The Lady of Shalott
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The Magic Web
We think this is one of the most memorable and fascinating images in the poem. That's partly because of the use of the word "web." It must literally mean something like a tapestry, but when you hear that word, it's hard not to think of the lady as a kind of spider. There's some irony there though, because, while she seems to be in control, she's obviously caught in someone else's web. She should be the web-weaving predator, but instead she turns out to be the prey of some unseen, mysterious force.
- Line 38: Here's where we first hear about the web. This is a powerful image for a few reasons. First of all, it's just a really cool-sounding idea. We imagine the web having an enchanted life of its own, like the brooms in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." At the same time, the theme of weaving is an allusion to older stories, in particular the Odyssey. In that famous epic poem, the hero's wife, Penelope, sits by herself and weaves while she waits for her husband to return.
- Line 64: This line takes a kind of different angle from the other references to the web. It mentions specifically that the Lady enjoys her weaving. Looked at in this way, the web seems more like an expression of her talent and creativity than a terrible curse. That's the neat thing about weaving in this poem. It could be a symbol of creative freedom and possibility, or a boring and endless chore, a symbol of slavery and imprisonment.
- Line 109: The first thing the lady does to break away from her prison is to step away from the loom, where she's weaving. It's just a few steps, but they have major consequences. The turn away from the web represents her refusal to be a slave, her decision to pursue love and the outside world, even if it means her death.
- Line 114: The web and the mirror are the main symbols of the Lady's weird pseudo-life on the island. So when the web flies apart here, we know that her island life is over and something else is starting. Still, since this is an image of destruction, we get a little hint of her approaching doom.