The Homeric Ladies of Shalott

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This article argues that the traditional referentiality of Tennyson’s ‘The Lady of Shalott’ can be better understood by supplementing the poet’s medieval sources, of little more than tangential relevance to the poem, with Homeric influences. It suggests that the Lady is an amalgamation of Homeric women, primarily Andromache and Helen but also Penelope, Circe, and Calypso, who fulfil their domestic roles by weaving but who also cross gender boundaries: who express themselves through objects and engage in memorialization. It shows that Tennyson used layers of resonance to create a character through which he could reflect on issues of poetics, aesthetics, memory, and vision, utilizing those elements of tradition which were simultaneously timeless and allowed him to comment on his own art and times. Further, it posits that in rewriting ‘The Lady of Shalott’ in 1842, Tennyson took yet another step away from his medieval sources, and towards Homer. As a final point, this article suggests that it is this perpetual chain of resonance stretching back from Victorian England through medieval legend to the archaic Greek world which inspired the Pre-Raphaelites to adopt ‘The Lady of Shalott’ as a favoured subject.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)198-220
JournalClassical Receptions Journal
Issue number2
Early online date30 May 2013
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jun 2014


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