Why does the Lady of Shalott do what she does at the end of the poem?

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amymc | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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The Lady of Shalott has lived under a curse for many years in which she is imprisoned in a tower and forced to view the outside world only through a mirror.  She has been told that if she were to ever leave her tower and go to Camelot or even look out the window, something horrible will happen.

While she is able to endure her time by weaving, she can hear the knights and lovers pass under her tower window and soon comes to realize that she is "...half-sick of shadows" (Part II).  One day, she sees the most brilliant knight of all, Sir Lancelot.  The poem dedicates three stanzas to describing him followed by the lady's reaction:

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 (Part Three)

She is unable to resist the beauty and pageantry of Sir Lancelot, so she accepts the curse and takes a boat toward Camelot.  She accepts death and sings her song as she floats toward the beautiful kingdom, choosing on glimpse of beauty over her lonely fate in the tower.


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