Untangling the Lady of Shalott

The story of Rapunzel in the Disney movie Tangled is unlike any story ever told, except, that is, for the story of “The Lady of Shalott” by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Although, both of these stories were published years apart, there exist many references and allusions to “The Lady of Shalott.” All throughout the Tangled movie, there are parallel scene and imagery that links “The Lady of Shalott” and Tangled together. In addition, both of the female main characters share the same states of agency, and the same point where that state of agency changes form passive to active. Lastly, “The Lady of Shalott” and Tangled share the same reflected mirror images allusions to “The Allegory of the Cave.”


The Lady of Shalott is entangled

In both “The Lady of Shalott,” and in Tangled, the scenery is similar. In Tennyson’s poem, the tower the Lady of Shalott lives in a tower on the side of a river that flows along a road and some brown and golden fields. In Tangled, the image is parallel to the Lady of Shalott’s tower. In the background, there is a waterfall running over a cliff. The waterfall becomes a river that flows through the lush green field alongside a dirt road. In the Lady of Shalott’s room, she weaves all day and looks through her mirror toward Camelot. In one painting by William Hunt, he painted the Lady of Shalott entangled in her weaving, while in the background there is a mirror looking out onto Camelot. In Tangled, there is a similar scene where Rapunzel tell the audience that in her free time in the tower, she likes to paint and knit, among the many other numerous things she does to keep busy. In the next scene, the audience sees her wrapped up in her hair painting on the ceiling images of what appears to be the forest and herself sitting on a tree underneath the lanterns floating in the sky coming from the kingdom.


Rapunzel’s Tower

In another scene in “The Lady of Shalott,” the Lady escapes her confinement and goes onto a small boat going to Camelot. The parallel scene in Tangled comes after Rapunzel arrives at the kingdom. During the lantern festival, she and Eugene borrow a boat and row onto the middle of a lake. While this scene is not completely similar to “The Lady of Shalott,” the images are still connected. In the last scene image that both “The Lady of Shalott,” and Tangled share is when they arrive at their respective kingdoms. For “The Lady of Shalott,” she arrives dead and all the people gather around her dead body in the boat. Unlike “The Lady of Shalott,” Rapunzel arrives at her kingdom on foot and alive. Also instead of the villager just gawking at her, they begin to sing and dance with her. If you’ve noticed yet, the main characters become active characters toward the end of both of the stories.


The Lady of Shalott on her Boat

Both characters, in the beginning of their story, share the same state of agency. Both are confined in a tower and spend their day painting and weaving until a man walks past their windows. In this case, it is Sir Lancelot and Flynn Rider. Until both female characters leave the tower, they are considered to be passive protagonist. The Lady of Shalott and Rapunzel are passive protagonists because they only react to events happening to them, like being thrown into a tower. Once Rapunzel and the Lady of Shalott see their male love interest, then their character changes to a state of active agency, and become active protagonists. They both leave the tower, hop in a boat, and head towards the distant kingdom. (although not necessarily in that order.) They seek adventure, and events happen because of their action, particularly when they leave the tower.


Rapunzel hides in her tower

For both characters, escaping from the tower can be seen as an act of defiance. Christine Poulson argues in Death and the Maiden: The Lady of Shalott and the Pre-Raphaelites that “the Lady of Shalott’s escape from her tower as an act of defiance, a symbol of female empowerment.” Poulson also argues that this escape from the tower allows to the main character to come discover their sexuality, and to break their emotional shackles. I think Poulson would agree that Rapunzel experiences the same act of defiance, and emotional and sexual freedom. However, this is not the only way to look at the escape from the tower scene.


The Lady of Shalott leaves her tower

After escaping the tower, both characters feel as if they could never remain in the tower after tasting freedom. In the Lady of Shalott says, “’The curse is come upon me,’ cried/ The Lady of Shalott,” it is never know what the curse is, however, one speculation is that the curse is that the Lady of Shalott can never return to the tower and her former way of life. Rapunzel feels the same way. When she leaves the tower for the first time, she is split between feeling excitement and joy over the new world before her, but on the other hand, she feels like she should return to the tower. In the end, she declares she will never return to the tower. This similar concept can be traced back to “The Allegory of the Cave.” In all three stories, the main character are held captive and sees the world through images of images. When they are freed, they leave the cave and see how light fills the world, and their perspective on the world changes. All three feel as if they can never return to the cave, or tower. This idea becomes even more relevant when Rapunzel sings the song “I See the Light.” After only seeing images of the lanterns, she sees the real thing and sings about how the world and her perspective of it have changed. I realize that this might be a forced perspective of see Tangled and “The Lady of Shalott,” and that there may be other views on how related these stories are to each other.


“I See the Light”

Therefore, I will admit that between both stories, there are some differences; the largest being that Rapunzel still is alive at the end of her story unlike the Lady of Shalott. Some people could argue that since Tangled is a Disney movie, it has to have a good ending. Other could also say that these two stories are complete unrelated. However, I would like to present one last piece of evidence that Tangled and “The Lady of Shalott” are related. After the villain, mother Gothel, returns Rapunzel to the tower mother Gothel says, “I really did try, Rapunzel. I tried to warn you what was out there. The world is dark, selfish, and cruel. If it finds even the slightest ray of sunshine, it destroys it!” Here the innocence of Rapunzel dies a little. In “the Lady of Shalott,” it doesn’t say how she died, but maybe the creators of Tangled are giving us a clue. Perhaps, the Lady of Shalott died because she lost her innocence, because “The world is dark and selfish and cruel. If it finds even the slightest ray of sunshine, it destroys it!”


The Lady of Shalott is dead

Works Cited:

Damrosch, David, and Kevin J. H. Dettmar. “The Lady of Shalott.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Fourth ed. Vol. 2b. New York: Longman, 2010. 1181-185. Print.

Poulson, C. Death and the Maiden:the Lady of Shalott and the Pre-raphaelites. N.p.: Miles R, 1996. 173-80. Print.

Tangled. Walt Disney, 2010. DVD.


Images from top to bottom:

Hunt, William. The Lady of Shalott. Digital image.  Web. 7 Dec. 2015.<https://dettoldisney.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/tangledtower.jpg&gt;.

Rapunzel Paints. Digital image. Web. 7 Dec. 2015. <https://manymanymoonsarts.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/img_7988.jpg&gt;.

Hunt, William. The Lady of Shalott. Digital image.  Web. 7 Dec. 2015.<https://dettoldisney.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/tangledtower.jpg&gt;.

Rapunzel’s Tower. Digital image. Web. 7 Dec. 2015. <https://dettoldisney.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/tangledtower.jpg&gt;.

Mattandrews. Lady of Shalott. Digital image. Deviant Art.  Web. 7 Dec. 2015. <http://orig08.deviantart.net/bf52/f/2010/051/c/a/lady_of_shalott_by_mattandrews.jpg&gt;.

Rapunzel Hides. Digital image. Imagur. Web. 7 Dec. 2015. <http://i.imgur.com/xKqnr.gif&gt;.

Waterhouse, John William. The Lady of Shalott. Digital image. Web. 7 Dec. 2015. <https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1e/John_William_Waterhouse_-_The_Lady_of_Shalott_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg&gt;.

I See The Light. Digital image.  Web. 7 Dec. 2015. <http://49.media.tumblr.com/ebda61fe4a6bfe408035d356fd1a4a6d/tumblr_mrwaefwXvK1rf73xqo1_r2_500.gif&gt;.

Hughes, Arthur. The Lady of Shalott. Digital image. Web. 7 Dec. 2015. <http://uploads8.wikiart.org/images/arthur-hughes/the-lady-of-shalott-1873.jpg&gt;.