About the book: The Lady of Shalott a narrative poem about an enigmatic medieval woman who is mysteriously imprisoned on an island near Camelot. She must only view the world through a mirror. If she chooses to look directly on the world outside then she will be cursed and die. One day, Lancelot passes beneath her window and glancing at his figure in the mirror, she is compelled to turn and look out of her window. For this moment she is doomed.
The story of Elaine of Astolat is the source for the poem. Elaine is called upon to nurse Sir Lancelot when he is wounded in a jousting tournament. She falls in love with the knight but the love is unrequited. Launcelot is restored to health and leaves Astolat. The lady Elaine dies of a broken heart and like the lady of Shalott, floats in her barque down to Camelot, where is is discovered by King Arthur’s court.
The poem is divided into four sections. The first describes the setting, a rural idyll and sets up the mystery of the Lady of Shalott, who lives as a recluse in her tall tower. Part two moves the narrative inside the tower, where the Lady of Shalott spends her days weaving cloth and looking at the world going by through her mirror. She cannot turn to look directly outside the window as she will then be cursed. Part three introduces the inciting moment, Lancelot arrives on the scene. This section focuses on Lancelot’s handsome appearance. The Lady of Shalott turns to the window and in that moment, the mirror cracks and her fate is sealed. The final section reverts to an external viewpoint, as the Lady embarks her funeral barque and floats down to Camelot. As the barque comes to rest by the bank, King Arthur and Lancelot pass comment on the Lady’s death.
Reasons for selection: This beautiful and tragic poem is thought-provoking and ideal for generating in-depth discussions. It is a long romantic poem with a hint of irony in the final scene which prevents it from slipping into sentimentality. Charles Keeping’s illustrations are moody, mysterious and evocative. Produced in black ink line drawing with soft chalks, the shadowy world in which faces are half seen enhances, rather than describes, Tennyson’s imagery.
About Take One Book: The books in the Take One Book collection can be used in conjunction with the Take One Book website, or independently. Take One Book is Just Imagine’s programme for teaching reading and English using high quality literature. You can find further information and free exemplar units on the Take One Book website takeonebook.org
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