John William Waterhouse's The Lady of Shalott, 1888.
Image source: Bases para el estudio de la Literatura HispanoAmericana
There is something incredibly beautiful and yet heart-wrenching about the story of The Lady of Shalott.
Some of you are probably wondering:
- Who the hell is The Lady of Shalott?
- Why should I care when I've got numerous other things to worry about, such as how I am going to procrastinate before writing that English paper or working on my chemistry homework?
Patience. This post may give you a topic to explore for that English paper. That is, if your English paper focuses on any aspect of the Victorian era.
The Lady of Shalott was a creation of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, based loosely on the Arthurian legend of Elaine of Astolat. In Tennyson's poem"The Lady of Shalott" the title character is some sort of fairy-woman locked in a castle. She sits and weaves at a loom in one of the towers, looking out at the world through a mirror that reflects the view out her window, the road to Camelot and its travelers. She knows that she cannot look out into the real world except through the mirror or else she will unleash a curse upon her, although she doesn't know what that curse will be.
One day she sees Sir Lancelot in the mirror. She goes to the window to get a better view of him, the mirror cracks and she realizes the curse is upon her. So she leaves the tower, finds a boat, writes her name all over it, and sails off down the river toward Camelot. Her blood freezes and she dies, while the boat sails into Camelot like a funeral bier. The people gather around the body and Lancelot says eh has a lovely face.
Read the poem in its entirety here.
The sad poem always struck me as being overwhelmingly tragic, because the poor Lady of Shalott never had a chance. She was trapped in that tower, seemed content to be there, and the one instant she wants to get out she ends up dying. I always thought it was silly that it was Lancelot, of all people, who would be the reason for her downfall, but then again I am not a hopeless romantic. I am a cynic when it comes to love, especially the thought of love at first sight.
That's why I love Emilie Autumn's interpretation of the story in her song "Shalott." She focuses more on the isolation of the lady in the tower, separated from the outside world and yearning to be a part of it. She knows there is a world beyond the tower, one that everyone but she can be a part of:
She sits down to her colored threadShe knows lovers waking up in their bedsShe says, "How long can I live this wayIs there someone I can pay to let me go'Cause I'm half sick of shadowsI want to see the skyEveryone else can watch as the sun goes downSo why can't I?
There doesn't seem to be any love for Lancelot in this poem, at least not at first. She sees him in the mirror, but she doesn't actually believe that he could ever love her back. Lancelot is presented more as a convenient excuse for her to get that freedom rather than the main cause of wanting that freedom:
She says, "This man's gonna be my death'Cause he's all I ever wanted in my lifeAnd I know he doesn't know my nameAnd that all the girls are all the same to himBut still I've got to get out of this place'Cause I don't think I can face another night"
It's when she makes the conscious decision to look out the window and bring on the curse that she gains her real freedom:
"But there's willow treesAnd little breezes, waves, and walls, and flowersAnd there's moonlight every single nightAs I'm locked in these towersSo I'll meet my deathBut with my last breath I'll sing to him I loveAnd he'll see my face in another place,"And with that the glass aboveHer cracked into a million bitsAnd she cried out, "So the story fitsBut then I could have guessed it all along'Cause now some drama queen is gonna write a song for me."
It's a beautiful song. According to this Emilie Autumn interview (25 minutes into it), the audience at every one of her venues know the lyrics by heart. The theme of isolation and wanting to be like everyone else, even if it means death, is obviously one that is relevant to so many of her fans. If that's the case, then it must relate to the general population at large.
One must wonder why that is. Why do we feel so alone, and consider doing anything to belong with anyone else?
Listen and judge for yourself: