Carmen San Diego (scarlet1983) wrote in the_margin,
Carmen San Diego

Representation of Miranda in The Tempest

I wrote this paper a while ago, I think it sucks, but maybe any of you can find something interesting or useful in it...

Like all the works of Shakespeare, The Tempest has been studied in great detail. There are books and articles on every imaginable aspect of it and on that of its adaptations. What is remarkable though is that most of these books and articles focus on Prospero and Caliban. Of course, in the light of recent events (decolonisation and changing views on racism) and the flourishing field of postcolonial studies it is not strange that most attention goes to these two characters, but it does mean that some of the characters get less attention than they deserve. Although there are of course articles or books on the other characters of The Tempest or characters that are not even visible in the play, e.g. Stephen Orgel's Prospero's Wife, most scholars seem to forget Miranda or are of the opinion that she is not relevant, that she is only an object of exchange in Prospero's schemes to regain his position and get back to the mainland. Initially, I must confess, I did the same thing: I was so focused on Caliban and Prospero that I took Miranda for granted, but I became aware of this after reading Jessica Slight's essay "The Rape and Romanticization of Shakespeare's Miranda" and decided that indeed the role of Miranda was interesting enough to investigate. This paper will give a short overview of how Miranda has traditionally been regarded by Tempest critics and evaluate the way she is represented in two well-know Tempest adaptations: Davenant and Dryden's The Tempest, or The Enchanted Island and Derek Jarman's screen adaptation of The Tempest.

In the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century, there were mainly sentimental readings of The Tempest. William Hazlitt, for example, in his work Characters of Shakespeare's Plays describes Miranda as a "goddess of the isle" and says that "[t]he courtship between Ferdinand and Miranda is one of the chief beauties of this play. It is the very purity of love." Most of his discussion of The Tempest deals with Caliban, according to him one of Shakespeare's masterpieces, and the "essence of grossness". One would think that the attempted rape of Miranda is a clear example of one of his gross acts, but Hazlitt does not even mention it, nor does he say anything else on the relationship between the two. According to Slight, it is common for the critics of this period to remain silent on the subject of Miranda. They hardly mention her, or like Hazlitt perceive her as some goddess or natural woman. In the twentieth century, postcolonial readings of the play came to dominate the field. Postcolonial critics emphasised the relationship between Prospero and Caliban, and again often ignored Miranda or labelled her irrelevant. Miranda was, according to many of them, only important to help realise her father's goals. When she is seen as a person, she is often seen, like her father, as the oppressor. Some critics even believe that Caliban cannot be blamed for his acts, as does Lorie Jerrell Leininger who argues that "anyone who is forced into servitude, confined to a rock, kept under constant surveillance, and punished by supernatural means would wish his enslavers ill" (Leininger, quoted in Slights 2001: 373). Add to that that many critics see Caliban as a brute who is not capable of restraining himself and so the offence is turned into a matter of colonisation and Caliban becomes the victim. Another example Slights provides is that of Kim Hall, who says that she does not want to excuse Caliban, but explains his acts as a threat to Prospero's "quest for social and political integrity" (Hall, quoted in Slights). However, she does not discuss in any way how this act threats Miranda and so, again, Miranda only represents Prospero's interests in this interpretation.

As said in the previous paragraph, Miranda is often seen as irrelevant. It is the question whether this interpretation of her character is correct. Most critics point out the fact that Prospero is the dominant character in The Tempest and that he dominates both the narrative and all the other characters. However, this view of the situation is not completely correct. As her father, Prospero certainly has power over her. Miranda is still young, she has no one else but her father to help her and to protect her from Caliban, and therefore it is only natural that she respects and obeys him. This does not mean that she has no will, or that she obeys her father against her will. The passage where Prospero tries to tell her of Milan, for example, suggests that Miranda does not always pay attention to what he says, because he repeatedly asks her to pay attention (Tem I.2). Later on in the conversation she interrupts him to ask questions or make comments. This can be seen as impolite and as a mild way of challenging his authority, but it can also be interpreted as a sign of her intelligence, for example when she asks Prospero: "Wherefore did they not / That hour destroy us?" (I.2 138-9). This indicates that she is quick on the uptake and is curious to find out more. Prospero does not ask a lot of his daughter, but when she meets Ferdinand he wants her to stay away from him. Although he is the one who manipulated the situation in order to rearrange a marriage, he has no control over Miranda's feelings. She goes to visit Ferdinand and falls head over heels in love with him. Prospero, however, does not forbid her to see him for his own sake, but because he is worried that "too light winning / Make the prize light" (I.2.441-53). The scheme to bring Miranda and Ferdinand together is of course in his interest, but it is not completely selfish. Ferdinand is a good match for Miranda, and it enables both himself and Miranda to get home safely. In the end, no harm is done and everybody profits from his plans. Prospero never has the intention of harming anyone. Although he is often accused of being a manipulative and authoritarian father, he does everything for his daughter. To Miranda he says: "I have done nothing, but in care of thee" (1.1.16). He also proves that he cares for her by reassuring her that nobody was harmed in the storm that took place in 1.1.

The relationship between Ferdinand and Miranda also reveals that she is certainly not the innocent and naïve girl that she is thought to be. Apart from the fact that she disobeys her father to be able to meet him, she also takes a lot of initiative in her relationship with Ferdinand. She tells him how she feels and eventually even asks him to marry him. She goes to visit him when Prospero locks him up, and when Ferdinand complains about his punishment Miranda offers to carry the logs for him, so he can sit down. Although in Shakespeare's age women were supposed to be in the service of their husbands and not the other way around, Ferdinand calls her "mistress" (3.1.86) and says that
The very instant that I saw you did
My heart fly to your service; there resides
To make me slave to it. And for your sake
Am I this patient log-man. (3.1.64-7)

Miranda also does not give Ferdinand a lot of choice. Whether he agrees or not, she is his:
I am your wife, if you will marry me.
If not, I'll die your maid. To be your fellow
You may deny me, but I'll be your servant
Whether you will or no.(3.1.83-6)

She is also very open about her attraction to him. She feels she does not have the self-discipline to hide her growing passion for Ferdinand, and tells him so.

In 1667 Davenant and Dryden's adaptation The Tempest, or The Enchanted Island appeared. In this play there are several new characters. Davenant and Dryden added Sycorax, Caliban's sister; Hippolito, the man who has never seen a woman; and Dorinda, Miranda's sister, who has also never seen a man except for her father. In this play, Prospero is a more authoritarian figure than in Shakespeare's version. He keeps Dorinda and Miranda on one part of the isle and Hippolito in a cave on another part. In Davenant and Dryden, most of Prospero's speech is dedicated to keeping Hippolito and Dorinda and Miranda apart. He warns his daughters for Hippolito and tells them that he is a dangerous creature, and tells Hippolito that he should stay away from women, "[t]hose dangerous enemies of men" (25) which "[n]o courage can resist" (25). Davenant and Dryden added the Dorinda and Hippolito plot as a way of finding out what happens when a man who has never seen a woman and a woman who has never seen a man meet. It is striking that the first conversation between Dorinda and Miranda shows that they are heterosexual. They have never seen a man or been attracted to one, but they already know they want one:
[Mir.]… And shortly we may chance to see that thing
Which you have heard my Father call, a Man.
Dor. But what is that? for yet he never told me.
Mir. I know no more than you: but I have heard
My father say we Women were made for him.
Dor. What, that he should eat us Sister?
Mir. No sure, you see my Father is a man, and yet
He does us good. I would he were not old.
Dor. Methinks indeed it would be finer, if we two
Had two young Fathers. (Davenant & Dryden, 13)

They also have no idea of how babies are born, and so do not understand their father's warning that a man will cause you to suffer for nine months, but they are sure they want to have children:
Dor.: How did he come to be our Father too?
Mir.: I think he found us when we both were little, and grew within the ground.
Dor.: Why could he not find more of us? pray sister let you and I look up and down one day, to find some little ones for us to play with.
Mir.: Agreed… (Davenant & Dryden, 13)

There is not much left of the initiative Miranda takes in Shakespeare. Dorinda and Miranda are disobedient to a certain extent, because they do go and visit Hippolito against their father's will, but their conversation shows that they are a bit afraid of him. The girls are consequently portrayed as young, naïve girls, products of nature, who have not yet learnt how to behave themselves yet. When Miranda tries to convince Ferdinand to love Hippolito, Ferdinand believes that she is in love with him and says that "like most of her frail Sex, she's false, / But has not learnt the art to hide it; / Nature has done her part, she loves variety" (54). This, however, has not much to do with their Sex, because Hippolito also loves variety. Although he initially says that he wants Dorinda and no one else, he changes his mind after Ferdinand tells him that there are more women, and says he'll "have as many as I can, / That are so good, and Angel-like, as she I love. / And will have yours" (50).

What is remarkable is that The Enchanted Island also undermines the way it portrays women, because they used professional actresses for their roles. Even more remarkable is the fact that not only the female parts were acted by women, but according to Dobson the part of Hippolito was also played by a woman, Mary Davis. The fact that Hippolito is played by a woman puts some passages in a different light:
[Ferd.] So give me leave to ask you, what you are.
Hip. Do not you know?
Ferd. How should I?
Hip. I well hop'd I was a man, but by your ignorance
Of what I am, I fear it is not so:
Well, Prospero! This is now the second time
You have deceiv'd me (Davenant & Dryden, 48)

According to Dobson, this might suggest that gender roles are in fact nothing more than roles, and this thus undermines the ideas in the play that gender is something one is born with.

Derek Jarman's The Tempest is said to be one of the most controversial adaptations of Shakespeare's play. The adaptation is very different from Shakespeare's work: it is rather depressing to look at, takes place in a country house, Caliban and Sycorax are white, and Prospero is not the friendly old man of Shakespeare. The role of Miranda in Jarman is played by Toyah Wilcox. She has more agency than in a lot of other interpretations: she is not a passive sexual object, or an almost ethereal presence. She does not look like a goddess, far from it: she has a wild haircut and an odd dress, and she certainly does not look fragile. The scene that demonstrates Miranda's lack of sexuality is where she is washing herself. Although she is not fully dressed, the scene is far from erotic. When Caliban comes in one would expect her to cover her breasts or yell at him, but instead she throws her sponge at him, walks across the room and pushes him out. After this, they both start laughing. Miranda is active and not afraid of Caliban. The fact that Wilcox is associated with punk adds to Miranda's representation and her uneroticisation, because the punk movement expresses itself through the body – by cloths, hairstyles, etc. Miranda comes across a bit primitive, which is not strange considering she has been on that island for most of her life, because she puts things in her mouth, touches everything, plays with everything. She is curious, just like the Miranda's of Shakespeare and Davenant & Dryden. When she finds Ferdinand sleeping, she approaches him without fear, in the presence of her father, and defends him when her father accuses him of coming to the island as a spy. In Jarman, Ferdinand is the erotic subject, and he is gazed at by Miranda. Miranda of course is very much interested in his body when he comes to shore naked. Ferdinand stays naked in the film for quite a while, and the way he is filmed adds to his eroticisation: for example when he sits in the dunes and Ariel comes to sing his song (Full fathom five thy father lies.). The relationship between Miranda and her father is not that different. In Jarman, Prospero comes and sit by her bedside to calm her and tell her that nobody was harmed in the storm, and so he also comes across as a caring father. Although he is mean to Ferdinand and a total sadist when it comes to his treatment of Caliban (he steps on his fingers, for example), he never harms Miranda. When he tells her the story of where they came from and how they got to the island, she even cries on his shoulder and Prospero magically shows her some images of herself when she was young.

These two adaptations, Dryden and Davenant's The Enchanted Island and Jarman's The Tempest, show two very different representations of Miranda. In the one she is an extremely naïve and natural 'goddess', in the other she is a strong-willed, active and unerotic woman. I have chosen these two adaptations because they are both so extreme, and because they represent different media and cultures. I think they show that Miranda is an interesting character, that her role can be interpreted in various ways, and that her character is worthy of further investigation.


Davenant and Dryden. The Tempest, or the Enchanted Island. A Comedy. London: Cornmarket Press Limited, 1969

Dobson, Michael. The Making of the National Poet. Shakespeare, Adaptation and Authorship, 1660-1769. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1992.

Ellis, Jim. "Conjuring the Tempest. Derek Jarman and the Spectacle of Redemption." GLC: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 7.2 (2001) 265-84.

Hall, Kim F. The Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1995. 143.

Hazlitt, William. Characters of Shakespeare's Plays. Project Gutenburg. Vers. 10. Feb. 2004. <>.

Leininger, Lorie Jerrell. "The Miranda Trap: Sexism and Racism in Shakespeare's Tempest." The Woman's Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare. Ed. Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Greene and Carol Thomas Neely. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993.

Pierce, Robert B. "Understanding the Tempest." New Literary History 30.2 (1999) 373-88.

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc, 1997.

Slights, Jessica. "Rape and the Romanticization of Shakespeare's Miranda." SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 41.2 (2001) 357-79.

The Tempest. 1979. Dir. Derek Jarman. Perf. Heathcote Williams, Karl Johnson, Toyah Wilcox, Peter Bull, Richard Warwick, Elisabeth Welch, Jack Birkett. Second Sight Films Ltd., 2004.

Wells, Stanley and Lena Cowen Orlin (ed.). Shakespeare. An Oxford Guide. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003.
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