What is the character sketch of the Lady of Shalott?

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The Lady of Shalott, the protagonist of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem, is a complex character living a solitary life on Shalott's island due to a curse. Initially, she only observes life outside through a mirror, weaving what she sees into a tapestry. However, after seeing a newlywed couple and Sir Lancelot, she grows discontented with her fate and defies the curse, leading to her death. Despite her tragic end, she is respected and honored by Camelot's residents, showing her bravery and nobility.

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The Lady of Shalott, the title character of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem, is a dynamic character, meaning that she grows as a person over the course of the ballad. As the poem begins, the Lady is living a routine existence isolated in a tower on the island of Shalott. More than isolated, she is stuck in position so that she doesn't even come to the tower window. No one ever sees her, but they hear her singing. She spends her day weaving because she is under a curse that will take effect if she stops. As part of the curse, she cannot look toward Camelot. As a way of dealing with the lot she's been given, she rigs up a mirror that reflects the world beyond her window. She weaves the sights that she sees into a tapestry. For a while she is satisfied to do so, but one night she sees a newlywed couple in her mirror. This causes her to say, "I am half sick of shadows."

Soon she sees and hears another passerby who makes her even more discontented with her situation. Sir Lancelot, shining and singing, rides by. Whether she thinks it through consciously or makes a spur of the moment mistake, she leaves her loom to look at the handsome knight. When the loom breaks and the mirror chacks, she perceives that the curse has been activated. Rather than lamenting her fate, she decides to make the most of whatever time she has left to her. She leaves the tower, gets in a boat after inscribing it with her name, and floats toward Camelot. Her stare is "glassy" because she understands that she is doomed. She lies down in the boat as it winds toward Camelot. As she drifts along, she sings "a carol, mournful, holy, chanted loudly, chanted lowly." Her holy chant is reminiscent of a nun, which is significant in two ways: She presumably never married, and she is considered a virtuous woman. She keeps singing until she dies. The respect paid to her by the residents of Camelot—and Lancelot in particular—confirms that she is a woman who made brave and noble choice.

Tennyson doesn't give readers enough information to fully analyze the Lady of Shalott's character. Some might believe she made a reckless decision to risk death for the mere look at a passing knight. Others may applaud her willingness to grab whatever joy she could and her decision to risk her life for an ideal. The way Camelot honors her implies that Tennyson intended readers to think well of his heroine, who defied her unfair imprisonment and chose to go out in a blaze of glory.

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What are the key points in the poem "The Lady of Shalott"?

Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem "The Lady of Shalott" is a ballad, or a story poem. To think about the key points, then, use the elements of the story arc. For this poem, the story unfolds like this:

Exposition: the setting and the characters are introduced in Part I. The island, the road, and the castle are described and the Lady of Shalott is introduced as a woman no one has seen, but whose songs can be heard through her open window.

Inciting incident: Part II begins with introducing the conflict of the story by describing the curse she is under if she stops weaving and looks to Camelot.

Rising action: as the action unfolds, the Lady hangs a mirror at her loom so she can see what is happening outside. She sees many types of people going toward Camelot. She sees knights and a funeral pass. Then she sees two newlyweds, and she begins to become discontented.

Climax: In Part III, the action continues to rise with the appearance of Sir Lancelot outside her window. The high point and turning point of the action is when "she left her web, she left her loom, / She made three paces through the room." The mirror cracks, and the curse comes upon her. This sets up the resolution of the conflict for good or ill--in this case ill. 

Falling action (denouement): In Part IV, the falling action occurs. She goes down to the river, gets into a boat, and floats toward Camelot. During this journey, "singing in her song, she died." She floats into Camelot and the people wonder who she is.

Resolution and theme: The poem ends when Lancelot views her, says "she has a lovely face," and blesses her. The curse, the conflict, has been resolved by her dying, but Lancelot has blessed her memory, even though he didn't know her, suggesting that if they had met, they may have had a future together. 

In a ballad, which is a story poem, one can keep track of key points by locating them in the story arc. 

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Summarize "The Lady of Shalott."

"The Lady of Shallot" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, is a beautiful, mythical poem filled with enchantment, the Arthurian Knight Lancelot, Camelot, and the tragic fate of the "Lady."

Tennyson's poem tells the story of a young and beautiful woman who lives in a tower. She can see the river running past, as well as a road that leads to Camelot. Uncertain as to why she is in her predicament, she is knowns she is under a curse and may not look directly upon anything outside of her "prison," and neither can she leave. She weaves all day and watches the reflection of the world passing by through a mirror. It is in this way that she catches sight of Lancelot. The crusader passes by her home singing, as he heads toward Camelot; she sees the "plume" on his helmet and his flashing armor.

Tired of her life, the Lady of Shallot turns, quickly crosses the room and looks directly at the world around her, and the power of the curse falls upon her.

She left the web, she left the loom,

She made three paces through the room,

She saw the water-lily bloom,

She saw the helmet and the plume,

She look'd down to Camelot.

Out flew the web and floated wide;

The mirror crack'd from side to side;

"The curse is come upon me," cried

The Lady of Shalott.

She leaves her home and makes her way down to the river, where she finds a small boat. Lady Shallot paints her name on the side of the boat, rests herself on its bottom, and sets it afloat. Carried by the river's current, the young woman sings and watches the world as it passes above her, seeing things that have been kept from her, and soon dies. When the boat reaches Camelot, a group of people gather around the boat, wondering who she is. Lancelot is there. He calls down a heavenly blessing on this lovely woman who has died and notes that she "has a lovely face."

(By the way, Loreena McKennit sings a shortened version of this poem, which is quite lovely.)

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Write an interpretation of "The Lady of Shalott."

You might like to think about how this poem presents us with the conflict between art, as represented in the tapestry of the Lady of Shallot, and life, which she is of course excluded from and can't even look at without a mirror to mediate what she sees. Clearly, Tennyson is making a very profound comment about the difference between these two states and their relationship to each other. The desire of the Lady of Shallot to sample life itself, even at the expense of losing her life, clearly indicates the limits of art in reflecting life.

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Write an interpretation of "The Lady of Shalott."

I think you should focus on what you think it means.  For example, do you consider it an example of the suppression of women?  Does the fantasy contribute or take away from the meaning of the story? Is it still relevant today?

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