What are some essay topics on the poem "The Lady of Shalott," parts 1 and 2?

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The fact that you are asked to deal only with the first two sections—the first half of the poem—makes this more challenging. However, that restriction also opens up the opportunity of focusing more closely on these two parts.

One way to start would be to analyze the poem's imagery in...

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The fact that you are asked to deal only with the first two sections—the first half of the poem—makes this more challenging. However, that restriction also opens up the opportunity of focusing more closely on these two parts.

One way to start would be to analyze the poem's imagery in these sections. How does the unease Tennyson evokes with the use of words like "chilly," "shiver," "gray," and "weary" create a tension with the singsong meter and childlike rhyme scheme? How does the speaker hint at the Lady of Shallot's unhappiness? Why is she "half sick of shadows?" Could it be that it is not fun to be shut up in a tower, even in comfortable circumstances?

From there, you might want to go on to explore what truths Tennyson, writing in 1832, exposes about the condition of middle- and upper-class society in Victorian society. One could argue that women in that time period (at least in the upper classes) were restricted like the Lady of Shallot and unable to experience life directly. It might be that showing indirectly the plight of a trapped woman through a medieval setting and plot was an easier or more persuasive way to comment on the plight of women than a direct critique of woman's rights in the Victorian era.

Where the poem breaks at the end of the second part leaves the Lady of Shallot discontent but not yet deciding to take any definite action. Does the poem at this point leave us feeling that she should continue as she is? I would argue that the imagery and the situation say no, setting us up for the more dramatic action of the poem's second half—and I would focus on that.

Essay topics could therefore include the use imagery to create unease, the role of women in Victorian society as reflected in this poem, and the use of Medievalism in the poem as social commentary. You could also do a "queer reading" (if you are allowed) in which you commented on how an audience might react if the lady of the Shallot became the lord of Shallot: would these restrictions seem worse if applied to a male?

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  • Analyze how Tennyson reveals mood and tone through imagery and diction in "The Lady of Shalott."
  • How does Tennyson address the theme of desire through his use of figurative language in "The Lady of Shalott?"
  • Analyze the role of nature in the Lady's decision to leave her tower in "The Lady of Shalott."
  • Compare and contrast the symbolism of the Lady's magic web to the role of the curse in "The Lady of Shalott. 
  • Compare the role of the Lady's mirror to that of Plato's cave.
  • What do the the people viewed in the mirror represent to the Lady of Shalott? Why does Tennyson include these details?

 

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