The Lady of Shalott: A Comparison of the First and Second Edition

Copyright (c) 2010 James Holan

The poem finally goes into the fourth and last part where the differences become even more apparent. The most obvious difference between the two version is omitting the second stanza in the final revision. The second stanza basically describes the Lady’s cloths that she is wearing as she enters the boat to go to Camelot via the river. The cloths that are described are very typical in the fact that they are snowy white and flowing, which make her appear pure and clean.

By omitting the cloths, the writer accomplishes two things. First, he dehumanizes her even more. She no longer has the human quality of dress to make her more of a person and give her more of a connection with the reader. Second, it takes away the purity aspect of womanhood. By taking away the thought that the Lady might be good the author creates a since that the woman brought the curse upon herself. Biblically, this is very normal. In the original sin of women, Adam and Eve, the woman brought the sin upon herself, she was dehumanized, made stupid, and was easily manipulated by temptation. The Lady is accomplishing the same thing, she is tempted by Lancelot, she causes the curse to come true because of that, and there are not symbols in the final version to go against this. She is not pure, she has no pure qualities once the robs are removed and she fell into temptation. Thus, Tennyson shows that it is her fault and the reader should not feel for her.

The next move to make her more imaginary and less human happens a few stanza later as the Lady floats down the river. In the fourth stanza a major change is made, instead of singing her “death song” the Lady sings her “last song.” Although this does not seem like a major change it does something extraordinary, it takes away her last human ability, to die. By not referring to her as technically dying the author finally makes her into a “fairy,” thus showing the belief that women are unequal to men in everyway. She is not allowed the right to die, to be a “corpse” as another change shows, and the right to be given a dirty quality such as being “mute.” This protection of her as a woman, suggest that women are not able to handle what men can handle. By changing this around Tennyson shows that women should be held up above the rest, not because they deserve it but because they have to be protected from all things that are not niceties. As the poem comes to a close the changes really begin to show how women and men are viewed differently. In the original version the Lady is given her voice, she dictates her final acknowledgments in what has been dubbed a suicide note, “The web was woven curiously, The charm is broken utterly, Draw near and fear not–this is I, The Lady of Shalott.” Since she was given the ability to dictate her final thoughts she is seen as an equal, she is in charge and she can tell everyone who she is. In the final version, however, she is not given this privilege. Instead, the man that indirectly killed her is given the privilege, thus showing that women should not be allowed to dictate their own life, their own last words. To make it worse, all Lancalot says is, “she has a lovely face, God in his mercy lend her grace, the Lady of Shalott.” This is not the last wish of a woman who has spent her whole life in shadows as the first version shows. Instead Lancelot makes her death seem really insignificant and makes her appear to be bad and in need of mercy from God. This is the final part of the poems dehumanization of the Lady of Shalott. By taking away her voice, it finally makes her nothing put the figurehead of another story where the man gets to dictate everything.

Through all of these differences the poems both maintain on other semblance of a lack of humanity for women. Although Lancelot is given a name, perhaps because it was already a well know name, the Lady of Shalott is never given another identity even though she is the main character of the poem. By not giving the Lady this sense of identity it is a lot easier to see her as merely, a woman, as that is the only way she is identified. In other words, Tennyson stopped her from being taken seriously from the very beginning of both versions by never even allowing her to have her own identity. One really must feel sorry for, The Lady of Shalott. For this reason, it seems that having a male author really contributed to the way the woman was viewed in the poem. Since Tennyson was a man and was a man of the 19th century it is only appropriate that he would not see it necessary to give a woman a name to make a point. Whereas, a bit character, a knight, was given a name easily, still, perhaps it was just because Lancelot makes a good rhyme for Camelot and Shalott.

The Lady of Shalott is a marvelous piece that has been changed to better reflect the era it was written in. It was written in a era where women were just beginning to see rights and where women, for the most part, where not appreciated for their want of rights. By changing the way the Lady was portrayed in his poem Tennyson really shows the reader his feelings on women as being unnatural and not important. Still, the Lady was given a beautiful duty in the poem and was respected in the fact that he at least allowed her to leave her curse, even if it was for a man, Tennyson let her be strong enough to want to break out of the shadows around her. Even with this in mind, however, the differences between the two versions of the poem is still a great representation of how women were viewed in an era where they had no power.