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Thread: "The Lady of Shallot"

  1. #1
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    "The Lady of Shallot"

    So, I've decided to have my sophomores read Tennyson's "The Lady of Shalott" for the longer poem. I was wondering what people thought about this poem, and if there are any specific discussion points I should cover (I have a few, just seeing what some of you more well-read fellows suggest ).

    And, yes, I realize I messed up the spelling of Sahlott.
    Last edited by Mutatis-Mutandis; 11-30-2010 at 02:31 PM.

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    Voice of Chaos & Anarchy
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    It is an interesting bit of literature, because the more one looks at it, the less substance there is. It has a nice rhythm, and the repeated line is fine, but what does it mean? I think tha Teneyson wrote better poems.

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    I do, too. But I think this is a well-suited poem for high school sophomores.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mutatis-Mutandi View Post
    I do, too. But I think this is a well-suited poem for high school sophomores.
    I suppose that you know your students a lot better than I do, so you probably are right. You might want to give them few more for Tennyson unless they aren' good at reading.

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    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    Well I think there are a few interesting parts of the poem worth discussing.

    One is what the Lady of Shalott does, she weaves images of the world that she sees through her mirror, but if she looks directly at the world she will be cursed. The obvious questions are what does this say about the work of the artist in society?

    Then there are the things which seem to tempt the Lady the most, the young lovers, and of course ultimately Lancelot, who she can't resist looking at and so dies. Could it mean something that Lancelot singing seems to be particularly tempting to her?

    Of course the ending is interesting too. Why does she seem to have a compulsive need to make herself known. She doesn't just let herself die in the tower, she writes her name on the boat and sails down to Camelot make herself known. I think this may be a comment on the work of the artist again too, the need of recognition, to be remembered maybe? And again with her death you get the motif of singing again, often a common representative of the art of poetry in poems.

    And what does it mean that the only response to her at the end seems to be that she had a pretty face. What about her work.

  6. #6
    They can also hear the song on youtube.

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    I have looked at some of the interpretations of The Lady of Shalott on the Web and there are several mentions of The Lady as being seen as an embodiment of the The Artist in Society.I am not convinced by this theory for many reasons.I think it even more unlikely that a woman would be chosen to symbolise artistic freedom or lack of it in Victorian times than she would be today. The symbolic relationship of Woman to Art has for most of history been as Muse not as Artist. Essentially inspirational but entirely passive.

    Moreover the defining characteristic of The lady of Shalott's life is her powerlessness to defy the restrictions laid on her and live.Her freedom is bought only by her death. Not the fate of artists in Tennyson's England or in chivalric times, come to that.
    The Lady of Shalott is much more understandable in terms of the restrictions placed on women's lives from time immemorial and particularly noticeable in British Victorian times. Unable to own her own money if she was married, unable to get a divorce without an Act of Parliament, unable to vote, barred from anything but the most elementary form of education and under the legal terms of couverture having no independent existence from her husband. Wife and Husband being regarded as One and that One the Husband.

    Tennyson was a poet with many interests and they included comments on social issues of his time.Look at The Charge of The Light Brigade for strong evidence of this. He was also aware of the issue of women's rights and makes a case for the education of women in his poem The Princess. It had a conservative ending but at least he put forward the arguments in favour and his voice and his position as Laureate ensured that he had influence over sections of society who were in a position to make changes. His poem Marianna also looks at female psychology to an extent.

    I think there is a case for a feminist interpretation of The Lady of Shalott as rewarding if not more so than that of artistic freedom. There is a fairly widely held vision of Victorian times in England being straight-laced, artistically conservative, sexually repressive etc...but this is not the whole story. Wilde, Beardsley, Frank Harris, The Yellow Book contributors, Ernest Dowson, Alfred Douglas and many others attest to the existence of a thriving art scene outside the respectable mainstream.
    Certainly there was a great deal more freedom for Artists in those times than there was for Women.
    Last edited by Seasider; 12-02-2010 at 09:58 AM.

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    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    It's a very early poem though, written in Tennyson's mid twenties right after he left university and before he was really famous as a poet. I think the idea of artistic mission (freedom isn't really at issue, I think), and the pull between depicting the world or experiencing the world, is more important. It's about what the nature of the artist is, and I think it goes back to the same sort of idea as Milton's "Il Penseroso," with the ideal artist being in secluded contemplation.

    Of course the issues of sexuality are in there too. What would the significance of the mirror and the weaving of the images of the world be if it's about the position of women? Why couldn't she just be locked in a tower doing nothing. The poem functions well for a feminist reading.

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    I am not sure about weaving either except it is woman's work par excellence...mentioned in Homer as well as in the English saying

    When Adam delved and Eve span
    Who was then the gentleman?

    The mirror forces her to experience life by proxy and always as a spectator.Typical of middle class and upper class women. Poor women didn't enjoy the luxury of social disengagement! Bit of Plato here too.

    If you can provide me with examples of the restrictions placed on artists in Victorian times and the necessity of the choice between being an observer and a recorder. I might revise my opinion. Dickens didn't sit in his room and ponder
    social problems. Matthew Arnold was an Inspector of Schools, Kipling a practising journalist, Ruskin Art critic and social commentator,both of which need social involvement, Lewis Caroll mathematics tutor at Oxford and Anglican Deacon etc.
    Last edited by Seasider; 12-02-2010 at 12:51 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Seasider View Post

    If you can provide me with examples of the restrictions placed on artists in Victorian times and the necessity of the choice between being an observer and a recorder. I might revise my opinion. Dickens didn't sit in his room and ponder
    social problems. Matthew Arnold was an Inspector of Schools, Kipling a practising journalist, Ruskin Art critic and social commentator,both of which need social involvement, Lewis Caroll mathematics tutor at Oxford and Anglican Deacon etc.
    It's not about restrictions in the literal sense.

    It's about an age old debate about poetry, the role of the poet, and how poetry should be created. Tennyson is just participating in a debate about the role of the poet that goes as far back as Spencer and Milton in English, and probably even further back. And the weaving of images in the mirror even recalls the idea of mimesis from Aristotle's Poetics. The idealization of the isolated reflective poet was particularly strong in the early 19th century too.

    The interpretations of the poem as involving the role of the artist are contemporary to the time of its publication, and just like sexuality, are part of the reading. It's not a secret to be unlocked. The poem is about the role of the artist, but it's also about female sexuality, and it's about tragic love, and it's about Victorian Arthurian idealism.

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    OK. I don't want to go back as far as Spenser and Milton but I would be glad if you could give me some examples of the debate concerning the idealisation of the isolated and reflective poet...let's say from The Romantic Period to Tennyson.

  12. #12
    We analyse Tennyson's output from a knowledge of psychology unknown in his time; but do we impute to him too many of our own feeble thoughts? There may simply be a more prosaic reason for this poem, viz. Tennyson's having siezed upon a romantic subject upon which he could lavish his growing talent.

    The story is straightforward and continuous as in a novella describing an exile and a journey of despair. But the underlyng sexuality of the topic is fairly persuasive, particularly the embarcation and river journey. Tennyson was not effeminate; but could his own persona be the subject? He is unable to marry because of genetic fears and poverty. Is he writing of, or from, his own repression? A young writer experiences drives which he must express possibly without realising his motive. As a poet, Tennyson weaves words and writes from vivid imagination as if from holding a mirror to the world.

    The action takes place on and around an island suggestive of a soul marooned. There is a boat that could take the Lady to Camelot, or the big city, should she choose but she, or he, is driven, within the privacy of her turret, or his garret, perhaps, by some inchoate compulsion to create her works, possibly for later display, or his publication, perhaps, when fully fledged.

    (This reminds one of Nietsche's Zarathustra who retires to a cave in search of "The Purpose").

    She bears the burden of an unknown curse but finally rebels against her fate by defying conventions that she finds oppressive and by demanding equality with others.
    This could be suggestive of a strict self control giving way to abandonment or simply her, or his, post adult decision to face the world and all its challenges by emblazoning her, or his, name to the world. The dismissive ending is anticlimactic and inconclusive, however, containing as much a warning against promiscuity as for fears of becoming lost in a larger pool of talent.

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    We analyse Tennyson's output from a knowledge of psychology unknown in his time; but do we impute to him too many of our own feeble thoughts? There may simply be a more prosaic reason for this poem, viz. Tennyson's having siezed upon a romantic subject upon which he could lavish his growing talent.

    I like this idea.The Lady of Shalott is a great story. End of.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Seasider View Post

    I like this idea.The Lady of Shalott is a great story. End of.
    I'm not sure that will work too well for Mut's lesson plan though .

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    Quote Originally Posted by OrphanPip View Post
    I'm not sure that will work too well for Mut's lesson plan though .
    No, but that sure would make it easier.

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