While reading The Lady of Shalott, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. The Greek myth tells the story of two lovers, who tragically lose the chance to share their life together, when on the day of their wedding, Eurydice is bitten by a poisonous snake, and dies. Orpheus – who is the most talented musician of his time – enters the Underworld and plays his lyre for the king and queen of the underworld – Hades and Persephone – who allow him to bring Eurydice back with him. However, Hades warns Orpheus that he cannot look back while his wife is still in the dark. He should wait for Eurydice to get into the light before he looked at her. The moment Orpheus stepped on the world of the living, he turned his head to look at his wife, but Eurydice was still in the dark. Since Orpheus looked at his wife before she had seen the sun, like Hades warned, Eurydice was dragged back into the underworld.
Like Orpheus, The Lady of Shalott cannot help but turn her head from her mirror and look at Lancelot, knowing that this will bring the curse upon her. And it was only in her death that Lancelot has the chance to see her, musing that “she has a lovely face” (1166). I noticed in our anthology that The Lotos-Eaters, is another one of Tennyson’s works, which is based on a short episode from the Odyssey. Since Tennyson obviously had knowledge of Greek mythology, I wonder if the story of Orpheus and Eurydice had any influence on The Lady of Shalott.
Lord Tennyson, Alfred. “The Lady of Shalott” Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012. Print.