The “Lady of Shalott" is a Victorian ballad by the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809– 1892). Like his other early poems – "Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere" and "Galahad" – the poem recasts Arthurian subject matter loosely based on medieval sources. Tennyson wrote two versions of the poem, one published in 1833, of twenty stanzas, the other in 1842 of nineteen stanzas.
Modern critics consider The Lady of Shalott to be representative of the dilemma that faces artists, writers, and musicians: to create work about and celebrate the world, or to enjoy the world by simply living in it. Feminist critics see the poem as concerned with issues of women's role and their place in the Victorian world.
Part 1: The poem opens with a description of a field by a river. There's a road running through the field that apparently leads to Camelot, the legendary castle of King Arthur. From the road you can see an island in the middle of the river called the Island of Shalott. On that island there is a little castle, which is the home of the mysterious Lady of Shalott. People pass by the island all the time, on boats and barges and on foot, but they never see the Lady. Occasionally, people working in the fields around the island will hear her singing an eerie song. Part 2: Now we actually move inside the castle on the island, and Tennyson describes the Lady herself. First we learn that she spends her days weaving a magic web, and that she has been cursed, forbidden to look outside. So instead she watches the world go by in a magic mirror. She sees shadows of the men and women who pass on the road, and she weaves the things she sees into her web. We also learn that she is "half sick" of this life of watching and weaving. Part 3: Now the big event: One day the studly Sir Lancelot rides by the island, covered in jewels and shining armor. Most of this chunk of the poem is spent describing Lancelot. When his image appears in the mirror, the Lady is so completely captivated...
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