The Lady of Shalott: John William Waterhouse (1849-1917), 1888 (Tate Gallery)
In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,
Heavily the low sky raining
Over tower'd Camelot;
Outside the isle a shallow boat
Beneath a willow lay afloat,
Below the carven stern she wrote,
The Lady of Shalott.
A cloudwhite crown of pearl she dight,
All raimented in snowy white
That loosely flew (her zone in sight
Clasp'd with one blinding diamond bright)
Her wide eyes fix'd on Camelot,
Though the squally east-wind keenly
Blew, with folded arms serenely
By the water stood the queenly
Lady of Shalott.
With a steady stony glance--
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Beholding all his own mischance,
Mute, with a glassy countenance--
She look'd down to Camelot.
It was the closing of the day:
She loos'd the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.
As when to sailors while they roam,
By creeks and outfalls far from home,
Rising and dropping with the foam,
From dying swans wild warblings come,
Blown shoreward; so to Camelot
Still as the boathead wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her chanting her deathsong,
The Lady of Shalott.
A longdrawn carol, mournful, holy,
She chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her eyes were darken'd wholly,
And her smooth face sharpen'd slowly,
Turn'd to tower'd Camelot:
For ere she reach'd upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
The Lady of Shalott.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson: The Lady of Shalott (1833), from Part the Fourth
Guinevere to King Arthur
CAMELOT, Monday.Dearest Arthur,
I am feeling a little better. Merlin, who came over the other day from Broceliande, advised me to drink a glass of tepid water before breakfast every day and not to eat brown bread. This treatment has really done me good. I will see that everything is ready for the Jousts. They are getting on with the lists, but they have painted the outside paling red instead of green, which is very provoking. I think we must send the Under Seneschal away at Lady Day. He forgets everything.
I have asked Yniol to stay at the castle for the Jousts, and the Lord of Astolat and one of his sons. (We can't be expected to ask the whole family.) I thought it was no use asking poor little Elaine because she never goes anywhere now and hates the Jousts. Do you think we must ask Merlin this year? We asked him last year and I don't see that we need to ask him every year. He has become so cross and crotchety, and Vivien complained that when he was here last year he behaved disgracefully to her and was quite impossible. Of course, I will do exactly as you like. I have asked Sir Valence, Sir Sagramore, Sir Percevale, Sir Pelleas, and Sir Modred. I won't have Melissande, she is so peevish and complaining.
Then there is King Mark. Shall I ask him? Without Iseult, of course. He can't expect us to ask her after all that has happened. I hear the King of Orkney asked them both and that he now expects her to be asked, but nothing shall induce me to receive her. If you think it is impossible to ask him alone we had better leave it, and ask neither of them.
Oh! I quite forgot. There's Lancelot. Shall we ask him to stay? He's been so often, so if you would rather not have him we can quite well leave him out this time. I don't want him to think he's indispensable to you.
The weather has been fine and the hedges are a mass of primroses. Vivi the cat (I christened her after dear Vivien) caught a mouse yesterday. Do come back quickly.
A Tale from the Decameron: John William Waterhouse, 1916 (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Liverpool)
King Arthur to Guinevere
CARLEON, March 20.My dearest Guinevere,
I was delighted to hear from you. I am glad that you are recovering, but I must beg you to take care of yourself. These east winds are very trying and the March sun most treacherous. We shall arrive two or three days before Whitsuntide. I will let you know the exact day. We have had a most successful and satisfactory time in every way. We rescued six damsels and captured two wizards and one heathen King. The knights behaved admirably.
With regard to the Jousts I do not wish to seem inhospitable, but are you sure that there is room for every one you mention? Merlin must, of course, be asked. He would be very much hurt if we left him out.
As to King Mark, we must ask him also with the Queen. They are now completely and officially reconciled, and Tristram is engaged to be married to a Princess in Brittany. Therefore, since King Mark has magnanimously forgiven and forgotten, it would not be seemly for us to cast any insidious slight upon them. To ask neither of them would be a slight, but to ask the King without the Queen would be a deliberate outrage. Besides, apart from our private feelings, the public good must be considered. We cannot afford to risk a war with Tintagel at this moment. I shall, of course, ask Lancelot. He is with me now. I cannot see any possible objection to his coming, and I have the greatest regard for him.
Please wrap up well when you go out. I am, with much love,
Your devoted husband,
Ophelia: John William Waterhouse, 1889
Sir Lancelot to Guinevere
March 21.The King has asked me to stay for the Jousts. From what he said about your health I gather you do not want me to come, so I said my old wound would not allow me to take part in the Jousts. Perhaps it is better that I should stay away. People are beginning to talk. Burn.
The Lady of Shalott Looking at Lancelot: John William Waterhouse, 1894
Guinevere to King Arthur
CAMELOT, Friday.Dearest Arthur,
Of course you know best. I entirely give in about Merlin and Lancelot, although I do think Merlin is trying, and that it makes the others jealous to ask him so often. But it is rather hard on me to be obliged to receive Iseult.
Of course with your noble nature you only see the good side of everything and everybody, but in Iseult's case the scandal was so public and the things they did so extraordinary that it is difficult to behave to her just as if it had never happened.
I like Iseult personally. I always liked her, but I do think it is trying that she should put on airs of virtue and insist on being respected. However, I have asked her and Mark. If they have any sense of decency they will refuse. I am quite well now. Merlin really did me good. We are having delicious weather, and I miss you all very much. Sir Galahad stopped here on his way West yesterday, but never said a word. I have ordered a new gown for the Jousts, but it is not finished yet. The weavers are too tiresome. The lists are getting on. If possible, bring me back six-and-a-half yards of the best green Samite, double width, from Carleon. The same shade as I had before. They can't match the shade here. I am so glad everything went off well. It seem [sic] centuries to Whitsuntide.
Guinevere to Lancelot
CAMELOT.I am sending this by P——, who is entirely to be trusted. You were wrong. It is most necessary that you should come to the Jousts. Your absence would be far more noticed than your presence. It is a pity you told that foolish lie. It is a great mistake ever to tell unnecessary lies. However, now it's done, the best thing you can do is to come disguised as an unknown knight. Then when you reveal yourself at the end— for I suppose there is no chance of your not winning?— you can say you thought your name gave you an unfair advantage, and that you wished to meet the knights on equal terms. The King will be pleased at this. It is an idea after his own heart.
Iseult is coming with King Mark. At first I thought this dangerous, but there was nothing to be done, and she will be quite safe as her one idea now is to be thought respectable, only we must be most careful. Iseult is a cat.
I dare not write more.
Miranda -- The Tempest: John William Waterhouse, 1916
Guinevere to Iseult
CAMELOT, April 21.Darling Iseult,
I am overjoyed that you can both come. It will be too delightful to see you again. It is ages since we have met, isn't it? I do hope that the King is quite well and that his lumbago is not troubling him. Merlin will be here, and he will be sure to do him good. He might also do something for his deafness.
Arthur will be delighted to hear you are coming. He is devoted to the King. It will be a tiny party, of course— only Merlin, Yniol, Orkneys, Astolats, and a few of the knights. We will try to make you comfortable; but Camelot isn't Tintagel, and we have nothing to compare with your wonderful woods.
Good-bye, darling, give my best regards to the King.
GUINEVERE.P.S.—Sir Kay Hedius has just come back from Brittany. He was at our old friend Sir Tristram's wedding. He said it was glorious, and that she— Iseult the Lily-handed— was a dream of beauty. Tristram was looking very well and in tearing spirits. He's grown quite fat. Isn't it funny?
Tristan and Isolde with the Potion: John William Waterhouse, 1911 (collection Fred and Sherry Ross)
Iseult to Guinevere
Thank you so much for your most kind letter. I am afraid that after all I shall not be able to come to the Jousts. It is too tiresome. But I have not been at all well lately and the physicians say I must have a change of air. I am ordered to the French coast and the King has got some cousins who live in a charming little house on the coast of Normandy. I am starting to-morrow, and I shall probably stay there during the whole month of May. It is too tiresome to miss the Jousts, and you cannot imagine how disappointed I am. The King will, of course, come without me.
I hear that Sir Lancelot of the Lake is not going to compete this year for the Diamond on account of his health. I am so sorry. The people here say he is afraid of being beaten, and that there is a wonderful new knight called Lamorack who is better than everybody. Isn't it absurd? People are so spiteful. How you must miss the dear King, and you must be so lonely at Camelot without any of the knights.
By the way, is it true that Sir Lancelot is engaged to Elaine, the daughter of the Lord of Astolat? She is quite lovely, but I never thought that Lancelot cared for young girls. I think she is only sixteen.
ISEULT OF CORNWALL.
'I am half-sick of shadows,' said The Lady of Shalott: John William Waterhouse, 1916
Guinevere to Lancelot
Whit-Sunday.The King has just told me whose sleeve it was you wore to-day. I now understand everything, and I must say I did not suspect you of playing this kind of double game. I do hate lies and liars, and, above all, stupid liars. It is, of course, very humiliating to make such a mistake about a man. But I hope you will be happy with Elaine, and I pray Heaven she may never find you out.
Windswept: John William Waterhouse, 1902
Elaine of Astolat, as Malory and Tennyson (et al.) tell, is a maiden who dies of unrequited love for Lancelot and floats in a barge to Camelot with a letter for him clutched in her limp and lifeless hand.