The Lady of Shallot by Lord Alfred Tennyson
On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro’ the field the road runs by
To many-tower’d Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.
- Briefly explain the Lady and how she comes across. Include comments on her personality and her predicament.
- Find three phrases or lines that express the Lady’s personality in sound. Then explain how these sounds are indicative of the picture Tennyson creates in our soft lady heroine.
- Briefly explain Sir Lancelot and how he comes across. Explain what about him contributes to our understanding of what he is like.
- Find three phrases or lines that express Sir Lancelot’s personality in sound. Then explain how these sounds create a harsh image of Sir Lancelot.
- Briefly explain how Tennyson juxtaposes (contrasts) the Lady and Sir Lancelot. Explain why this juxtaposition is necessary to the success of the poem.
- Tennyson creates a lovely ambience in the beginning stanzas and sets up a mournful tone right from the beginning. Describe the setting of this poem in the opening stanzas and use evidence for your answers.
- Tennyson also sets up the tragedy by placing our heroine in a prison of sorts. Explain how literally and metaphorically the tower is a prison for her. Again, use evidence to back up your claims.
- Sir Lancelot, on the other hand, is in a place that is soft and light. Explain how this adds to the tragedy.
Explain how Tennyson has used contrast and sound to build the idea of tragedy (10 lines).
Further Study: what is tragedy?
Tragedy is like soup. It only tastes like tragedy if you have the right measure of ingredients. Aristotle examined one of Sophocles’ plays and came up with this idea:
- The protagonist must be someone we admire, like and empathise with
- The extenuating circumstances must be such that it is impossible for the protagonist to escape.
- The protagonist must try to escape the circumstance and the they try, the deeper they sink.
- Write a letter to the Lady sympathising with her predicament.
- Write a list of circumstances and decisions that trap the Lady.
The Fatal Flaw
In Aristolelean tragedy, the protagonist has many admirable qualities. However, the successful writer of tragedy must use one of these qualities to ensure the doom of their protagonist. This means the more they exert this quality, the more certain it is that they will die. So the final sting of the “tragic effect” is that the protagonist, in effect, causes their own death. The more admirable they are, the greater the pain we experience when they die.
- Apply the “tragic flaw” to The Lady of Shallot and explain how it might work in this poem.
- Do you think the Lady is a tragic figure. Remember the elements a tragic figure must have and use Aristotle in your comment.