Critical Appreciation of The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson
“The Lady of Shalott” by Lord Tennyson, was first published in the volume of 1833. It was republished in the volume of 1842 after being much-revised and improved. This poem is expressive of Tennyson’s maturity in poetic art, wonderful skill in pictorialism, and admirable narrative power. It is pure fantasy, entirely the result of the poet’s imagination working on a legend that impressed him at the time. It is expressive This elaborate picturesqueness and his deep interest in Italian romances and legends. It is a poem of high moral significance and the theme thrives on some Italian romance. The poem draws the reader’s attention to the engrossing themes of the poet, the mysterious existence of the Lady of Shalott, her torturing loneliness in her stately mansion, her desire for her contact with the reality of the world and her tragic death. The poem is remarkable for its simple but interesting theme, systematic development of its idea, for its extraordinary pictorial quality and simplicity and lucidity of style.
The Lady of Shalott” is a narrative poem in four parts. The first part of the poem gives us the scenic background to the story The island of Shalott lies in a pleasant river which flows down to the city of Camelot, the capital of King Arthur There lie the fields of barley and of rye on both sides of the river. Beautiful lily flowers in full blossom on both sides of the river add to the beauty of the place. The mysterious Lady who lives alone in a majestic mansion sings songs that people at work in the fields have often heard, but they have never seen her. Thus the mystery surrounding the Lady of Shalott is suggested in the first part of the poem.
The second part describes the strange life of the Lady, which is quite mysterious. It is that curse is inescapable for her if she looks out towards Camelot. So, she sees beautiful scenes and sights of the outside world reflected on the mirror which is hanging in her room She constantly weaves these scenes and sights into a magic web. Whenever she happens to see happy newly married lovers passing by in the mirror she becomes sad. She utters in frustration: “I am half sick of shadows”. This suggests that she is sexually frustrated The third part introduces us to Sir Lancelot, one of the knights of King Arthur’s Round Table The Lady sees his reflection in the mirror she becomes fascinated by his handsome figure and attractive appearance. She fails to control her emotion and desire, and so she looks out at him The web at once flows out, and the mirror cracks from side to side. She comes to be sure that the curse of which she is afraid has befallen her.
The last part relates to the tragic death of the Lady of Shalott. Her end is pathetic. She writes her name “The Lady of Shalott” on the front part of the boat and unties it. She lies down on it which carries her to Camelot. She is carelessly dressed in white. She dies singing a doleful but devotional song. The boat touches at the place where the first house of Camelot stands. The news of her death spreads and people of all ranks and classes rush there to see her to whom none is known. The merry-making program going on in King Arthur’s palace is instantly canceled. Sir Lancelot comes and sees her dead body. Its beauty attracts and impresses him. He prays to God for her and comments highly on her beauty. He says nothing of her tragic death. This reveals his character that Sir Lancelot is a knight who is given to the pleasures of wine and women. He is immoral and depraved. He does not lament the tragic death of the Lady of Shalott, but he thinks of her beauty:
He said, “She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott.
The poem is a medieval romance and the poet has created the medieval atmosphere with light, skillful touches. The language has the simplicity of the medieval ballad-makers. The Middle Ages were times of chivalry, knight-errantry, woman-worship and magic, and witchcraft. The setting is medieval. The supernatural element has been brought in through the mysterious curse on the lady, the magic web which she weaves, and the way in which the curse befalls her and she dies.
The poem has a deep moral significance. Its story shows that a life of isolation is bound to result in frustration and tragedy. The Lady symbolizes the retired artist or poet living in his ivory tower, her web the work of art on which he works, and the curse, the contact with stark reality. The images used here have the power of symbols. The mirror, for instance, suggests much beyond its role as an item in a fairy story. The poem contains beautiful vivid pictures, and the moving scenes and sights of the outside world are reflected in the mirror. Exquisite and telling similes and metaphors are used to vivify the narrative and to make the readers see with their mind’s eye the scene which is being described. Tennyson’s word-painting in this poem is really admirable. In powers of narrative and scene-painting, the poem is ranked among the very first of its class. The vivid pictures are drawn here make the poem enjoyable. The language is simple as well as musical. Music is created through the use of a number of skillful devices. The use of alliterations has contributed to the musicality of the poem. The poet’s rhyming is perfect and deserves great appreciation. Thus the moral story dealing with the perils and inadequacy of an isolated existence is wonderfully expressed in perfect poetic language.