"To a lady..."
See in text (Text of the Poem)
One of the defining themes of literature that depicts the chivalric code was that of knightly devotion to idealized women. This tradition is the source of the familiar narrative wherein a heroic knight rescues a fair damsel in distress. Knights dedicated their successes to the names of their chosen lady-loves and looked to them as embodiments of virtue. That Lancelot’s shield shows him kneeling to a lady is both a nod to the mythic tradition, wherein Lancelot was the devoted lover of Arthur’s queen, and an ironic comment on male-female relations—both in the context of Arthurian legend and in Tennyson’s time. While Lancelot depicts himself as subject to the desires of a lady, in this poem he actually becomes a catalyst of her downfall. In a parallel sense, the women of Tennyson’s time were held to a strict and confining code of conduct by the imposition of a benevolent sexism that held them to be fragile and in need of protection.