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A critical analysis of "The Lady of Shalott" focusing on its musical quality, melody, and symbolism

Summary:

A critical analysis of "The Lady of Shalott" reveals its musical quality through its rhythmic and lyrical structure, creating a melodic flow that enhances the poem's enchanting atmosphere. Symbolically, the poem explores themes of isolation, artistic struggle, and the conflict between reality and illusion, with the Lady's mirror and the river representing her constrained perception and eventual liberation through death.

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Analyze the musical quality, melody, and symbolism in "The Lady of Shalott".

"The Lady of Shalott" is an early Tennyson poem, and as such is still very much romantic in nature.  The beautiful natural imagery of the area around Shalott is idealized, as is Lancelot.  The Lady herself, of course, is imprisoned in a tower in need of rescuing, also.  Nature and medieval allusions and symbolism mark this as from Tennyson's early works, and demonstrate the early influence of Romanticism on the Victorians.

More importantly, the work concerns the creative process and the isolation of artists--something Tennyson is often concerned with.  The Lady doesn't live life, she only interprets it through the mirror images she sees.  She is separate from experience--dangerous for an artist.

In the fictional world of this ballad, the Lady must die before she gets to Camelot.  Why?  Because reality can never live up to fantasy.  The fantasy is always better.  Thus, artists must be careful of separating themselves from society.  

The imagery, symbols, and ideas or themes connect this to other works by Tennyson.

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Analyze the musical quality, melody, and symbolism in "The Lady of Shalott".

"The Lady of Shalott" is an early Tennyson poem, and as such is still very much romantic in nature.  The beautiful natural imagery of the area around Shalott is idealized, as is Lancelot.  The Lady herself, of course, is imprisoned in a tower in need of rescuing, also.  Nature and medieval allusions and symbolism mark this as from Tennyson's early works, and demonstrate the early influence of Romanticism on the Victorians.

More importantly, the work concerns the creative process and the isolation of artists--something Tennyson is often concerned with.  The Lady doesn't live life, she only interprets it through the mirror images she sees.  She is separate from experience--dangerous for an artist. 

In the fictional world of this ballad, the Lady must die before she gets to Camelot.  Why?  Because reality can never live up to fantasy.  The fantasy is always better.  Thus, artists must be careful of separating themselves from society.  

"Ulysses," also, just to give you an example of another Tennyson poem, presents the classical, mythological figure of The Odyssey as an artist, of sorts.  Ulysses is wasting away doing mundane daily tasks, instead of being out in the world exploring and creating adventures.  Ulysses is a frustrated artist in this work, feeling the need to create and use his talents.

The imagery, symbols, and ideas or themes connect "Lady" to other works by Tennyson.       

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Can you critically analyze "The Lady of Shalott"?

One helpful way of beginning to analyse this poem is by noticing the central division that Tennyson creates. In this unforgettable poem by Tennyson the central contrast of the poem is between the world of shadows of the Lady of Shallot and the world of colours of Sir Lancelot. There exist many examples of irony in the poem, which are well worth analysing in order to think about what Tennyson is trying to say.

At the end of the poem it is ironic that it is only when she sings her last song that she is heard by more than a handful of men, and likewise it is only in her death that the beauty is recognised of a lady who had "no loyal night and true." Despite this, she remains an object of mystery and even fear, and the reader is left wondering if anyone understands her character and her death at the end of the poem.

In her choice to embrace life, she has also embraced what comes with life - death. However, ironically, death seems to preserve her character and beauty forever more in a way that would not have occurred had she remained in her tower.

However, by leaving her tower, she has ultimately replaced one uncomprehending picture of herself ("The fairy/Lady of Shallot") with another, and if we see one of the themes of the poem as being about the Victorians' idealisation of women, we are left unsure whether Tennyson is celebrating this idealisation or criticising it. Thus the poem discusses the distinction between "Art" and "Life", and we can see through his poem that he is pointing towards the potential tragedy if "Art" tries to enter into the realms of reality.

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