The Lady of Shalott

Alfred Lord Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott gives a nod to fairy tales from the 17th and 18th centuries like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. These stories tend to gravitate towards tropes like the damsel in distress and the knight in shining armor, which are rooted heavily in traditional gender roles, and have implications on what a woman’s role is within society. However, it is compelling how The Lady of Shalott deviates from this narrative: at the end of the poem, the Lady of Shallot dies because she has stopped weaving to look through her window at Sir Lancelot, who she thinks is “bold” (Tennyson, Part III). Her being distracted by the prospect of love, only for this love to lead to her death implies that the attention of a man was the only thing that was important enough for her to risk her life. “She left the web, she left the loom, She made three paces thro’ the room, She saw the water-lily bloom, She saw the helmet and the plume, She look’d down to Camelot.” (Tennyson, Part III). After years of sitting at the loom indoors, she gets up– for a man. This could have been due to Tennyson’s personal views that the only purpose women have in life is to be seen in the eyes of a man. Even in the final lines of the poem there are undertones of sexism. “He said, “She has a lovely face; God in his mercy lend her grace, The Lady of Shalott.” (Tennyson, Part IV). Tennyson implies that the only thing that matters is her looks– that is her legacy; that is what she will be remembered for.