What types of conflict (physical, emotional, moral, intellectual) are in Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem "The Lady of Shalott"?

Expert Answers
teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator
In this poem, for unexplained reasons, the Lady of Shalott is imprisoned by herself in a tower under a curse. Because of the curse, if she were to stop--"stay"--her weaving to look at Camelot, something bad would happen to her, though she is not sure what it is. As the poet puts it:
No time hath she to sport and play: 
A charmed web she weaves alway. 
A curse is on her, if she stay [stops]
Her weaving, either night or day, 
       To look down to Camelot. 
So the physical conflict is that while she would like to be in Camelot, she is forced to stay in her tower, weaving constantly. This leads to an emotional conflict: while she can watch Camelot in a mirror, she longs for more: 
'I am half sick of shadows,' said 
       The Lady of Shalott.  
In other words, she wants to do more than just watch the scenes from afar: she wants to be part of them. But this conflicts with her other desire, which is to avoid the curse.
Her emotional desire for connection overwhelms her when she sees Sir Launcelot. All the scenes of Camelot are filled with beautiful images, but none so much as this man. When she sees him, she abandons prudence and turns. At this point, the mirror cracks and the loom flies out the window. She heads down stream in a boat where she dies. 
It's hard not to read the poem sexually: although the lady's physical needs are all apparently taken care of as long as she weaves, she has an overwhelming desire for Launcelot that kills her. Her chaste life conflicts with a tumult of sexual feelings that arise uncontrollably inside of her. 
favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Lady of Shalott's conflict is an internal one, prior to her sighting of Sir Lancelot. Once she sees him, she does not seem to experience any conflict at all:

She left the web, she left the loom
She made three paces thro' the room
She saw the water-flower bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look'd down to Camelot.

There is, apparently, no real thinking involved here at all. The Lady sees the bold, handsome knight and hears his singing, and she leaves her loom and flies to the window without even stopping to consider. However, prior to this, "she still delights / To weave the mirror's magic sights": reflected in her mirror, out her window, she sees "magic" experiences like funerals and newlyweds. To a woman who is denied a life—with all its wonderful times and all its tragic times—such sights must seem magical. A stately funeral, wedding ceremony, or honeymoon must feel like the kind of communion, people getting together to share feelings of mourning or of grief, or of happiness and joy, that the Lady, locked away in her seclusion, will never have.

And despite her delight in these scenes, she also feels "'half sick of shadows.'" She only gets to see others living their life, and even then it is only their reflection; she never gets to experience anything firsthand, for herself. This conflict, between her delight in witnessing these scenes of human life and her bitterness at her exclusion from them, is evident.

teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Lady of Shallot is under an enchantment that creates the conflict running through poem. Because of the spell, she is kept in a tower and can only watch life as it is reflected through a mirror. If she turns to look at life directly, she will die.

The Lady of Shallot accepts this situation until she sees Sir Lancelot and is attracted by his singing. Suddenly, she is faced with a conflict. She is no longer content with the safety of experiencing life secondhand, from a distance, through a mirror. Her physical situation, although safe, and providing her with the material comforts she needs to stay alive, feels more than ever like an unbearable prison. She has to make a decision that puts her intellect in conflict with her emotions: if she stays in the tower watching life through a reflection, she is alive and safe, albeit experiencing a pale shadow of a life. Her heart yearns almost unbearably to face life. Yet if she tries to look at life directly, she will almost certainly die. Finally, this becomes a moral quandary: is it better to stay safe and observe through a mirror or to risk death in order to be true to herself?

The Lady of Shallot chooses to turn around and look at life directly. This means death, but she dies having been true to herself.

pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Lady of Shallott is experiencing both types of conflict, internal, which would be emotional, as character vs. self,  and external conflict, character vs. character or the environment. 

For example, the Lady locked in the tower struggles with her emotions ranging from initial contentment with her situation to desperation to escape.  She knows, morally and intellectually, that she must not leave the tower because of the curse.  But once she sees, through her mirror, Sir Lancelot's shiny armour, and hears him singing, she makes an emotional decision to leave the tower and go to Camelot.

Immediately, the Lady knows that she is in conflict with the curse, an external conflict.  As she journeys to Camelot in her boat, the effects of the curse begin.  She slowly dies in the boat as it drifts to Camelot.  

The Lady of Shallot surrenders her intellect to emotion, making a poor decision in her internal conflict. She loses to the external conflict, the curse wins and takes her life before she sees Lancelot.  The only gain is that Lancelot looks at her in the boat, but she is already dead.

Read the study guide:
The Lady of Shalott

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question