Throughout "Lancelot and Elaine," Elaine is lovesick and helplessly devoted to Lancelot. In addition to innocence and naivete, her "purity" and "whiteness" seem to connote one-dimensionality and lack of agency, the unquestioning nature of her dedication. However, the portrait of Elaine upon her "deathboat," heaped upon a bed of jewels, marks a slight shift from the image of her pining and wasting in unrequited love. Although she remains clad in white and, of course, has requested that her body be sent to Lancelot, both the letter and the dumb man suggest a new kind of desire to "be heard," to "speak for [her] own self" ( 1118). In the following passage, Elaine dictates the letter to be read by the royal court and requests the specifics behind the delivery of her body.
The letter she devised; which being writ
And folded, "O sweet father, tender and true,
Deny me not," she said — ye never yet
Denied my fancies÷this, however strange,
My latest. Lay the letter in my hand
A little ere I die, and close the hand
Upon it; I shall guard it even in death.
And when the heat has gone from out my heart,
Then take the little bed on which I died
For Lancelot's love, and deck it like the Queen's
For richness, and me also like the Queen
In all I have of rich, and lay me on it
And let there be prepared a chariot-bier
To take me to the river, and a barge
Be ready on the river, clothed in black.
I go in state to court, to meet the Queen.
There surely I shall speak for mine own self,
And none of you can speak for me so well.
And therefore let our dumb old man alone
Go with me, he can steer and row, and he
Will guide me to that palace, to the doors. [1102-1122]
1. Does Elaine gain some sort of agency or power through the delivery of her body to Lancelot?
2. The poem later states that Elaine "did not seem dead, but fast asleep" and "smiling" (1152-4). Why does Tennyson dwell on her "ghostliness" before and after her death?
Last modified 14 April 2003