Allusion is a common literary device employed by many writers across all the literary periods. In particular, during the Victorian period, Alfred Lord Tennysonís, ìThe Lady of Shalottî and Robert Browningís, ìAndrea del Sartoî and ìMy Last Duchessî, employ the literary device ëallusioní within their poems. Allusion is a poetic device used in order to clarify or enhance upon a topic. Often in most works, however, the allusion is only viewed indistinctively and is never thoroughly analyzed. A complete analysis of allusions will be employed throughout their works. The literary device, allusion, will be analyzed in a manner such that it will firstly, illustrate its function within the poem and secondly the allusionís meaning and purpose in the poem. In each of the three poems there is a similar theme for the struggle of love in which allusion aids in augmenting this struggle for love and how each character is blind to see the truth of true love.
Alfred Tennyson composes The Lady of Shalottî in the form of a narrative poem ñ in which ìthere is tension between the artistís desire for aesthetic withdrawal and the recognition of the need for responsible commitment to societyî. The purpose of this literary work is to demonstrate how the use of an allusion is crucial in the expression of the poemís complete meaning. Tennyson uses allusions to refer to current events of his time so that his society can relate to the poem in a more efficacious manner. The poem is given a deeper and complex meaning through its use allusions.
Tennyson incorporates various uses of historical and mythical events and places. The setting of ìCamelotî is a fantasyland of dreams and excitement. Camelot is one of the locations where many of the Arthurian legends took place, and was the capital of Arthurís kingdom. Camelot is symbolic to the poem because it is a place of desire and beauty, which is reflective to society in the Victorian period. Victorian society places an emphasis on appearances and thus Camelot makes a superior setting for this poem.
Sir Lancelot also alludes to the Arthurian legend of Sir Lancelot, one of the most chivalrous knights of the legendary knights because he portrays himself to be knightly and strong to the Lady of Shalott, as he does to Guinevere. Sir Lancelot also alludes to the ìRed-Cross Knightî (78) in Edmond Spenserís, ìFaerie Queeneî. The Red-Cross Knight demonstrates acts of courage, strength, and boldness. He also displays the image of the immaculate knight in shining armour as he was a gentle knight ìin mightie armes and Silver shielde, / Full jolly knight he seemd, and faire did sitt.î (1-8, p 281) Like the Red-Cross Knight, Lancelot displays these heroic and beauteous characteristics; therefore, Lancelot relates to the Victorian society because he resembles the typical Victorian man of strength and handsome features.
The Lady of Shalottî is the most important character in the poem. Her character alludes to more than just one event in time. In the poem, the Lady of Shalott is seen as a woman who is entrapped in a tower with a curse placed upon her in which she must never look down to Camelot or death will succumb her. Towards the end of the poem, the Lady of Shalott is unable to suppress her feelings for Sir Lancelot and so she found a boat / Beneath a willow left afloat, / And round about the prow she wrote / . . . And at closing of the day / She loosed the chain, and down she lay; . . . (123-135)
The Lady of Shalott is driven to her death as a result of her love for Lancelot, just as Ophelia, in Shakespeareís Hamlet. Both Ophelia and the Lady of Shalott die in a boat:
Lying, robed in snowy white / That loosely flew to left and right – / The leaves upon her falling light – / Through the noises of the light / She floated down to Camelot . . . Sing in her song she died. (136-152)
Ophelia, like the Lady of Shalott allows her lust for her lover to drive herself to her own death. Both women dress in white robes symbolizing their pureness and new life, yet it also represents the death that is to be brought upon them. Tennyson uses this ending in order to demonstrate how women are victims and insignificant because shortly after their deaths they are forgotten. ìThe Lady of Shalottî also alludes to Tennysonís Italian play, ìDonna di Scalottaî (Tennysonís Camelot, 9). Both women become passionately attached to Lancelot, however another woman involved. In ìDonna di Scalottaî, Launcelot loves Queen Ginevra. Launcelotís love for her causes the Lady of Shalott to go into a state of distress and eventually leads to her death. She dies on a barge that she let float down the water passage towards Camelot.
The Lady was found with a letter in her hand addressed to Lancelot just as Ophelia had died bearing a letter for Laertes in her hands. Thus, all three women die for their men as they are denied of their love. Another way to interpret death is that the Lady of Shalott died because she experiences joy and fulfillment in which Victorian women are not supposed to experience pleasure. The allusion used for the Lady of Shalott is a choice example and is most adequate in the poem to explain an allusionís function and purpose.
The allusion of ìa mirror clearî(46) also gives depth to the poem because it alludes to Britomartís mirror (III, ii, 5-6) in the ìFaerie Queeneî ìwhere Britomart in here tower first spies and falls in love with Artegall in a ëwondrous myrrhouríî (Tennyson and the text, 110). It ìparallels to the ëclarification of the echoí to become associated with [the] ëShadows of the worldí (48) of which, after catching sight of Lancelot, the lady becomes ëhalf sickí (71). As a result of that change, both the ontological and aesthetic oppositions of the poem receive sharpened definition, so that it is now usually read as a parable concerning the problematics of representation in Tennysonís early art.î (Tennyson and the text, 103) Therefore, the mirror demonstrates its significance within the poem as it symbolizes a sense of entrapment because the mirror relies strictly on its reflection in which there is a limitation of view. The mirror also contributes to the motif of the Victorian societyís values on appearance and presentation. Hence, ìThe Lady of Shalottî is an ideal poem as it illustrates clearly the general and more intricate functions of an allusion.
Robert Browning writes ìAndrea del Sartoî in the form of a dramatic monologue ñ in which the speaker attempts to hide or justify an issue and the audience must fill-in the gaps of what the speaker is striving to say. Browning begins the poem with Andrea, the son of a Florentine tailor, who speaks throughout the poem in attempt to justify his love for Lucrezia in a continuous battle to win Lucreziaís love. He says in his speech: ìMy face, my moon, my everybodyís moon, / Which everybody looks on and calls his, / And, I suppose, is looked on by in turn.î(29) This quotation alludes to Cleopatra in Tennysonís, ìA Dream of Fair Womenî and also to Ford and Deckerís, ìWitch of Edmonton: ìYou are the powerful moon of my bloodís sea, / To make it ebb or flow into my face / As your looks change.î Browning uses this phrase within his poem because Andrea sees Lucrezia as his face and moon. Although he states that everyone else calls her his moon, thus showing her position in society. Lucrezia is a shadow to Andrea because she is always on his mind, yet she is never present. Lucrezia changes Andrea from who he is to whom she wants him to be. Andrea, however obeys her in hope that she will remain with him. This situation links the poem and the time period because Victorian women were seen as objects with men as their controllers. Lucrezia, a beautiful woman is the spouse of Andrea in which he calls her his own, but there is implication that she acts as a toy to many other men, thus, displaying the role of a woman during that time period.
Reference is also made to King ìFrancis . . .î(149-165) in whom Andrea embezzled money from. Andrea uses this money for personal use instead of painting for the king. Andrea dishonours the king even though the king inspired him in his work. Andrea uses the money solely for the purpose of flowering Lucrezia with gifts. He builds a house for her and the then paints portraits of her to pay her loverís debts in hope that she will stay, but Andrea is blind to see the truth. Andreaís blindness shows his hamartia. He only cares about pleasing his wife, showing the importance of materialistic things during the Victorian time period and thus, he leaves his parents to die of poverty and betrays the king.
Lucrezia causes Andrea to live a life of falsehood. Andrea is asked by Lucrezia to leave the kingís presence to live with her, but he sees that there is no true love. ìIf [only] he spoke the truthî (198) he would not be in such a mess. He talks about how he is notable like ìLeonardî (263), the ìRomansî (178) and ìAgnoloî (130). Andrea compares himself with the noteworthy artists, but says how he is a failure as an artist due to his wife. This relates to the Victorian society because he too thinks like other men of the time, only of himself and his problems.
However, he does not take the blame for his actions. He blames his failure on Lucrezia, which is a typical thing to do during this period because most men never took the blame, even if they were wrong. Andrea places all blame on Lucrezia because she was not as supportive as a wife should have been. Thus, clearly demonstrating how this allusion is essential to the depth and complete meaning of the poem.
When Andrea asks if ìthat cousin [is] here again?í (220) He emphasizes Lucreziaís immature and prostitute like manner. She is like a doll figure that bends to the submission of any man. However, Andrea is accepting of this behaviour and stays with Lucrezia. He states that although he had the chance to be a great artist, he gave it up for Lucrezia and now must live with his decision, but some day,
In heaven, perhaps, new chances, one more chance – / Four great walls in the New Jerusalem, / Meted on each side by the angelís reed, / For Leonard, Rafael, Agnolo and me (260-263)
This quotation makes reference to Revelation (21:10-21) in the bible. This allusion is symbolic because like the four great walls, Andrea also states that he will be among them. Therefore, many allusions are used within the poem to give the poem a more intricate plot. Andrea in the end will end up as a sophisticated painter in heaven even though he is married to Lucrezia.
Andrea del Sartoî is an ideal poem for illustrating all the uses of an allusion because not only does the allusion make reference to a particular event, thing or person, but it also takes that occurrence and relates it to the text of the poem. Everything within this poem is intertwined in such a manner that it enhances the poem in all aspects.
My Last Duchessî, like Browningís other poems is also a dramatic monologue. It illustrates the poem in a typical structure of a speaker, who tries to hide his problems. The poem is about the Duke of Ferrara who is attempting to win the approval of the agent to marry the duchess of Tyrol by telling the story of his last duchess. Browning uses the allusions to allow the reader to see the role of women in the Victorian society.
The painting of the ìLast Duchessî makes reference to all of the characteristics that the last duchess possessed. Lucrezia is a young woman who was implied to have had sexual relationships with other men. From the painting, the reader is able to see that the Duchess was a beautiful woman with rosy cheeks. However, this ìspot of joyî (14) was not of natural beauty, but from her sexual activity with the painter, Fra Pandolf. This implication is made evident through ìFra Pandolfís hands / [which] Worked busily a dayî (3-4) and her ìHalf-flush that dies along her throatî (19). It suggests that Fra Pandolf did more than just paint the duchess. It is also pointed out in the poem that the Duchess rides a ìmuleî (28) instead of a horse. A woman of such grace and high status should ride a horse, but she rides on a mule which is used for labour.
Thus, she reduces herself to lower class. This poem relates to society because the poem is based on materialistic things and appearances. The ìmuleî shows that she is of lower class than the duke which was true in the Victorian society. In addition, the dukeís need to control her clearly demonstrates the male attitudes of the Victorian society. This poem is saturated with allusions, although as a whole there is only one major allusion, which alludes to the whole event of the Duke of Ferraraís life with Lucrezia. Therefore, without the use of an allusion this poem would not be as effective and therefore not as meaningful to society.
Tennyson and Browning are compelled to write their poems in the form of dramatic monologues with the literary device of allusions within. Both use the literary device of allusion in order to clarify or enhance upon their poem and hence take the poem to a higher level of meaning. Therefore, both Tennyson and Browning use allusions in such a manner that is not only used for the purpose of an allusion, but is used to completely analyze the poem with great depth and exploration. Both the general function and the more explicit function of an allusion are used to make the poems unique and complex.