Essay Color Key

Free Essays
Unrated Essays
Better Essays
Stronger Essays
Powerful Essays
Term Papers
Research Papers





Elaine of Astolat in Tennyson's The Lady of Shalott and Lancelot and Elaine

Rate This Paper:
:: 7 Works Cited
Length: 2608 words (7.5 double-spaced pages)
Rating: Red (FREE)      
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Elaine of Astolat in Tennyson's The Lady of Shalott and Lancelot and Elaine

 
    The Arthurian legends have fascinated people over the centuries with tales of kings, noble ladies, knights, magicians, love, and death. Among those who wrote about King Arthur's reign was Alfred, Lord Tennyson. One of his poems, "The Lady of Shalott," became immensely popular for its moving pathos and mystery. Yet, the poem was based on a character from Arthurian legends - Elaine of Astolat. Several years after composing the poem, Tennyson wrote directly about Elaine's tragic love affair with Sir Lancelot in "Lancelot and Elaine," found in his epic piece Idylls of the King.  Although both poems share many of the same features, they portray the two ladies quite differently from one another. The Lady of Shalott is a fairy of sorts, residing in a magical world, while Elaine is a purely human character according to Arthurian legends. The differences are quite apparent when viewed according to the women's family structure, interaction with society, presence of magical elements, and manner of death. Thus, despite their many similarities, Tennyson makes each into a unique and completely separate figure.

 

    Both the Lady of Shalott and Elaine of Astolat share numerous similarities in their lives. Even the places they live possess a similar name. Most of the scenes in "The Lady of Shalott" take place in a tower. Likewise, Elaine retreats to a tower where she keeps Sir Lancelot's shield. Lilies surround each lady, literally and figuratively. Tennyson says that "the lilies blow / Round an island there below, / The island of Shalott" ("The Lady of Shalott" lines 7-9). Similarly, he calls Elaine "the lily maid of Astolat" ("Lancelot and Elaine" 2). Both ladies occupy their time by weaving or embroidering. William E. Buckler compares Elaine to the Lady by stating:

 

The "case of silk" that she decorates for Lancelot's shield has its counterpart in the Lady's storied tapestry; it is Lancelot who, here again unintentionally, motivates her fatal decision; like the Lady, she approaches Camelot in a mysterious funeral barge; and as Lancelot had in the earlier poem "mused a little space," in the idyll he "later came and mused at her." (113)

 

When comparing both poems, one sees many surface parallels in the two women's lives. Nevertheless, a deeper reading reveals manifold differences between the ladies

as individuals.

 

Completely alone, the Lady lives a life of seclusion revealed by the lines "And the silent isle imbowers / The Lady of Shalott" ("The Lady of Shalott" 17-18). Tennyson never mentions anyone other than the Lady as an occupant of the island. She has no apparent family members to guide or help her in any way. She has no one with whom to converse while inside the castle. In fact, she has no given name, simply a title. On the other hand, Elaine has a father and two older brothers to keep her company as seen when Sir Lancelot first came to their castle:  And issuing found the Lord of Astolat /With two strong sons, Sir Torre and Sir Lavaine, / Moving to meet him in the castle court; / And close behind them stept the lily maid. ("Lancelot and Elaine" 172-75).  Indeed, the father and brothers play a key role in her life as her protectors and companions. They are also the first to mourn her death, whereas Lancelot is the

only one who is remotely mournful for the Lady in "The Lady of Shalott." Moreover,

Elaine has not a title, but a name given by her father and deceased mother. From the beginning, the Lady is mysteriously alone while Elaine thrives on her family's affection.

 

The way Tennyson shows each woman interacting with her surrounding society further reveals differences between the two. The Lady resides in a remote castle on the island of Shalott. A river separates her from the surrounding land and the people who inhabit it. No one sees her, and "Only reapers, reaping early / In among the bearded barley, / Hear a song that echoes cheerly" ("The Lady of Shalott" 28-30). Because of this, they call her a "fairy" (35). Roger Simpson says about the Lady, "The attribution

of her fairy nature is [. . .] contextualised within the countryman's belief in fairies" (197). Surrounded by an aura of mystery, she inspires a feeling of fear among the people as shown by how their voices drop when mentioning her. Their fear was due to what Bob Trubshaw points out: "Accounts of medieval fairies show them to have been neither small nor particularly kindly. For many people, fairies were spirits against which they had to guard themselves by ritual precautions" (Par. 6). Since the Lady stays inside

her castle year-round, she never interacts with society and never speaks to anyone throughout the poem. Instead, "moving through a mirror clear / That hangs before her all the year, / Shadows of the world appear" ("The Lady of Shalott" 46-48). She simply looks at the world outside her tower by means of a mirror's reflection. Her great work that she weaves is seen by no one. Everything about her is vague and otherworldly, especially her being referred to as a "fairy."

 

Elaine's character, by contrast, is entirely human. Living in an active castle, she converses on a regular basis with her family, Sir Lancelot, Sir Gawain, and others.

 

In regards to her residence, "[Elaine's] castle cannot retain the kind of mysterious force radiated by the Lady's island [. . .]" (Goslee 180). After his life-threatening wound from the diamond tournament, Elaine nurses Sir Lancelot back to health with womanly attentiveness as Tennyson states:  And never woman yet, since man's first fall, /Did kindlier unto man, but her deep love / Upbore her; till the hermit, skill'd in all / The simples and the science of that time, / Told him [Sir Lancelot] that her fine care had saved his life. ("Lancelot and Elaine" 854-58)  During this time, Tennyson tells of her going to and from Sir Lancelot's sick bed, thereby showing that unlike the static Lady, she moves about the territory surrounding her home. Viewed by all at the tournament when worn by Sir Lancelot, her exquisite embroidery initially reveals her to a larger society, including the royal court.  For example, King Arthur recounts to the Queen that "[Sir Lancelot] wore, against his wont, upon his helm / A sleeve of scarlet, broider'd with great pearls, / Some gentle maiden's gift" (600-2). Later, Elaine's death inspires those at court to feel a deep sorrow. King Arthur then commands Sir Lancelot to arrange for her to be richly entombed at Camelot. Indeed, Elaine is an active participant in her world.

 

    Tennyson continues to portray a magical realm for the Lady as seen by the mirror, her web or tapestry, the curse, and the events transpiring after the curse. The mirror is her portal into society; in fact, it is her only link to the outside world. Through it, she sees the activity outside her window during the day and into the night. The imagery and people she views encourage her "To weave the mirror's magic sights" ("The Lady of Shalott" 65). However, everything shown by the mirror is a reversal of its true form, thus giving the Lady a skewed interpretation of life. By showing a tantalizing, albeit untrue, glimpse of society, the mirror is distinctly magical. Similar to this is the web the Lady weaves. Tennyson writes that it is "A magic web with colors gay" (38). By his own words, he tells of the enchanted nature of the Lady's artwork. Composed of scenes revealed by the mirror, the tapestry is filled with misperceptions of the real world. The tapestry is also a compilation in tangible form of her memories of the mirror's images. Still, the most magical elements in the Lady's world revolve around the curse.

 

    Proceeding from an unknown source, a "whisper" reveals this dark spell to the

Lady ("The Lady of Shalott" 39). Yet, the outcome of the curse is unknown to her. She is aware merely of its existence and that she must avoid looking at Camelot. Therefore, the mirror is necessary for the Lady to see anything outside her tower, even if they are just "shadows" (48). When referring to the curse, Herbert F. Tucker contends that "if the Lady incurs damnation by merely staying in the tower and weaving, then she must be enduring the curse right now. And so she is, if we consider that the curse may in fact be the curse of isolation under which she has been laboring since the beginning of the poem [. . .]" (109). When her actions bring about the curse's more dramatic effects, the results are devastating: "Out flew the web and floated wide; / The mirror cracked from side to side" ("The Lady of Shalott" 114-115). First, her creative work is destroyed - the work on which she spent possibly years. All the scenes she had woven, her tangible memories, were gone. Perhaps the web is torn apart because she finally sees the true world, causing her work to be worthless and requiring it to be destroyed. Otherwise, the web's ruin may purely be cruel punishment for a forbidden action. Next, the mirror, her one link to society, shatters. Her method of seeing Camelot without causing the curse's fall becomes unnecessary when she uses her own eyes instead. Thus, it is useless both in its reason for existing and in its broken pieces. By these two drastic actions, the Lady is certain that evil has fallen upon her. The curse's final punishment is fatal, for the Lady dies because of one look at Camelot. Always viewed with fear and dread by superstitious people, a curse is by nature associated with magical properties. Quite oppositely, Elaine's world is entirely devoid of a known curse or any other supernatural elements, implying a simple, everyday reality.

 

Lastly, the manner in which each woman dies makes a distinction between the mystical and the definite. The Lady of Shalott eventually dies because she does what

the curse forbids. But first, she begins her journey by boat to the city of Camelot after nightfall. As she floats along, the reapers hear her singing a song once more. Although this time, it is an eerily "mournful" tune ("The Lady of Shalott" 145). The Lady does not explain her death to those who are bound to see her, but simply gives the title by which she is known. Her inexplicable arrival in the city causes great alarm among all except Sir Lancelot. Even the knights "crossed themselves for fear" (166). Therefore, her death can be seen as nothing but ethereal. When referring to the Lady's arrival at Camelot, James R. Kincaid says that "she manages to create [. . .] a flurry of superstition" (35).

 

On the other hand, Elaine's passing carries a very human pathos. Her death is

not caused by a curse, but because she wills herself to die. Such is her reaction to unrequited love. William E. Buckler aptly uses the phrase "fragile humanness"

to describe Elaine (111). Before she dies, Elaine also sings a song, but a song of heartbreaking words: "Love, art thou sweet? then bitter death must be. / Love, thou

are bitter; sweet is death to me. / O Love, if death be sweeter, let me die" ("Lancelot and Elaine" 1003-5). Accordingly, she asks her father to send her body by boat to Camelot. Yet, her passage to the city retains little of the Lady's mystery. Accompanied by a mute servant to guide the barge, Elaine also grasps a letter explaining her death. She wants all the court to know that she died because Sir Lancelot did not love her.

 

The Lady of Shalott has no letter and leaves everyone to wonder "Who is this? And what is here?" ("The Lady of Shalott" 163). Thus, while the people of Camelot are initially frightened by the strange appearance of Elaine and the servant, they quickly understand the matter after King Arthur reads the letter. Although her death is tragic,

it reveals an entirely human character who makes plans for her passing, which are then carried out by her family, and her body is seen by all of Camelot.

 

While both stories discuss Elaine of Astolat's death caused by her infatuation with Sir Lancelot, they differ tremendously in how the ladies are presented. One is a fairy lady living in an enchanted world of curses, magical mirrors, and mystery. The other is a young maiden possessed by entirely human passions who lives in an easily identifiable world. The Lady has no one, while Elaine has a loving family. The former is secluded from society, unlike the latter's active participation in the world. Death for the Lady comes because of a mystical curse. Elaine chooses to die due to shattered illusions of love. By writing two separate stories using the same character from Arthurian legends, Tennyson portrays his intention that the Lady should be ethereal and Elaine should be human. Clearly, he wanted to make the original story of Elaine into an enchantingly dark tale, since readers are drawn to mystery and suspense.   The Lady becomes far more intriguing due to the many questions Tennyson leaves unanswered, such as who put the curse on her and why. "Lancelot and Elaine," while tragic, contains few of the mysterious elements that pervade "The Lady of Shalott" and make the latter so enjoyable to read time after time.

 

Works Cited

Buckler, William E. Man and His Myths: Tennyson's Idylls of the King in Critical Context. New York: New York UP, 1984.

Goslee, David. Tennyson's Characters: "Strange Faces, Other Minds." Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1989.

Kincaid, James R. "Chapter Three: Poems (1842)." Tennyson's Major Poems.Yale UP, 1975.<http://65.107.211.206/victorian/tennyson/kincaid/ch3.html> (19 March 2002).

Simpson, Roger. Camelot Regained: The Arthurian Revival and Tennyson 1800-1849. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1990.

Tennyson, Alfred, Lord. "Lancelot and Elaine." Tennyson's Poetry: Authoritative Texts Juvenilia and Early Responses Criticism. Ed. Robert W. Hill, Jr. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1971. 323-354.

- - -. "The Lady of Shalott."The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M. H. Abrams. 7th ed. Vol. 2. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2000. 1204-1208.

Trubshaw, Bob. "Fairies and Their Kin."At the Edge. Vol. 10 (1998): 33 pars. October 2000. <http://www.indigogroup.co.uk/edge/fairies.htm> (7 April 2002).

Tucker, Herbert F. Tennyson and the Doom of Romanticism. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1988.

 

Bibliography

Buckler, William E. Man and His Myths: Tennyson's Idylls of the King in Critical Context. New York: New York UP, 1984.

Chadwick, Joseph. "A Blessing and a Curse: The Poetics of Privacy in Tennyson's 'The Lady of Shalott.' " Critical Essays on Alfred Lord Tennyson. Ed. Herbert F. Tucker. New York: G. K. Hall & Co., 1993.

Goslee, David. Tennyson's Characters: "Strange Faces, Other Minds." Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1989.

Kincaid, James R. "Chapter Three: Poems (1842)." Tennyson's Major Poems.Yale UP, 1975.<http://65.107.211.206/victorian/tennyson/kincaid/ch3.html> (19 March 2002).

Raffe, Lauren. "The Lady of Shalott." June 2001. <http://www.tink.dircon.co.uk/ waterhouse.html> (29 March 2002).

Rosenberg, John D. The Fall of Camelot: A Study of Tennyson's "Idylls of the King." Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1973.

Simpson, Roger. Camelot Regained: The Arthurian Revival and Tennyson 1800-1849. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1990.

Tennyson, Alfred, Lord. "Lancelot and Elaine." Tennyson's Poetry: Authoritative Texts Juvenilia and Early Responses Criticism. Ed. Robert W. Hill, Jr. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1971.

- - -. "The Lady of Shalott."The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M. H. Abrams. 7th ed. Vol. 2. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2000.

Trubshaw, Bob. "Fairies and Their Kin."At the Edge. Vol. 10 (1998): 33 pars. October 2000. <http://www.indigogroup.co.uk/edge/fairies.htm> (7 April 2002).

Tucker, Herbert F. Tennyson and the Doom of Romanticism. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1988.

White, T. H. The Once and Future King. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1958.

 

 

 

 

 

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Elaine of Astolat in Tennyson's The Lady of Shalott and Lancelot and Elaine." 123HelpMe.com. 22 Aug 2014
    <http://www.123HelpMe.com/view.asp?id=18563>.




Related Searches





Important Note: If you'd like to save a copy of the paper on your computer, you can COPY and PASTE it into your word processor. Please, follow these steps to do that in Windows:

1. Select the text of the paper with the mouse and press Ctrl+C.
2. Open your word processor and press Ctrl+V.

Company's Liability

123HelpMe.com (the "Web Site") is produced by the "Company". The contents of this Web Site, such as text, graphics, images, audio, video and all other material ("Material"), are protected by copyright under both United States and foreign laws. The Company makes no representations about the accuracy, reliability, completeness, or timeliness of the Material or about the results to be obtained from using the Material. You expressly agree that any use of the Material is entirely at your own risk. Most of the Material on the Web Site is provided and maintained by third parties. This third party Material may not be screened by the Company prior to its inclusion on the Web Site. You expressly agree that the Company is not liable or responsible for any defamatory, offensive, or illegal conduct of other subscribers or third parties.

The Materials are provided on an as-is basis without warranty express or implied. The Company and its suppliers and affiliates disclaim all warranties, including the warranty of non-infringement of proprietary or third party rights, and the warranty of fitness for a particular purpose. The Company and its suppliers make no warranties as to the accuracy, reliability, completeness, or timeliness of the material, services, text, graphics and links.

For a complete statement of the Terms of Service, please see our website. By obtaining these materials you agree to abide by the terms herein, by our Terms of Service as posted on the website and any and all alterations, revisions and amendments thereto.



Return to 123HelpMe.com

Copyright © 2000-2013 123HelpMe.com. All rights reserved. Terms of Service