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The Lady of Shalott

The Lady of Shalott

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The Mirror

Symbol Analysis

This is the web's twin, the other half of the Lady's pair of magical props. Although the mirror brings the world to the Lady, it's nothing like the real thing. She sees images, shadows, a sort of half-world. It's like someone staying cooped up in her apartment watching TV for years. She'd know what was going on outside, but you couldn't really call that living could you? The Lady sees the world but she can't interact with it. In that way the mirror becomes another symbol of her intense, terrible isolation from the world.

  • Line 46: Here's where the speaker introduces the mirror, which he calls a "mirror clear." Two lines later, he talks about how the mirror shows the "shadows of the world" (line 48). This idea of a clear mirror full of shadows is a bit of a paradox. How can something be shadowy and clear at the same time? It seems like the point here is that the mirror (like the web) is filled with bright colors and people of all kinds, but the Lady can tell that it isn't real. It doesn't have the intensity of real life; it's just a shadowy imitation.
  • Line 65: The Lady's talent is that she can turn the sights of the mirror into an image in her web. It's because of this that we might think of the mirror and web as metaphors for the life of the artist. She can represent life, but she can't be a part of it. Artists, in a sense, are always taking a bird's-eye view, reproducing life from a distance. You can see how, if this went too far, it might make someone feel alienated and lonely and maybe even cursed like the Lady of Shalott. Maybe this poem is like a therapy session for Tennyson to gripe a little about his life.
  • Line 106: The mirror, ironically, shows the Lady the thing that will break its spell over her. When Lancelot comes trotting into the mirror, everything changes for the Lady. Even a shadow of him in a mirror is enough to let her know she has to change her life. He must have been pretty hot. Seriously, would you risk your life for a reflection?

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