'The Lady of Shalott'

Alfred Lord Tennyson’s (1809–1892) love of Arthurian legends found expression in one of his early poems, ‘The Lady of Shalott’ (1833). Isolated in a tower, the Lady’s only ‘contact’ with the outside world is via a mirror. Although she is ‘half sick of shadows’, a curse will come upon her if she ventures to look down at Camelot. The sudden appearance of ‘bold Sir Lancelot’ distracts her from her labours, leading to her doom. Tennyson’s poem has been the subject of much critical debate, as it lends itself to a range of possible interpretations: an allegory exploring the role of the artist, for instance, or an examination of the relationship between art and reality. It has also inspired many famous works of art.

Creator:
Alfred Lord Tennyson
Published:
1833
Forms:
Poem
Genre:
Victorian literature
Literary period:
Victorian

Related articles

An introduction to ‘The Lady of Shalott’

Article by:
Stephanie Forward
Theme:
Victorian poetry

An Arthurian legend inspired one of Tennyson's most famous poems. Dr Stephanie Forward considers how 'The Lady of Shalott' reflects contemporary questions of gender and creativity, and provided the subject for works by artists including Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt.

Tennyson’s rise and fall

Article by:
Stephanie Forward
Theme:
Victorian poetry

When Tennyson died in 1892, 11,000 people applied for tickets to his funeral in Westminster Abbey. Dr Stephanie Forward considers the poet's huge popularity in the second half of the 19th century, and the decline of his reputation in the 20th.

Aestheticism and decadence

Article by:
Carolyn Burdett
Theme:
Fin de siècle

‘Art for art’s sake’? Aestheticism and decadence shocked the Victorian establishment by challenging traditional values, foregrounding sensuality and promoting artistic, sexual and political experimentation. Dr Carolyn Burdett explores the key features of this unconventional artistic period.

Related collection items

Related people

Related works

A Christmas Carol

Created by: Charles Dickens

A Christmas book by Charles Dickens (1812–1870), published in 1843. Dickens was prompted to write this ...

A Woman of No Importance

Created by: Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde’s play A Woman of No Importance is a satire on English upper class morality and society’s ...

An Ideal Husband

Created by: Oscar Wilde

An Ideal Husband (1895) is the third of Oscar Wilde’s society comedies after Lady Windermere’s Fan ...

Lady Windermere’s Fan

Created by: Oscar Wilde

Lady Windermere’s Fan was first performed at St James’s Theatre on 20 February 1892 to rave reviews, and ...