The Lady of Shalott Critical Overview
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The Lady of Shalott book cover
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Critical Overview

(Poetry for Students)

Tennyson's early poems are not often analyzed by twentieth-century critics because his later pieces are considered much more thought provoking: as early as 1895, George Saintsbury noted that "'The Lady of Shalott' does not count among the poems that established Tennyson's title to the first rank of English poets." Still, to the same critic, it is one of the poet's "happiest" pieces, not because of the subject matter—after all, a curse kills the Lady in the end—but because of Tennyson's skillful use of words. "There is such a latent charm in mere words, cunning collocations, and in the voice ringing in them," famed poet Walt Whitman wrote, "which [Tennyson] caught and has brought out, beyond all others." Among the poems that he goes on to list as examples of this is "The Lady of Shalott."

Though its subject matter is considered by scholars to be light, there has been no denying that it was influential in its time and is probably responsible for other works of art with similar themes. Critic John D. Jump noted in his 1974 book about Tennyson that "The Lady of Shalott" shows how readily [Tennyson's language] can give access to that medieval dream world which attracted so many nineteenth-century writers and painters. Arthur Noyse noted that "his early Arthurian poems practically founded the pre-Raphaelite school in England." Whatever impression the modern reader has of Camelot and the age of chivalry, it probably bears some influence from Tennyson and the stunning pictures of that long-ago time that he painted with his words.