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Women in Tennyson’s Poems Essay

In “The Lady of Shallot” Tennyson portrays the lady as somewhat of a victim by being trapped in her room weaving as if she leaves she will break an elusive curse she is under. In line 63 we see that “she hath no loyal knight and true” this implies to us that she is utterly alone in her world and whether she stays or leaves men have set up a world she is doomed to fail by growing old alone or by dying. We go through the poem thinking that she is content with living in solitude looking out at the world through her mirror but when Sir Lancelot suddenly appears in Part 3 we see her look out the window and break the curse, this shows that Lancelot ultimately brought her to her death. But this point can be contradicted by the fact that Sir Lancelot did not even know he was being watched and you could argue that her own female weakness of sexuality led her to her own death. Following on the point that she is not entirely a victim it is shown in the lines “she left the web she left the loom…”

Tennyson’s repetition of the world ‘left’ emphasizes the gravity of her actions and the fact that she has been trapped in the tower all her life and is now leaving implies a sense of freedom, this is also shown in the line “she loosened the chain” Tennyson could be symbolising the fact she is breaking free from the constraints of a male dominated world. On the other hand we again come to feel pity for the lady at the end of the poem due to the males and Lancelot’s curt attitude to her body and Lancelot’s comment that “she has a pretty face” which suggest that the male world is ignorant and conceited. In “Godiva” we are first introduced by Tennyson to Godiva as being part of a ‘legend’ this is then wildly contradicted when we get our first glimpse of Godiva as she is seen as being controlled by her husband “the grim earl” and is just a possession towards him which gives us the sense that this is in fact a male dominated world this is further shown when the Earl patronises Godiva by saying “you would not let your little finger ache.”

But when we get to stanza 4 we see it is a somewhat transformative stanza as Godiva starts to break away from her husband’s constraints, this is evident in the line “unclasped the wedded eagles of her belt” we start to see her transform into a strong, independent woman. Yet we still see that although she is defying her husband and riding through town she is still made to feel extremely uncomfortable and still violated by men when she is looked at by a ‘peeping tom’ this shows although she is doing a magnificent act of defiance she is still degraded by men. On the other hand this is contradicted by the peeping tom being instantly blinded. Tennyson has used Lines such as “like a creeping sunbeam” and “like a summer moon” to maybe symbolise the fact that Godiva has huge power and capability such as the sun and moons ability to give out and create light instead of darkness. This could also signify the fact that Godiva is ending a dark time of high taxes.

The last lines of the stanza express that “she took the tax away and built herself an everlasting name.” Tennyson uses the pronoun ‘she’ to emphasize the fact that it was Godiva who took away the taxes and not the earl. Therefore showing how she is ultimately stronger than the grim earl. In conclusion some may agree with the fact that although in most of Tennyson’s poems he is describing predominately male worlds and the women are presented as victims, In “Godiva” and “the Lady Of Shallot” the main characters are women who appear victims in the beginning but then ultimately break out of their confinement as inferior people and become women who make their own choice and decide how their own lives are going to go for the first time, therefore I believe they maybe are victims in some ways but the ways in which they are not overpower them.

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