In the nineteenth century Tennyson wrote Idylls of the King, a cycle of poetry based on the Arthurian legends. He took inspiration from the medieval poets that wrote about the legends several centuries earlier. Tennyson’s poetry was part of a nineteenth century obsession with medievalism and Arthurian legends.
The poems would inspire much later artwork. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood listed Arthurian legends as one of their essential subjects of paintings. These artists were very inspired by Tennyson in their Victorian hey-day! Most of the Pre-Raphaelites would paint versions of The Lady of Shallot, for example.
Idylls of the King in many ways began the Victorian obsession with all things Arthurian! In the Victorian period the love of medievalism was very large. Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris were both known for their adoration of all things medieval, and Arthurian legend especially. This is shown in their artwork as young members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood!
The actual collection of poems that makes up Tennyson’s masterpiece featured works about many important Arthurian subjects. It can be said that Idylls of the King is something that singlehandedly made Arthurian legends cool again. Arthurian legends had lost popularity for centuries as interests changed, but when the industrial revolution began people wanted to escape into magical worlds!
The love of medievalism carried on throughout the entirety of the Victorian period. The desire to escape to a simpler time amid such immense and fast moving change is understandable. In the modern world we feel this need as deeply, if not more so, than the Victorians did!
I hope that you enjoyed hearing my thoughts on Tennyson’s masterwork. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is The Damsel of the Sanct Grael by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I found the image on commons.wikimedia.org.
- Idylls of the King by Alfred Lord Tennyson
- Le Morte D’Arthur by Thomas Malory