Whatever else the Lady of Shalott has going on, she's definitely alone. We don't know who shut her away in the castle or why, but it doesn't seem fair. We can tell that she's fed up with it; in fact she even says as much. Her desire to be part of the world, to interact, to love and be loved, is what pushes the whole plot of this poem. The fact that she never really breaks out of her loneliness is what gives "The Lady of Shalott" a tragic edge.
The Lady of Shalott makes a confident choice to break free from her isolation. Although it costs her everything, it's still a strong and meaningful refusal of her shadowy, isolated situation.
The Lady of Shalott is engaged in lonely weaving, a traditional mode of women's labor. Her imprisoned isolation is a powerful metaphor for the social, sexual, and intellectual repression of women across English history.
"The Lady of Shalott" is stuffed with references to the natural world. Tennyson loops back again and again to the fields and trees and flowers that surround the island of Shalott. In fact, you might get a little sick of hearing about it. Still, the movements of nature (especially the endless flowing of the river) are a big part of this poem's rhythm; they help it all hang together.
Finally, it is not just Lancelot that the Lady wants to be in contact with, but the flowers and the river and the leaves. She is a prisoner kept apart from nature as well as from her fellow humans.
The story of Lancelot and the Lady of Shalott is inseparable from the natural world. The river and its surroundings are a crucial focus of the entire poem and they give it its structure and rhythm.
Although she's alone, and not too happy about it, the Lady of Shalott does have two things to keep her busy. She weaves and she sings. Even if no one sees her work, she's definitely an artist. A lot of people read this whole poem as a metaphor for the lonely life of the artist. We'll definitely look at that possibility, but even without that big metaphor, we think the theme of art and artists is still a major part of "The Lady of Shalott."
The Lady, who spends her days trying to capture shadows, is a representative of all artists, who live partly in the living world and partly in a private dream.
By writing her name on her boat/coffin, the Lady of Shalott gives herself a title, making her death a work of art. This is a final act of confident self-definition, and proves that she is entirely free from her prison.
The mysterious curse on the Lady of Shalott is a big part of the plot. It rules her life and causes her death. This little thread of black magic helps give "The Lady of Shalott" its spooky, sad atmosphere, and also connects it to the medieval fantasy world of wizards and spells. We can just tell that, if Tennyson were alive now, he'd be a huge Harry Potter fan.
By eliminating specific information about the curse, Tennyson focuses our attention completely on the lady and her loneliness. This makes this primarily a human story with magic elements, rather than the other way around.
By associating the weaving of the Lady with magical power, the poem suggests that all art is a form of magic, a way of casting a spell.
This is a tricky one, since no one in "The Lady of Shalott" admits to being in love. Still, the idea of love, even unspoken love, is so crucial to this entire plot. It's a really old story. Lancelot is the guy or girl you always wanted to talk to but never worked up the courage. Maybe you saw him across the lunchroom, but he never noticed you. Maybe she was in your math class but you never said hi. This is love from a distance, and it's real and raw and painful in this poem.
This poem uses the love story as an excuse to explore a more powerful and crucial theme, the Lady's choice to set herself free, her refusal to be confined.
Although it's never explicitly stated, the poem suggests that Lancelot, in his way, is as isolated as the Lady, and as much in need of the connection and happiness that love could bring.