This paper will try to analyze the growth of consciousness of the Lady of Shalott. Ranging from her state of mind in total isolation, her ‘childhood’, to her changing ‘adolescence’ and eventually reaching ‘adulthood’ and death, all in a sort of quick-motion.
It will further deal with the development of tension throughout the poem. By making a distinction between tension through formal aspects, such as rhyme scheme, and tension through content it will try to show the interconnection between both of them. Additionally, the paper will deal with the possible effect of tension on the reader and how the poem might be perceived by him/her.
2.Growth of Consciousness and Development of Tension
Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem starts out with the total seclusion of the beautiful, young Lady of Shalott surrounded by “…four grey walls, and four grey towers…”. (Tennyson, line 15). She is largely unaware of the world outside and of her own existence as a woman, only being able to see shadows of reality, which are reflected by her magic (?) crystal mirror and worked into her web. At this point of time it is unknown to the reader whether the Lady of Shalott is forced to be in this situation or chose to live this life of isolation. Reasons for a self inflicted seclusion might be homophobia, the fear of rejection by the exterior world, or simply a lack of interest for it. However, the Lady of Shalott is quite content with what she has and what she does. Her life of art in front of the loom and the crystal mirror is all she needs singing her ”…song that echoes cheerly…” (30) throughout the land. She is as innocent as a careless child giving little thought about her future. The Lady of Shalott has no urge to leave her own interior world because she is not aware of any other options. Little is known about her outside “…many-towered Camelot.” (5) and apparently she intends to keep it that way: But who hath seen her wave her hand ?
Or at the casement seen her stand ?
Or is she known in all the land,
The Lady of Shalott ? (24-27)
By now the reader might ask him-/herself why the Lady of Shalott is stuck in such a dreadful situation and why she does not attempt to do anything about it. There is a constant increase of tension attained by the use of iambic and trochaic tetrameter and an -aaaa bcccb- rhyme scheme repeating in each stanza. This is always interrupted by sudden drops produced by the plosive sound ‘t’ as in “Camelot”, “Shalott” or “Lancelot” in lines 5 and 9. The whole scheme could already be seen as an indicator for the omnipresent basic suspense of the poem. Almost as if something or someone is constantly trying to break free but is stopped every time before reaching its climax. Maybe a dire forecast for the entire poem ?
2.2.The Turning Point
Things suddenly change when the Lady of Shalott sees “… two lovers lately wed…” (70) one night (part II). She starts to realize the possibilities the exterior world has to offer but they are still beyond her grasp. The Lady begins to regret her weary little life inside her chambers. This passage could be seen as the gradual coming of age of the Lady of Shalott. Her consciousness is developing and she questions her existence, consequently no longer wanting to live a secluded life of interior. The question that now arises is: Why did she not leave the loom at this point of time? A solution to this problem might be that she simply had nowhere to go, no prospect or person she could turn to.
“She hath no loyal knight and true, The Lady of Shalott.” (62-63) That is why “I am half sick of shadows, …” (71) clearly marks the turning point of the poem. Prior to this incident another interesting topic comes up....