Compare and contrast "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" by Keats and "The Lady of Shalott" by Tennyson.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are many points of comparison and contrast between "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" by John Keats and "The Lady of Shallot" (one of my favorites) by Alfred Tennyson. These points are in structure, theme, language, characterization, conceit, characters, dramatic effect. A brief discussion of one or two may give you a good start on a detailed comparison.

First, the language of each poem is antiquated English language from an earlier period than the poet's own and is in both cases expertly handled. Illustrations are the use of thee and meads in Keats' poem and flitteth and hath in Tennyson's work. But the structures of the poems are different as Keats tells his story starting with a frame then going to a flashback, whereas Tennyson tells his story in chronological time order with no frame or flashback, although both end with the protagonist in a cold hard place of death.

Characterization is interesting because the ladies of both poems are enchanted and both men, the knight and Lancelot, are mortal. However the enchanted lady in Keats' poem is an elfin faery and very bad, whereas the enchanted lady in Tennyson's is human and very good.

Each poem has a cold-hearted antagonist. In Keats' poem it is the enchanted faery lady whereas in Tennyson's it is the mortal man. Each poem sings the same theme: don't be beguiled by the faery appearance of beauty seen in meadow nor the glittering grandeur of valor as seen in a field, both are deception in a cave or shadows in a mirror, both hide hearts of stone and lead to death, whether physical death or metaphorical death or both.

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La Belle Dame sans Merci

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