'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.

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An introduction to ‘The Lady of Shalott’

Article by:
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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.

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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.

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