What role does death play in "The Lady of Shalott" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The main role that death plays in The Lady of Shalott by Alfred, Lord Tennyson is fairly straightforward, that the Lady of Shalott dies by the end of the poem. Her death is probably caused by a mysterious curse that is foreshadowed in line 40:

A curse is on her if she stay                    
     To look down to Camelot.

When she looks out the window and sees Sir Lancelot, she falls in love with him and the tranquility of her solitary world is ripped asunder and the curse invoked:

"The curse is come upon me," cried
     The Lady of Shalott.

She sets out in boat to float down the river to Camelot. Although the precise mechanism of her death is not specified, there is the sense that it is due in some way to the curse. We see the moment of her death in lines 145ff:


Heard a carol, mournful, holy                   145
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darkened wholly,
     Turned to tower'd Camelot.
For ere she reach'd upon the tide               150    
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
     The Lady of Shalott.

The theme of death continues in the description of the end of her journey and the mention that "Died the sound of royal cheer" as she floats into sight of the royal party.



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