Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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In Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem "Mariana," who is Mariana?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Tennyson's poem is a retelling of a part of the plot of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. In that play, Mariana is engaged to the hypocritical Angelo. She thinks he loves her, but he only wants to marry her for money. When her brother's merchant ship is lost at sea, Mariana loses all her money. Once she is penniless, Angelo abandons her and breaks their engagement. Mariana becomes depressed and isolates herself in a house surrounded by a moat.
In the poem, she becomes increasingly desperate. At the end of the first stanzas she says the refrain about wishing she were dead; by the final stanza, she is weeping it:
She wept, "I am aweary, aweary,
Oh God, that I were dead!"
Tennyson liked to write about isolated women. Mariana is at the mercy of a wicked man, but in the end, she is able to take a more active part in the plot, tricking Angelo into bed with her so that he has to marry her.
Tennyson's poem also inspired a famous painting by Millais about Mariana, that is a fine depiction of her weary isolation: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/millais-mariana-t07553

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In Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem, "Mariana," the woman, Mariana, is based on the Mariana from William Shakespeare's play Measure for Measure. Like Shakespeare's Mariana, Tennyson's Mariana's lover's rejection is at the center. In Measure for Measure, Angelo rejects Mariana, and she spends much of her time thinking about him and mourning the love she could not have. Similarly, in Tennyson's poem, Mariana becomes sadder and sadder as she waits for her love to return. And just like in Shakespeare's play, her lover never arrives. In the poem, the reader sees Mariana become more and more distraught as the poem continues. At first, she cries. She sits at the window gazing out and waiting. Eventually, she wishes that she could die and end her heartbreak.

"Then said she, 'I am very dreary. He will not come,' she said; she wept, 'I am aweary, aweary. Oh God, that I were dead!'" (Tennyson ll.81-84)

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