"The Lady of Shalott" Day Three

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SWBAT analyze and articulate the connection between theme and technique in "The Lady of Shalott" through writing and collaborative discussion.

Big Idea

"Every theory is a self-fulfilling prophecy that orders experience into the framework it provides." Ruth Hubbard

Lesson Overview and Note to Teachers

My classes are held in 100-minute sessions every other day.  In today's lesson, students finish a collaborative discussion begun last class, we debrief on their findings, and distinguish differences between a performance of "The Lady of Shalott" and the original text.

The lesson below outlines Day Three of activities on the poem. One of my students created the lesson image (Student Artwork: Lady of Shalott) on my board outside of class time just because she enjoyed the poem so much.

Small-Group Discussion Debriefing

30 minutes

Students return to their groups from last class, finish their discussion as some groups only have one or two remaining questions, and check over their answers to ensure they have answered questions thoroughly.  Since students have had ample time to discuss all of the questions, I ask each group's spokesperson to come to the front of the class to present answers to questions 1, 5, and 7-9. I choose these questions because I think they are the most vital to a larger understanding of the work since they address student responses to the character, including questions and observations raised by students in their ticket out last class, and relate to author's purpose.

Group answers are below. Please note I do not penalize student errors (egs. punctuation, fragments, run-on sentences) since these are their discussion notes. However, I always stress the importance of proofreading work.

1. What is your impression of the Lady of Shalott? 

  • a weak, pitiful woman
  • Our impression of the Lady of Shalott is that she is lonely and jealous of the people she sees in the outside world.
  • We believe that temptation is her weakness. We also believe that she is very brave to do something knowing she could die.
  • The Lady of Shalott is reclusive, naive, and lonely.
  • The Lady of Shalott seems like a very mysterious person, nobody has ever seen her but they've heard her sing.

5. Do you think there is a curse on the Lady of Shalott, or does she curse herself?

  • She knows she has a curse. But she knows how to avoid the curse but ends up triggering it anyway.
  • We believe there was a curse on her. Although she made the curse happen, it was already upon her before. She just didn't know what it was.
  • We think in an act of temptation she provoked someone and as a result someone of higher power put a curse on her to teach her a lesson about temptation. When the mirror cracked, it's a representation that the curse was upon her.
  • The Lady of Shalott is cursed, this is because she's locked up by herself and the mirror cracks.
  • She curses herself because of her fear and it's not like she knows anyone.

7.  a. What matters does the text leave uncertain? b. Explain why you think Tennyson leaves each matter uncertain and how each uncertainty impacts the text.

  • a. how the curse started - makes you wonder if there's really a curse b. Why did the cracked mirror signify the curse & how did it crack - come up with own intepretation
  • a. What's the reason of her being cursed? What is magical about her web? b. We believe he leaves these matters uncertain so that we can interpret them how we want. It impacts the text by leaving it kind of open ended for us to figure out. 
  • a. We want to know: what caused her to be disconnected from the world? Did she do something to deserve the curse? What happened to her after her death? b. We think he left these things uncertain so the reader can put their own interpretation on it. Also creates a sense of mystery.
  • a. What is the curse? What significance does Lancelot play in the Lady of Shalott's life? b. To leave the interpretation open to the reader.
  • a. Why was she cursed and by whom? b. He wants to add suspense to the poem.

8. Would this ballad be different if told from the Lady of Shalott's point of view? Explain.

  • Yes, because she knows what the curse is, why she weaves & looks through the mirror.
  • Yes, we believe it would have been because it would have been a more sad view, and more opinionated from the Lady of Shalott's point of view and how she feels about only viewing the outside world through shadows.
  • We would know the events leading up to the story. We would know her thoughts about the curse and outside world.
  • We would know what triggered her to go on the boat and float to Camelot.
  • Yes we would be able to see if she cursed herself. We would learn more about her & she wouldn't be as mysterious.
  • We would have more insight of her feelings, and know why she does certain stuff.

9. How does Tennyson use pathos, and emotional appeal, to impact the reader? Provide at least two examples from the text to support your answer. (Sample answers are below.)

  • "I'm half sick of shadows" is a line where Tennyson shows an emotional appeal because it shows the deep sadness that the Lady of Shalott feels. "The curse is come upon me" shows the fear that the Lady of Shalott feels.
  • He uses the two wed lovers that she sees to portray her loneliness and how she wants that.
  • He uses the image that she sees of Lancelot to change the mood to the turning point of the story where she goes against what she is supposed to do. 

 To focus on the connection between theme and technique, I ask a member from each group to write their group's theme and literary techniques Tennyson uses to convey their theme on the board. Samples are below. 

  • Theme: Make the best out of what you are given. Techniques: point of view, imagery, pathos
  • Theme: Sometimes fear brings a curse upon yourself because fear overpowers emotions. Techniques: pathos, mood, imagery

I ask someone from each group to discuss how Tennyson uses one literary technique to convey their group's theme. The group with the theme, "Make the best out of what you are given," states that Tennyson uses pathos to convey that the Lady of Shalott does not feel she has any options other than succumbing to the curse because the reader feels her sense of entrapment.  He uses the Lady of Shalott's dialogue and an onlooker's point of view to make the reader believe she has no other option but to suicide.

Next, I refer students back to Waterhouse's Lady of Shalott painting (Picture: John William Waterhouse's The Lady of Shalott, 1888 (Tate Gallery, London) their textbook.  I talk about how a literary work is a work of art just like a painting, and the author uses literary techniques like a painter uses artistic techniques, to convey a central message or theme.  I ask students, "Examine the painting.  What techniques does the artists use to convey the Lady's isolation?" Volunteer students answer: He uses dark colors in the vegetation. The sad expression on the Lady's face.We only see her pictured in the scene.  The lone, white candle burning may symbolize a memorial to her. 

I reiterate that an author uses literary techniques, such as mood, imagery, pathos, and point of view to convey a central message to the reader. I also reiterate that readers' themes are valid if they are grounded in the text.



Text vs. Performance

15 minutes

I explain that since we have read the poem, analyzed it, and sifted through our responses, we will view a performance of the poem. I ask students to note differences between the text and the clip.

Students view performance of "The Lady of Shalott" by Loreena McKennitt (4:57), note differences between the performance and the clip, then engage in a think: pair: share to review their findings.

We debrief as a class. Some differences students cite are as follows: 

  • The performance portrays a lot of emotion and talks about the most important events of the poem.
  • The song excludes that the Lady of Shalott sings down the river.
  • The Lady of Shalott's isolation and weaving of a magical web are excluded.
  • In the performance, the newlyweds and funeral are not mentioned.

When I ask students how the abridged performance impacts their view of the text, volunteers state that they feel like the Lady of Shalott is not doomed in suicide as she seems to be in the original text. Her tale appears more serene and peaceful in the performance.

When we complete our study of the poem, I return to the context of the poem, which we discussed on Day One: the poem takes place during the times of King Arthur.  I explain to students that in Arthurian Legend, the Lady of Shalott was in love with Lancelot, but he was in love with Queen Guinevere.  

I point out to students that in college and career they may find themselves in an on demand situation where they do not have the context of a complex text and must simply utilize the critical reading strategies they know to navigate the text in a highly proficient manner.   As the hero Elektra's guide says, "Some lessons can't be taught. They must be lived to be understood" ("Elektra", 20th Century Fox, 2005). Therein lies the lesson.