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" ...
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