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Elaine of Astolat /ˈæstɵlæt/ or Ascolat is a figure in Arthurian legend who dies of her unrequited love for Lancelot. Also referred to as Elaine the White and Elaine the Fair, or the Maid Of Shallot, she is the daughter of Bernard of Astolat. Versions of her story appear in Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur and Alfred Tennyson's Idylls of the King. Elaine's story is also the inspiration for Tennyson's poem "The Lady of Shalott". Also spelled Shallot.

170px-The Lady of Shallot Looking at Lancelot


Elaine arrives at Camelot.

A version of the story appeared in the early 13th-century Mort Artu, in which the Demoiselle d’Escalot dies of unrequited love for Lancelot and drifts down a river to Camelot in a boat.[1] Another version is told in the 13th-century Italian novella La Donna di Scalotta, which served as the source material for Tennyson's The Lady of Shalott.[2][3]

In Malory's 15th-century Le Morte d'Arthur, Elaine's story begins when her father Bernard of Astolat organizes a jousting tournament, attended by King Arthur and his knights. While Lancelot was not originally planning to attend, he is convinced otherwise and visits Bernard and his two sons before the tournament. While Lancelot is in her family's household, Elaine becomes enamoured of him and begs him to wear her token at the coming tournament. Explaining that Guinevere would be at the tournament, he consents to wear the token but says that he will have to fight in disguise so as not to be recognized. He asks Bernard if he can leave his recognizable shield with him and borrow another. Bernard agrees and lends him the plain-white shield of Sir Torre, Elaine's brother.

Lancelot  goes on to win the jousting tournament, still in disguise, fighting against King Arthur's party and beating forty of them in the tournament. He does, however, receive an injury to his side from Bors' lance, and is carried off the field by Elaine's other brother, Sir Lavaine, to the hermit Sir Baudwin's cave (Baudwin being a former knight of the Round Table himself). Elaine then urges her father to let her bring the wounded Lancelot to her chambers, where she nurses him. When Lancelot is well, he makes ready to leave, and offers to pay Elaine for her services; insulted, Elaine brings him his shield, which she had been guarding, and a wary Lancelot leaves the castle, never to return but now aware of her feelings for him.

Ten days later, Elaine dies of heartbreak. Per her instructions, her body is placed in a small boat, clutching a lily in one hand, and her final letter in the other. She then floats down the Thames to Camelot, where she is discovered by King Arthur's court, being called a little lily maiden. Lancelot is summoned and hears the contents of the letter, after which he explains what happened. Lancelot proceeds to pay for a rich funeral.

Elaine is the mother of Sir Galahad by Lancelot.

Synopsis Of Tennyson's Poem {The Lady Of Shallot}

The first four Stanzas of the 1842 poem describe a pastoral setting. The Lady of Shallot lives in an island castle in a river which flows to Camelot, but little is known about her by the local farmers.

And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers, " 'Tis the fairy
Lady of Shalott."

Stanzas five to eight describe the lady's life. She suffers from a mysterious curse, and must continually weave images on her loom without ever looking directly out at the world. Instead, she looks into a mirror, which reflects the busy road and the people of Camelot that pass by her island.

She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

The reflected images are described as "shadows of the world", a metaphor that makes clear that they are a poor substitute for seeing directly ("I am half-sick of shadows".)

Stanzas nine to twelve describe "bold Sir Lancelot" as he rides by, and is seen by the lady.

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell'd shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn'd like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.

The remaining seven stanzas describe the effect on the lady of seeing Lancelot; she stops weaving and looks out of her window toward Camelot, bringing about the curse.

Illustration by W. E. F. Britten for a 1901 edition of Tennyson's poems

Out flew the web and floated wide-
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott.

She leaves her tower, finds a boat upon which she writes her name, and floats down the river to Camelot. She dies before arriving at the palace. Among the knights and ladies who see her is Lancelot, who thinks she is lovely.

"Who is this? And what is here?"
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they crossed themselves for fear,
All the Knights at Camelot;
But Lancelot mused a little space
He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott."

- Alfred Lord Tennyson.

180px-John William Waterhouse - I am half-sick of shadows, said the lady of shalott


According to scholar Anne Zanzucchi, "in a more general sense, it is fair to say that the pre-Raphaelite fascination with Arthuriana is traceable to Tennyson's work".[2] Tennyson's biographer Leonée Ormonde finds the Arthurian material is "Introduced as a valid setting for the study of the artist and the dangers of personal isolation".

Feminist critics[who?] see the poem as concerned with issues of women's sexuality and their place in the Victorian world. Critics argue that "The Lady of Shalott" centers around the temptation of sexuality and her innocence preserved by death. [3] Christine Poulson discusses a feminist viewpoint and suggests: "the Lady of Shalott's escape from her tower as an act of defiance, a symbol of female empowerment...". Based on Poulson's view, escaping from the tower allows for the Lady of Shalott to emotionally break free and come into terms with female sexuality.[3]

The depiction of death has also been interpreted as sleep. Critic Christine Poulson says that sleep has a connotation of physical abandonment and vulnerability, which can suggest either sexual fulfillment or be a metaphor for virginity. Fairytales, such as Sleeping Beauty or Snow White, have traditionally depended upon this association. So, as related to the Lady of Shalott, Poulson says that "for in death [she] has become a Sleeping Beauty who can never be wakened, symbols of perfect feminine passivity."[3]

Critics such as Hatfield have suggested that The Lady of Shalott is a representation of how Tennyson viewed society; the distance at which other people are in the lady's eyes is symbolic of the distance he feels from society. The fact that she only sees them reflected through a mirror is significant of the way in which Shalott and Tennyson see the world—in a filtered sense. This distance is therefore linked to the artistic licence Tennyson often wrote about.


  • The poem is alluded to in Oscar Wilde's 1890 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, when Sibyl Vane says, "I have grown sick of shadows."
  • Nancy Mitford referenced the Lady of Shalott in her 1949 novel Love in a Cold Climate.[6]
  • A character in Eric Frank Russell's novel Next of Kin (1959) quotes the poem.
  • Miss Jean Brodie, in Muriel Spark's 1961 novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, reads the poem out loud to her class.[7]
  • Agatha Christie used the line "The mirror crack'd from side to side" to title her 1962 novel The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side, and the poem plays a large part in the plot.
  • The Lady of Shalott is referenced several times in Bel Kaufman's 1965 novel Up the Down Staircase.
  • Jessica Anderson uses the line "'Tirra lirra,' by the river" to title her 1978 novel Tirra Lirra by the River.
  • Sharyn McCrumb's first published novel was a murder mystery titled Sick Of Shadows.
  • Robin Klein uses the line "All in the blue unclouded weather" to title her 1991 short story collection All in the Blue Unclouded Weather.
  • In Diana Wynne Jones' 1993 novel Hexwood, one of the main characters, Ann Stavely, compares herself to the Lady of Shalott in that she uses a mirror to look outside her window.
  • Patricia A. McKillip uses an adaptation of the poem as a primary theme of her 2000 novel The Tower at Stony Wood.
  • The poem is discussed and quoted in Libba Bray's 2003 novel A Great and Terrible Beauty.
  • A stanza is located at the beginning of each chapter in Meg Cabot's 2005 novel Avalon High.
  • The poem is referenced in Jilly Cooper's 2006 novel Wicked! where the phrase The curse is upon me is given a humorous re-interpretation in an English Literature class scene.
  • Lisa Ann Sandell's 2007 novel Song of the Sparrow is a retelling of her story.

Alan C. Bradley uses the line "I am half-sick of shadows" to title his book I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (2011).

  • In Jasper Fforde's 2011 novel One of our Thursdays Is Missing, the Lady of Shalott possesses a mirror that allows characters in the Book World to see into the real world ("the Outland").
  • Sarah Gridley's 2013 poetry collection entitled Loom is heavily influenced by The Lady of Shalott.
  • The Lady of Shalott is featured on the Seven of Mirrors tarot card in the Chrysalis Tarot deck.
  • The poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson is used for narration and as a narrative device in the one short story "Camelot Garden" written by manga author Kaori Yuki.
  • In the title of her short story "Save the Reaper" (1998), Alice Munro alludes to the ballad's lines "Only the reapers, reaping early" and "And by the moon the reaper weary" respectively.[8]
  • In the tale of the "Three Weavers", a fairy tale embedded in chapter XIV of the children's book The Little Colonel at Boarding-School (1903) by Annie Fellows Johnston, the Lady of Shalott is mentioned.


  • The first was probably a setting for chorus and orchestra by the English composer Cyril Rootham, composed in 1909–10. The only known performance of this work was given in the School Hall at Eton College on 18 September 1999, with the Broadheath Singers and the Windsor Sinfonia conducted by Robert Tucker.
  • French composer Olivier Messiaen wrote a piece for solo piano La dame de Shalotte in 1917 based on Tennyson's poem.
  • Popular folk duo the Indigo Girls reference the Lady of Shalott in the song "Left Me a Fool" (first released on their 1987 album Strange Fire). Lamenting the lack of depth and substance she finds when getting to know a beautiful lover, the singer sings "you remind me of Shalott, only made of shadows, even though you're not."
  • Canadian singer Loreena McKennitt adapted the poem to music, and featured it on her 1991 album, The Visit.
  • British musician and singer, Richard Thompson, took the title for his 1994 album "Mirror Blue" from the poem: 'And sometimes thro' the mirror blue/ The knights come riding two and two.'
  • Composer Jon Parr Vijinski wrote a symphonic tone poem entitled The Lady of Shalott (2001). His use of thematic material, complex harmonies, and rich orchestral colour seek to link the story to its mediaeval source, and the spirit of chivalry – such as de Troyes, von Eschenbach and Malory.
  • Israeli progressive rock group "Atmosphera", recorded a 16-minute epic named "Lady of Shalott" about the ballad. the recording was never released until 2002 on the band's only album which was recorded in the 70s.
  • Dutch gothic metal band Autumn also reference the Lady of Shalott in the songs "Who Has Seen Her Wave Her Hand", "Mirrors Magic Sights", "When Lust Evokes the Curse", "Floating Towards Distress" and, arguably "Behind the Walls of Her Desire" from their 2002 album When Lust Evokes the Curse. Each song retelling parts of the story from the poem.
  • The song titled "Shalott" on Emilie Autumn's 2006 album Opheliac tells the poem from her own perspective, where she quotes the Lady of Shalott as saying "But then, I could have guessed it all along, 'cause now some drama queen is gonna write a song for me." She uses imagery from the poem, and quotes it directly: "I'm half sick of shadows".
  • Swedish pop band The Cardigans reference the poem with the line 'Mirror cracked from side to side' in a bonus track on the UK edition of Super Extra Gravity, entitled 'Give Me Your Eyes'.

Music videos

  • The country music video, If I Die Young, by The Band Perry has clear visual references to the Lady of Shalott. Lead vocalist Kimberly Perry holds a book of poems by Tennyson as she lies in a boat, floating down a river like the Lady of Shalott. As her recumbent form within the boat drifts downstream, Perry sings:

The boat in the Perry video is similar to some illustrations, such as the image by W. E. F. Britten. The very last scene of the video shows a close-up of two pages of the poem.


  • Read aloud in an episode of Upstairs, Downstairs titled "The Understudy." (1975)
  • In the 1985 television adaptation of Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, Anne Shirley reads various stanzas of the poem and acts out the Lady of Shalott's tragic end as she floats down the river; lines from Tennyson's "Lancelot and Elaine" are also referenced. In the book, the poem enacted is consistently "Lancelot and Elaine".
  • In the ITV series Lewis (Inspector Lewis in the US), episode titled "Old, Unhappy, Far Off Things" (2011), D.S. Hathaway quotes the line "Out flew the web and floated wide".
  • This poem forms the backbone of voice-over for the episode "Tracie's Story" (2012) from BBC1 Drama Accused starring Sean Bean as a transgender woman in a highly destructive relationship with a married man.
  • In the ITV series Endeavour, the eponymous Endeavour Morse is heard reading part of the poem aloud in "Girl" (2013).
  • In the Episode one of the 1995 BBC Production of The Buccaneers, Laura Testvalley (Cheire Lunghi) reads part of it to Annabel St. George. (Carla Gugino). The Lady of Shalott does not appear in the original book by Edith Wharton.

The Lady of Shalott as imagined by Tennyson

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