The poem The Lady of Shalott, arranged in four parts, talks about the inner dilemmas and conflicts that an artist faces constantly. The rewards of resolutely focusing on the artistic world are at times insufficient to compensate for the emptiness experienced in the artist’s personal life. Through the example of the Lady of Shalott and her devoted attention to the art of “weaving her magical webs”, the author expresses the heroic battle within. This essay will argue that the central focus of the poem is the perennial heroic struggle in an artist’s mind between his/her dedication to the art and the temptations of ordinary social life. This essence of the poem is brilliantly presented through the choice use of metaphor, symbolism and rhythm.
The Lady of Shalott’s self-imposed discipline creates a distance from the world she scrutinizes through the mirror. The Christian theme of temptation is also evident in the poem. For example, the Lady’s fatal mistake was to look away from the mirror and directly through the window into the real world. This brings upon her the preordained curse. What follows the invoking of the curse is a series of events that end with the Lady’s death in the vicinity of Camelot. There is a resemblance to the Christian doctrine of the Original Sin. Adam’s biting of the forbidden apple leads into a vicious cycle akin to what the Lady encounters. In this sense there is an analogy between the theological understanding and its parallel in the mythology of Arthuriana (upon whom Lady Shalott’s character is based).
It is easy to regard Lady Shalott’s eventual surrender to temptation as a proof of human frailty and the inevitability of tragedy in human endeavors. But what is also amply evident is the celebration of the heroic in the poem. As Lady Shalott lies dead in the premises of Camelot, Lancelot and other inhabitants arrive to witness the corpse. These final lines of the poem encapsulate the fall from grace of the once proud artist: ‘The web was woven curiously,/ The charm is broken utterly,/ Draw near and fear not,—this is I,/ The Lady of Shalott.’ There is an implicit acknowledgement of the magical works of art she had woven in her life as an artist. Her mortality is definite whereas her works will outlast history. And therein lies the heroic element in what is apparently a tragic end.