Impact of Solitary Art in The Lady of Shalott

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Boston College
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In life, each person seeks what best suits their interests. Art is one of the most exciting things that an individual who is talented in the field would wish to pursue. For some people, the world of art provides a whole new and exciting experience, as well as a platform for a well-lived and fulfilling life. However, this world of art may end up leading to tragedy as evident in Lord Tennysons poem, The Lady of Shalott.' Lord Tennyson is a renowned poet in the Victorian age. On the face value of this poem, Tennyson tells the story of a mysterious woman who lives in a lonely castle in the middle of a river which flows to Camelot. She is an artist. Her interest in art is exemplified by the fact that this lady sings and weaves. Unfortunately, the woman, referred to in the poem as the Lady of Shalott, is mysteriously bound by a curse that forbids her to look out into the real world; hence only gets to know what is happening in the outside world by watching the magic web that she weaves. Initially, her art seems to contradict with what could be considered a fully-lived life; since it makes her a lonely and dissatisfied prisoner in her tower. This paper argues that from whatever angle one looks at it, the Lady of Shalotts solitary world is a destroyer of life.

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To begin with, it is not until the Lady of Shalott ventures into the outside world that she meets her death. The solitary world has already made her a prisoner yet she would wish to venture and see what happens in the world beyond her castle. She becomes tired of this loneliness and begins to gradually become aware of the exciting world that the curse has forbidden her to look at or visit. At one point, another artist, a singer named Sir Lancelot comes by and seems to drive her crazy. The speaker says:

As he rode down from Camelot.

From the bank and from the river

He flash'd into the crystal mirror,

'Tirra lirra, tirra lirra:'

Sang Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom

She made three paces thro' the room

She saw the water-flower bloom,

She saw the helmet and the plume,

She look'd down to Camelot. (104-113)

This portrays just how much bored the lady of shallot had become. She could not bear it anymore. Her moving out to meet Lancelot is justified since she has feelings too. Unfortunately, because of the curse, her solitary art becomes the destroyer of her life. Were she not lonely, she would not have been interested in Lancelot; and therefore, would not have looked outside and followed him.

Secondly, the curse has tied the woman of Shalott in such a mysterious way that death is bound to occur anyway. Before Lancelot comes into the picture, the lady of Shalott is said to be only interested in her weaving because although there is a curse, She knows not what the curse may be / Therefore she weaveth steadily / Therefore no other care hath she(42-44). The curse, which dictates that she should neither look outside her castle not get out of it, is tied to the womans solitary art. The lady can only sit in her tower singing, and weave her magic web day and night. Unfortunately, she does not know what the curse holds. As soon as she decides to follow Lancelot, who has pleased her heart, the curse destroys her life. Smitten by love, the woman of Shalott looks outside. She decides to pursue Lancelot and alas! The curse takes effect!

Out flew the web and floated wide;

The mirror crack'd from side to side;

'The curse is come upon me,' cried

The Lady of Shalott (114-117).

As soon as the curse takes effect, the Lady of Shalott has no control over what happens. Her solitary life and art cannot help her. Instead, it destroys her. It kills her. She cries but has no respite, and this clearly shows that her solitary life is an ultimate destroyer of life.

Also, the Lady of Shalotts solitary art denies her the right to fall in love. If she does, destruction of life has to come knocking at her door. As a singer, it is possible for the Lady of Shalott to connect firmly with other singers. When the lady hears the sweet melodious song, Tirra lirra, being sung by a knight named Sir Lancelot, she can no longer contain herself. So captivating is the song that the lady unwittingly looks outside, and this action fulfills the curse. The mirror cracks; hence, the Lady of Shalott has to flee since she knows she is in trouble. Upon escaping from her castle, the Lady of Shalott gets a boat at the river, marks her name The Lady of Shalott on it, loosens it and In the stormy east-wind straining / The pale yellow woods waning / The broad stream in his banks complaining,(118-120), rows the boat towards Camelot, where she hopes to find everlasting love. Unfortunately, her solitary art does not allow such kind of an adventure. Before she can reach her place of love, Camelot, where Sir Lancelot must be, she dies. It is ironical that in the process of looking for love and life, death stands in that stead. To the reader, this is only a tragedy, but to the lady of Shalott, life has just been destroyed by solitary art. The inhabitants and sailors are said to have heard the Lady of Shalott "chanting her death song." Her time has come:

She chanted loudly, chanted lowly,

Till her eyes were darken'd wholly,

And her smooth face sharpen'd slowly,

Turn'd to tower'd Camelot:

For ere she reach'd upon the tide

The first house by the water-side,

Singing in her song she died, (154-162).

Due to her love for art, the Lady of Shalott dies while singing. Her fellow singer, Sir Lancelot cannot save her; he only manages to muse over her beautiful body. Her solitary art has undoubtedly become the destroyer of life.

In conclusion, it is clear that although the Lady of Shalott desires to love and life, leaving her tower, a kind of prison for her, is what leads to her death. Her solitary art has preserved her life until she decides to pursue what she feels she needs more: love. Upon her decision, the same solitary art turns into the destroyer of her life. Therefore, staying in her prison-like tower would have saved her life but because of the nature of her solitary art, she had to die.

Work Cited

Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Alfred, Lord Tennyson: Selected Poetry: A Broadview Anthology of British Literature Edition. Broadview Press, 2014.

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