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"The Lady of Shallot" by Alfred Lord Tennyson, has the three characteristics of a medieval romance: love, magic (the supernatural), and chivalry. I very much enjoy the romantic mood of the story expressed in these characteristics within the poem.
The Lady of Shallot has had a spell cast over her (she knows not why or how) so that she can only view the world through a mirror: to do otherwise would mean her death. Never can she look at life full on, and in this way, she can only experience the world around her in a very superficial fashion.
There seems no way to break the spell, and this is very sad as she literally watches people pass her by her house each day going to Camelot. This makes the poem tragic and beautiful at the same time, and in this way we see the magic at work in the story. The imagery (especially the use of colors) brings the story alive:
And sometimes through the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal Knight and true,
The Lady of Shallot.
The Lady of Shallot watches and falls in love with the romantic figure of Sir Lancelot, the handsome, good and virtuous knight as he travels to and from King Arthur's court.
"...he rode between the barley sheaves...His broad clear brow in sunlight glowed... / From underneath his helmet flowed / His coal-black curls as on he rode / As he rode down to Camelot..."Tirra Lirra, " by the river / Sang Sir Lancelot..."
Finally, when she can take it no longer—as she sees his image flash in her mirror—she decides she would rather look at the world in all its splendor, including Lancelot, and die, than live imprisoned any longer.
She quickly leaves the room, goes outside and sees the world for the first time without the mirror. I love the sense of her freedom expressed here.
She paints her name on the prow of a boat and lays down within; as the boat moves along, she dies—and the wooden craft wends its way down to Camelot. All the people there are saddened by the sight of the lovely lady within ("...And in the lighted palace near / Died the sound of royal cheer..."); they are also afraid ("...and they crossed themselves for fear..."). When Lancelot sees the dead woman in her boat, he notes how beautiful she is, and—just as a true knight should—calls down a blessing from God for this unknown woman:
"...She has a lovely face; /
God in his mercy lend her grace..."
The rhyme, the vivid descriptions, the color, use of light and dark, and the elements of the medieval romance are things I greatly enjoy about the poem.
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