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Lady Of Shallot Essay Research Paper Tennyson

Lady Of Shallot Essay, Research Paper

Tennyson s 1832 poem, The Lady of Shalott , found itself born again in its revised state

after Tennyson s ten year silent period. In both versions, the Lady of Shalott is a body of

creativity. Her weaving is an artform. Enveloped in the tapestry are images and pictures

of the reflections she sees passing in her magic mirror. The Lady of Shalott is an artist of

both the loom and of images. Tennyson uses this status and her fate to embody the

characteristics of an artist. For example, she is withdrawn in a tower from which she can

see below the workings of a society – Camelot. An artist must, therefore, be secluded and

detached so as to accurately convey the meaning behind his/her subjects and make a

statement on society. However, this portrayal of the detached and elusive artist is even

more clearly defined in specific revisions of the poem between 1832 and 1842. The

deletion of specific descriptive details and the changing of the final stanza proves that

the1842 revised version of Tennyson s The Lady of Shalott is more effective in

conveying the notability of an artist who detaches and abstracts from his/her subject so as

to make an accurate statement on society.

Specific details are described in the 1832 version of The Lady of Shalott which

are excluded from the revised 1842 version. Specifically, images of adornment that add

to the description of the Lady in the earlier version are removed from the later version of

the poem. For example, the 1832 version specifically mentions pearls decorating the Lady

of Shalott. She is described as having a cloudwhite crown of pearl and a pearlgarland

wind[ing[ her head (l. 127 & 33). In addition, in this earlier version, the portrait of the

Lady of Shalott is not the only concept described with more detail and adornment. The

images that create her setting are also described in more decorative detail: She leaneth

on a velvet bed,/ Fully royally apparelled (1832, l. 34-35). It is these details that create a

clear image describing the Lady of Shalott. The revised version is much more discrete

and ambiguous when describing the picture of the Lady. For example, although the Lady

of Shalott is still envisioned in white, the words used to describe her association with this

color in the revised version are in no way as defined and luxurious as a description of

pearls would be. Instead, the Lady is more abstractly described as robed in snowy

white (1842, l. 136).

Why would Tennyson choose to eliminate these detailed images of pearls and

velvet from the later version when, at first, he took the time to incorporate them into the

description of the Lady of Shalott? The absence of a literary technique can actually be

just as strong a concept in the development of a character as would its presence. One

must remember that Tennyson wanted to convey the idea that artists must be detached

from their subject so as to make an effective and accurate statement on society. This is

what his female tragic heroine symbolizes. It is not merely enough to literally have the

Lady of Shalott, the artist, hidden away from view in a tower on an isolated island. More

effectively, she is also hidden away in the ambiguity of the lines. This second version

provides no concrete image of the artist. By obscuring the details about the Lady in the

revised version, she is not only detached from Camelot but also, since we can not

construct a specific image of her, is mystified and detached from the reader.

The last stanza of Tennyson s poem is one of the most dramatic and significant

changes between the 1832 and 1842 versions of this poem. Every line in this stanza has

been changed to produce a drastically different conclusion. Although both versions of the

poem are consistent in depicting the image of a shocked crowd peering at the dead body

of the Lady of Shalott, the definition of the Lady of Shalott s identity is drastically

changed. In the earlier version, the last words of the Lady of Shalott are revealed in a

letter found lying on her body:

The web was woven curiously,

The charm is broken utterly,

Draw near and fear not-this is I,

The Lady of Shalott (1832, l. 177-180).

In this version, the Lady of Shalott is awarded the last word. Her final words help

construct an identity for the mysterious fairy Lady of Shalott (l. 26-27). With these

words, the character is no longer an abstract image, felt only in song, to the people of

Camelot, but rather, she has conveyed a concrete image of her identity (the magic, the

weaving, the curse) in the four short, final lines in the 1832 version of the poem.

However, in the 1842 version, the Lady of Shalott has already been silenced in the

fourth stanza of part IV and no letter is left to convey any other dying words. Instead, Sir

Lancelot reappears on the scene. In this version, Sir Lancelot is awarded the last word:

She has a lovely face;

God in his mercy lend her grace,

The Lady of Shalott (1842, l. 169-171).

The reintroduction of Sir Lancelot into the poem and the slightness of the words he says

obscurs the identity of the Lady of Shalott in Tennyson s revised version and thus

becomes a statement on the artist s place in society.

Tennyson conveys a stronger message about the character and status of the artist

in society in his revised version of The Lady of Shalott by mystifying the details and

removing the concrete images describing the Lady. In the first version, the Lady is

adorned with pearls and velvet; therefore, this decorated version of the Lady leaves the

readers with a very specific and more concrete image of what the Lady of Shalott looks

like. However, Tennyson blurs this image of the Lady of Shalott so as to make a more

concrete statement on the detachment of the artist from society. The final words of the

poem amplify this message by leaving the Lady of Shalott s identity a mystery. In the

1842 version, she is mute, and the final words attributed to her are ones that do not even

begin to uncover the severity of her identity. She is merely a lovely face (1842, l. 169).

The artist reaches its ultimate abstraction by being refused a concrete identity.