who pass by her. When she sees Sir Lancelot passing by the tower, the Lady breaks free from the curse to pursue him and profess her undying love. Unfortunately, she dies before she is able to meet her dear love. Lancelot remarks upon discovery of the Lady’s body that she had a lovely face, “she has a lovely face, God in his mercy lend her grace, the Lady of Shalott” (Tennyson 169-171).
How can one comprehend this? The Lady can be seen as an artist that avoids all contact with the world and does not want to face reality. For an artist like Tennyson, it is his duty to construct beauty, not to become entwined with reality. Both the Lady and Tennyson appear to share a commonality that they are both constructing something beautiful. On the other hand, a reverse contemplation occurs to me, does disregarding reality lead to death? Can the lady create her own ending or is it fate that is cruel to her? With that being said, in this essay I will purpose that Tennyson is going against dispelling myths because he is a believer of them. First, I will prove how it is a myth. Second, I will explain how and why it is bad luck for a mirror to shatter. And thirdly, I will explain why it has to be a myth, because no natural cause killed the Lady, only the mirror breaking alone had killed her.
Tennyson is against dispelling myths because he is a firm believer in them. The Lady only sees reflection and shadows of the world around her because she looks at the real world through a mere mirror. In the poem, an example of Tennyson believing in myths is when he writes in part two, “A curse is on her if she stay” (Tennyson, 40). He is interpreting that the curse will come to her if she stops weaving her magical web. In the poem during part one, it states “Four gray walls and four gray towers” (Tennyson 15). I believe he is saying that in order for one to live their life, being isolated does not help. It shows that the tower is extremely dangerous, which happens to be a spell known as a curse. In part three, the Lady “â€¦left the web, she left the loom, out flew the web and floated wide, the mirror crack’d from side to sideâ€¦” (Tennyson 109-115). This shows that the myth is in fact true and a journey of a disaster begins for the Lady.
The journey of disaster began with the magic mirror shattered. It is well known that a mirror that is shattered is bad luck. The mirror is not an entrance into the heavenly world but rather it resembles more of a demon with a mind of its own. Breaking a mirror would give a free rein to restless and evil spirits formerly trapped in the mirror. In some cultures, a broken mirror signifies a death in the family within the year. This alliance of mirrors in the company of death is common in myths, a certainty that the soul could be spellbound in the mirror, and cause death to the one looking in it. A broken mirror will have a drastic and negative effect on the future of the person who is involved. The Lady was in this position as stated in the poem in part three, “The mirror crak’d from side to side; The curse is come upon me” (Tennyson, 115-116). This approved right of entry of spirits from the ‘other side’ into her world and the curse is in action. The mirror can give horrific news, whereas in the Lady’s’ case she was able to escape this curse by her imminent death. That itself was the horrific news brought on by the mirror. The cracked mirror symbolized that her soul would be trapped inside the world far from the one in which she once gazed at freely. To all intents and purposes, the broken mirror produced a broken soul for the Lady, which resulted in her broken health leading to her death. I always assumed that when you believe something is bound to happen, then you bring curses and a hex upon yourself. This gives proof that the Lady knew she was going to die right when the mirror cracked, so it happened as she left the tower and ran towards the boat; she instantly died. If good things happen after an action, the action is perceived to be lucky and vice versa. In this case, the lady was to stay in the tower and weave due to her curse; instead she disobeyed and followed her heart. She was deep in love with Lancelot and as a result, ended up facing the drastic consequences of her actions.
No natural causes killed her as is evident in the poem. The only way she could have died is through the mirror breaking. The mirror breaking alone appeared to have murdered her. It is clear that the Lady was not shot, nor did she fall and break part of her body; or committed suicide. It is a common myth among people even to this day, that breaking a mirror brings bad luck. Such is the case for the Lady in The Lady of Shalott. Everything that the Lady uttered, believed, thought, and dreamt of, was a myth. Due to the fact the Lady was summoned to spend her life in the tower, she desperately wanted to make sense of her life and her own existence. In Part four of the poem, it states, “In the stormy east-wind straining, the pale yellow woods were waning” (Tennyson 118-119). This indicates her emotions were reflected by the color ‘yellow’, which signifies sickness and “waning” signifies that the woods were dying. This in turn signifies that the Lady was near her death. Her death came slowly like the “â€¦the pale yellow woodsâ€¦”. The nature is a direct effect of the fact that the Lady is on the verge of leaving Earth. As she dies, everything is getting dimmer and her death is occurring slowly, “..till her blood was frozen slowly” (Tennyson 147). However, it is evident in Tennyson’s world and ours today that even as great tragedies occur around us, people still continue with life.
This poem had many meanings, which I have attempted to bring out in this essay. The Lady is under a curse, but not in a regular sense. However, the Lady is not content with a life in the tower and with the grim prospect of Lancelot never seeing her again. Therefore, death was her only escape from her confinement. Due to the curse being bestowed on her, she makes a decision that it is healthier to die than to carry on a life where she cannot participate in the real world. Myths are not about other people, but are stories on the subject of ourselves. Myths have a tendency to include intense characters with dark and gloomy pasts but the Lady is none of that. Instead she is a wondrously beautiful woman. The web she weaves is a symbol of her pain as she is confined to the tower while the world continues on below. The Lady must continue to weave the web without involving herself in the world due to her curse. I can see her pain and grief as she lives out her curse because she’s powerless. It is mentioned in part two, she is “half-sick of shadows” (Tennyson 71) meaning the Lady is tired of her existence in this world of contempt. This poem clearly proves that Tennyson follows myths religiously and believes in them. Tennyson’s poem represents his beliefs in myths and his desire to keep them in our realm. On a general not, myths teach us about the way diverse individuals see the world. However, we have to become conscious and respect the fact that myths are only myths if you do not believe in them. This legend was told in cultures of ancient times to help gratify their inquisitiveness on how the world functioned. Mirrors give the impression to posses a power beyond the natural, a reflection of the truth, and so it had been assigned as mystical and supernatural ideas.