Tennyson’s Lady of Shalot is the story of a women living in a tower, cursed to never leave her tower and look down on the outside world. It is almost like Rapunzel, a girl locked away in her tower, separated from the outside world by a curse or a wicked witch, until a handsome young knight stumbles by her tower, changing her life forever. Depending on which version of Rapunzel you read however, it has a much happier ending than Tennyson’s work. Whereas Rapunzel leaves her tower under duress, she eventually ends up with the prince and lives happily ever after. The Lady on the other hand, makes the only serious decision she has ever made in her life, the decision to leave her sheltered room and venture out into the great wide somewhere, down to enchanted Camelot. The result is that she does not even make it to shore, but floats disinterestedly and acceptingly to her death, singing her song, in the boat that bears her only identifier.
The lady in the tower has next to no power over her own life. Tennyson never even presents his audience with a name for her. In a time period when the naming of things is considered to be one of the most important things about a character, we are presented with a woman known only as The Lady, or even just She. This person is a woman who is summed up in a pronoun and nothing more, a mere word that leaves so much to the imagination. Nothing is known about the woman’s life. She lives to weave and really wants to get out and explore. How did the Lady get even get inside that tower in the first place; was she born there? Who are her family or does she even have one? There are so many questions surrounding this woman, and there are never any answers. What exactly is it Tennyson was trying to portray with her?
A woman swept away by her fate perhaps. A woman who makes poor choices, and when she cannot accept them or the consequences of them, lays down and dies because life is simply too hard to go on. During the time period that this poem was written, women did not have many choices about what they did with their lives and who they were allowed to be. The upper class, were shut away like the Lady or Rapunzel in their families fashionable towers, and were not let down until safely handed over to suitable husbands, who then became their new jailers. Having no skills and no useful education, most women took up ‘womanly arts’ to keep themselves occupied having nothing of great important that actually needed to be done. The lower class had their own towers as well, though they were not as well furnished. They were scullery maids and nannies. Or if they chose their own fate and fell, thieves or prostitutes.
Tennyson believed, unlike a great many mean of his time, that women needed to be able to make choices, to be able to be the masters of their own destinies. Like any Disney Princess of the modern age demonstrate, a girl needs to be allowed to venture into the world and learn who she is and what she is capable of. Belle wants...