The painting ‘The Lady of Shalott’ (1888) by John William Waterhouse can be considered as a form of intermediality. This essay will examine what form of intermediality can be found here, how it works, and the effects it entails.
Intermediality is often considered as a modern form of art in which several forms of media or performance are brought together. But can older and more traditional ways of art also be considered as intermedial, and how? This will be examined in the case of John William Waterhouse's paining ‘The Lady of Shalott’ (1888). My main questions are: in what way is this a form of intermediality? How does the intermediality in the painting work? What is the effect of that in the painting?
John William Waterhouse (1849-1917) was a British painter who worked in the Pre-Raphaelite style. The Pre-Raphaelite painters wanted to paint like the artists before Raphael did. They often sought inspiration in British literature like Shakespeare and the stories about King Arthur, or poets like Keats and Tennyson.  Waterhouse got his inspiration from the same place, and also painted a lot about Ancient Mythology. Almost all of Waterhouse’s paintings have a woman as the main subject. She is often depicted fragile, tragic, fatal or powerful, but with a mysterious aura. The woman often takes some sort of action which influences her fate. All these things can also be found in his painting ‘The Lady of Shalott’ (1888), which can be seen below in figure 1.
Waterhouse based his painting on the poem ‘The lady of Shalott’ (1833) by Lord Alfred Tennyson, and the following part particularly belongs with the painting:
And down the river's dim expanse
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance
With glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott. 
The poem can be found in its entirety in attachment A. The 1842 version, which will also be used in this essay, can be found in attachment B. The poem was loosely based on the Arthurian legend of Elaine of Astolat, though it differs from both the classic and the Italian version of it. The poem is about a young woman who is held prisoner with a curse in a tower on the island Shalott, which is near Camelot. All she can do in there is weaving. She is forbidden to look or to go outside. She can see the outside world only via a mirror. Then the knight Lancelot rides along and the Lady falls in love when she hears his voice. She goes to the window to look, the mirror cracks and she knows she is doomed. The Lady then steps onto a boat to Camelot, where death is waiting for her.
Intermediality in ‘The Lady of Shalott’ (1888)
Is this painting a form of intermediality? I think it definitely is, because the painting brings two media together. The painting was not only based on Tennyson’s poem, it also tries to bring its atmosphere alive. Word and image are brought together in this painting.
What kind of intermediality is it? I would say it is a form of transmedial exchange, because both the story and the atmosphere of the poem are transferred onto the painting. The part of the poem where the lady is in the boat, wearing a white dress, loosening the chain, and sets for Camelot can be seen on the painting. The poem describes the river as dim and dark. It is set at the closing of the day. You can see that in the painting as well. The poem says that the lady is looking at Camelot almost as if she was in trance, seeing all her mischance. In the painting you can see that exact thing. The lady is depicted resolute, quite powerful still, but at the same time she looks very sad. We know from the poem that this is because she is sailing to her death.
But next to the fact that there is a transfer, the painting also appears to be independent of the poem, because it seems to tell a story of its own, or it at least expands this part of the story. For example, Waterhouse adds to the dark atmosphere and the fact that the lady is going to her end. That can be seen at the candles in the boat, of which only one is still lit. In the river there are autumn leaves floating. This could symbolize that the Lady is in the autumn of her life, near her end. But, certainly in the Victorian age, those autumn leaves also stood for the fall of a woman who fell for sexual seduction. All these things add to the sad story. Waterhouse also depicted a crucifix on the front of the boat. This could mean that he is trying to say that she sacrificed herself, because she knew that Lancelot could never love her in the way she wanted.
With the transfer from poem to painting, the story has become bigger and more independent of the poem
What is interesting is that Waterhouse not only refers to the part of the poem in which the Lady steps onto the boat, but also refers to other parts of the poem. He does this for example by showing the several pieces of fabric in the boat. These refer to the fact that the Lady had been weaving these in the tower for all her life. On the tapestry itself are several scenes of her life depicted, like a knight on a white horse, which refers to Lancelot. By showing this, the viewer is at once informed about her past. The viewer who already knows the poem, will instantly recognise the meaning of those fabrics. The viewer who has not read the poem will start thinking about it and might discover the meaning in the process. So it is not strictly necessary to know the poem to give meaning to the painting, but it is also possible that this viewer links a different meaning to the fabrics. So the immediacy of the image can also give different effects and meanings.
Waterhouse also refers to other parts of the poem with his use of colour. For example, earlier in the poem Tennyson has described how beautiful the Lady is. Waterhouse puts emphasis on this by giving the river, the trees and the sky grey and dark colours and the Lady and her fabrics in the boat bright and outstanding colours. The Lady herself wears a white dress and gold necklace, and almost seems to be a source of light herself. Because of this, your eye is immediately drawn to her and her beauty. This also happens because the point of view of the spectator is at the same level as the Lady.
These are all examples of the fact that with the transfer from poem to painting, the story has become bigger and more independent of the poem. These are clear characteristics of transmedial exchange. 
The spectator is involved in a relationship between the two arts of painting and poem
The painting can also be seen as an inverse ekphrasis, which is a form of transmedial exchange. An ekphrasis is a comment in the form of a poem on a work of art like a painting. Waterhouse’s painting is a comment in the form of a painting on a poem. That’s why I call it an inverse ekphrasis. The painting has several ekphrastic characteristics.
First of all, the spectator is involved in a relationship between the two arts of painting and poem, because if you look at the picture you want to know the story behind it. And in doing so, you not only discover the poem, but you also discover new things about the painting. The viewer is therefore engaged in a more complex and varied activity than when you see a ‘normal’ painting.
Secondly, when studying the painting you can see that it is a comment on the poem. Waterhouse gives the poem an image, and makes his comments through the way it is depicted which meditates upon the moment. For example, he comments by adding some extra details like the autumn leaves, as was discussed above, which puts emphasis on the fact that the Lady’s end is near. So as a spectator you see the story through Waterhouse’s eyes.
Thirdly, the painting and the poem become more when they are together, they make each other’s story more powerful, because when reading the poem you have Waterhouse’s painting in mind as an image. When looking at the picture, you immediately read the emotions that Tennyson wrote from the face that Waterhouse painted. This is very characteristic for an ekphrasis. 
Intermediality in Waterhouse’s other paintings based on Tennyson’s poem
Waterhouse made two other paintings that belong with the story about the Lady of Shalott. The first one I am going to talk about is ‘I am half sick of shadows’ (1915), which can be seen in figure 2 above. This part of Tennyson’s poem from 1842 fits best with it:
But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often thro' the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed:
"I am half sick of shadows," said The Lady of Shalott.
Waterhouse creates even more compassion for the Lady than Tennyson did
In this painting the Lady can be seen in her tower where she has been weaving. The poem speaks of two young lovers coming past. The painting refers to that by showing the two young lovers in the mirror. The Lady herself has her arms behind her head and her face seems to be full of longing for that same love. Or at least for something that is real, instead of her shadow-world. You can almost hear her sighing that she is half sick of the shadows. Waterhouse depicts these shadows with his use of colours. The outside world seen in the mirror is full of bright colours, the inside world is dark and indeed full of shadows, except for the Lady herself: she is once again portrayed as very beautiful in a sparkling red dress. With this your eye is instantly drawn to her, just like the 1888 painting did. By depicting these kind of details, like the two young lovers, it is once again not mandatory to know the poem to give meaning to the painting. So this painting has become independent of the poem. It has also become a bit different: for example, by depicting the boredom and dissatisfaction of the task of weaving, Waterhouse creates even more compassion for the Lady than Tennyson did, because it has now become visual.
The second painting I want to discuss is ‘The Lady of Shalott looking at Lancelot’ (1894), which can be seen above in figure 3. This part of the 1833 poem belongs with it:
She left the web, she left the loom
She made three paces thro' the room
She saw the water-flower bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look'd down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
'The curse is come upon me,' cried
The Lady of Shalott. 
We can see that this painting depicts this part of the poem, mostly because of the cracked mirror in the back. But this painting also seems to make this part of the story bigger, just like the other ones did. Because the Lady doesn’t look sorrowful yet, we could interpret that she hasn’t realised yet that her curse has come upon her. Besides this, Waterhouse painted the thread wrapped around her legs which could be seen as a metaphor for her lack of freedom, because she is bound to weave, and if she doesn’t she will die. The Lady is doomed anyway. Once again Waterhouse creates compassion for the Lady. Waterhouse refers to other parts of the poem by using dark colours for the inside of the tower, the shadow world. But he adds to that by using only ‘dull’ colours with which he might ty to say that the Lady in this part of the story only knows life as being dull and colourless.
So all three paintings individually bear the characteristics of transmediality by becoming a bigger story, independent of the poem. The three paintings put together have the same effect: they tell their own story. In all three paintings the emphasis lays on the Lady herself by giving her the brightest and most striking colours or positioning her notably. In the 1894 and 1915 paintings the colours inside the tower are very dark and grim, outside the tower they are more colourful.
Waterhouse comments on Tennyson’s poem through his paintings
When the Lady herself is outside in the 1888 painting, she is portrayed at her brightest. Here she almost seems to produce light herself. Waterhouse might be saying that she is now no longer part of the shadow world but of the real world, and therefore more visible to us viewers. He might also be trying to create compassion for her and legitimize her choice by portraying her stronger and brighter when she is outside. One can also notice that in the 1894 and 1915 paintings her hair is put together, and in the 1888 painting her hair is loose. Waterhouse could be trying to say with this that even though the Lady is doomed, she has made a choice and with that she is a more free, unruly and uncontrolled creature. So Waterhouse comments on Tennyson’s poem through his paintings, which also makes them inverse ekphrasises.
So witch each painting, individually and all three paintings put together, Waterhouse not only transfers the story of the poem onto the painting but also tells a bigger story. With his use of light, colours, composition and added details Waterhouse makes his paintings more independent of the poem because they tell a new story, the story through his eyes. Because of this, the paintings are a clear example of transmediality and inverse ekphrasis.
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