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~ The Lady of Shalott ~

The Lady of Shalott is one of my favorite Arthurian Legends. Her character is said to be based on Elaine, the Fair Lady of Astolat. She has been the subject of many works of art, poetry and fiction.

Elaine was the only daughter of Bernard of Astolat. In Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Lancelot and Elaine" from The Idylls of the King (1859), she is an unassuming and humble woman. Lancelot, a famous knight of King Arthur's court, traveled to Astolat ,incognito, to compete in a tournament. Elaine falls deeply in love with him. She asks Lancelot to wear a token of hers in the tournament. He does indeed wear the token because it would add to his disguise. Lancelot is hurt during the tournament by a lance belonging to Bors, and falls ill. In Sydney Fowler Wright's "The Ballad of Elaine", Elaine sat by him day and night, nursing him back to health. When he was well, he announced that he would be leaving. Elaine begs him to marry her, but he finds that his love for Guinevere, wife of King Arthur, is too strong for him to love Elaine. Lancelot does leave Astolat, and Elaine dies of a broken heart. Her family placed Elaine's body in a barge, and sets it adrift on the Thames River. The barge floats to Camelot.

Lancelot and Elaine by Arthur A. Dixon

The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse

In another of Tennyson's writings, The Lady of Shalott (original version, 1833; revised version, 1842), also includes a barge. But in this story, she is cursed to never look out her window. She is allowed to view the world only by looking into her mirror. She spends her days weaving the images she sees in her mirror, her "shadows of the world". One day, the handsome Lancelot passes by the window, and she forgets the curse and looks out her window to try and catch a glimpse of him. Her mirror cracks, and the curse is upon her. The Lady of Shalott goes down to the river, finds a boat, unties it and lays down. Her blood freezes and she dies. Her boat floats towards Camelot, and people come out to see this sight. In the crowd is Lancelot, and he looks down at her and says, "She has a lovely face: God in his mercy lend her grace, The Lady of Shalott".

by John William Waterhouse

The Lady of Shalott in Art
The Lady of Shalott Links

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