• Except for ‘A Comedy of Errors’, The Tempest is Shakespeare’s shortest play
  • The Tempest roughly conforms to Aristotle’s classical unities of time, place and action
  • As Prospero’s instructions to Ariel make clear the plot consumes the hours between 2pm-6pm and aside from the initial storm scene the events all occur on mysterious island. The plots various strands of action all revolve around Prospero’s interventions in their lives and psyches
  • The Tempest is Shakespeare’s most highly structured play which is approraite as the protagonist is concerned with controlling and disciplining those around him
  • The play begins with a shipwreck and ends with the restoration of a ship that appeared to have sunk
  • The play is symmetrical:

Act 1 Scene 2 & Act 4 Scene I– in Act 1 Scene 2 Ferdinand believed he had lost his father and in Act 4 Scene 1 Ferdinand identifies Prospero as his father through his marriage to Miranda

Act 2 Scene 1 & Act 3 Scene 3– in both scenes Antonio and Sebastian develop their plans to usurp King Alonso but their plans are postponed by Ariels arrival in Act 2 and by the banquet in Act 3

Act Scene 2 & Act 3 Scene 2– feature Trinculo, Stephano and Caliban’s plans to kill Prospero

  • Within this tight symmetrical structure; several events and roles are paralleled
  • Critic Brooks:

“the symmetric structure of correspondences gives it the multiplicity of a hall or mirrors in which everything reflects and re-reflects everything else”

  • Prospero’s overthrow in Milan is nearly repeated by Sebastian and Antonio’s attempts to usurp King Alonso and then by Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano’s plan to  assassinate Prospero
  • The ultimate goal of the play is the restoration of Prospero’s rightful place and a proper marriage for his daughter. These are celebrated in Act 4 Scene 1 during the masque


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Genre/ Context

  • Orgel: ‘Shakespearean comedy rarely concludes with that neat and satisfactory resolution we are led to expect’
  • ‘The stage tradition has presented him more often as clownish than frightening, thereby implicitly undercutting the seriousness of Prospero’s fears’
  • ‘Cannibalism, Utopia, and free love reappear throughout the century as defining elements of New-World societies.’
  • Inhabitants of the new world have an ‘edenic innocence’, eg Caliban who after attempted rape is ’incapable of seeing that there is anything to repent for’
  • ‘the island to some degree epitomises Europe’s age of discovery’
  • unlike s earlier comedies, ‘The audience’s attention is consistently focused on the father, not the young lovers’
  • tragicomedy, Fletcher ‘A tragie-comedie is not so called in respect of mirth and killing, but in respect it wants deaths, which is enough to make it no tragedie, yet brings some neere it, which is enough to make it no comedie.’
  • vaughan unlike earlier s comedies ‘The audience’s attention is consistently focused on the father, not the young lovers’
  • The Tempest is ‘a pastoral romance’


“Miranda serves one important purpose – to marry Ferdinand. To what extent do you agree with this statement?”

Miranda can indeed be seen as existing within the play to marry Ferdinand, but it can also be argued that she and her relationship with Ferdinand are all a part of Prospero’s plan to escape the island that The Tempest is set on. Whilst Miranda is the only female character in the play, she is presented as being particularly subordinate and weak in response to the wishes of her father Prospero. She is seen as going from being owned by her father to being owned by her future husband Ferdinand within the six hours that the play takes place, and thus can be seen as being both present to marry Ferdinand and following her father’s plan.

To an extent Miranda does exist within The Tempest to marry Ferdinand; within the six hours that the plotline occurs she has become engaged and this can be seen as all she has achieved. Miranda’s admiration of Ferdinand is prominent within their first meeting in Act one scene two, as she believes him to be ‘a thing divine’. Further to this, Miranda is portrayed as initiating the concept of marriage by her claim ‘I am your wife, if you will marry me’, which furthers the image of Miranda existing to marry Ferdinand, but is also contradictory to social norms at the time. Contemporary audiences would have been shocked at a women asking a man to marry her, as women were expected to marry in accordance with what their fathers and families deemed acceptable. This lack of knowledge of social expectations is commented on by Rolfe through his statement that Miranda is ‘unfamiliar with the chivalrous deference to woman that exempts her from menial labour in civilized society’. Miranda is portrayed as desperately in love with Ferdinand, another anomaly in Shakespearian times and in other Shakespearian plays, as she say she will ‘die your maid’ to Ferdinand if he does not take her as his wife. In additional to this, the sense that Miranda is objectified is also seen through how Ferdinand himself states that ‘she’s mine’ and that he ‘chose her’ in Act five scene one.

However, Ferdinand would never have ‘chose(n)’ Miranda if their meeting and subsequent engagement had not have been coordinated by Prospero, which suggests that she exists to serve her father rather than to marry Ferdinand, and supports the idea that their relationship is what Prospero needed to escape the island, as further supported by Roper; ‘It is through Miranda’s relationship with the shipwrecked prince that the exiled Duke is reconciled with the Milanese court’.

Subsequently, Miranda can therefore be seen as Prospero’s subordinate and central to his ‘project’ in which she must marry Ferdinand in order to ‘reconcile’ Prospero with ‘the Milanese court’. In respect to the imbalance of power is first seen through the line distribution in Act 1 scene 2, which is when the audience first meet Miranda, and she is presented as weaker through her lack of lines in comparison to her father. Further to the dialogue imbalance, she is instructed to be ‘inclined to sleep’ by her father. This image of a passive Miranda conditioned to observe her father’s needs is furthered by how in the 2016 Dromgoole performance of The Tempest, the actress playing Miranda was staged below Prospero through the whole of scene 2. This was done to physically represent to the audience how Miranda is subject to her fathers will, and thus her father’s plans, as would have been common in the late 16th/early 17th century when Shakespeare was writing, as young women were ‘owned’ by their fathers until marriage. Prospero’s involvement in Miranda’s life is ultimately so substantial that she doesn’t chose to marry Ferdinand; Prospero instructs Ariel to ‘(land) by himself’ Ferdinand on the island as his ‘soul prompts it’, in order to orchestrate a meeting between Ferdinand and Miranda. Therefore through Miranda is serving her father through falling in love with and agreeing to marry Ferdinand, albeit unknowingly, as this is key to his ‘project’ and his subsequent ‘reconciliation’ with Milan.

In conclusion, Miranda’s most important purpose within the play is to marry Ferdinand, but through this she is unknowingly serving her father and satisfying his ‘project’; to escape the island. The importance of her marrying Ferdinand is paramount within The Tempest, as Prospero gives Miranda ‘as my gift’, but this purpose is intertwined with the importance of serving her father. The marriage between Ferdinand and Miranda could not have existed without Prospero’s interference, as he is the true initiator of the relationship and he is the character who reaps the most rewards from fruition at the end of the play.


Key Quotations -Forgiveness

Prospero: ‘My charms I’ll break, their senses I’ll restore‘ Act 5, Scene 1

Alonso: ‘Must ask my child forgivenessAct 5, Scene 1

Prospero: ‘Let us not burden our remembrance with / A heaviness that’s gone.’ Act 5, Scene 1

Prospero: ‘Come hither, spirit. / Set Caliban and his companions free: / Untie the spell’ Act 5, Scene 1

Prospero: ‘To have my pardon, trim it handsomely’ Act 5, Scene 1

Prospero: ‘Let your indulgence set me free‘ Act 5, Scene 1

Miranda serves one important purpose –to marry Ferdinand. How far do you agree with this

Shakespeare’s The Tempest can be seen to address the expectations of women in a patriarchal society. Miranda, as the only female in the play, is seen as very submissive in a male-dominated world. She knows no one other than her father and so can appear as merely a meek and compliant character, which would argue that her sole purpose is to marry Ferdinand as it is her father’s outright intentions from the shipwreck. However, it can also be argued that Miranda being the only female in the play is what makes her so powerful; her innocence and passiveness makes her seem more pure, and means that as an audience, we find ourselves trusting her opinions. This gives Miranda a lot of control in the play, as her virtuousness and the sympathy we feel towards her gives us an angelic perception of her and so we stray towards her train of thought. This could argue that Miranda’s purpose could be more dominant and empowered rather than submissive and subservient to her father, and that ‘her role is crucial for the development of events in the play.’

Prospero’s objective from the shipwreck was to unite Miranda and Ferdinand, which would then resolve the dispute between himself and his brother, Alonso. This could be seen to argue that Miranda’s sole purpose is to marry Ferdinand, as their engagement would then unravel this chain of events and conclude Prospero’s plan. Rhiannon Johnson argues that ‘Prospero’s assumption of control of Miranda represents the white male hierarchy within England at the time of the play’s original production.’ Here, Johnson explains that because it was a time of male dominance in society, that Miranda was subjected to Prospero’s control, and so even though she willingly embraced marriage to Ferdinand, Prospero’s magic and his natural control over her as a woman meant that she was always going to marry him as she is a product of Prospero and his power. Prospero controls the events that unfold throughout the play, such as where the different shipwrecked characters are scattered across the island and when it is they should come across one another. This could argue then that he is in control of the relationship that unfolds between Miranda and Ferdinand, as he manipulates all of the events that take place on the island. This would therefore mean that Miranda’s purpose is to marry Ferdinand, because she is controlled by her father through the patriarchal roles of society and his use if magic, and it is his wish for her to do so.

However, in contrast to this view, there are examples in the play where Miranda displays rebellious attitudes towards her father and takes on a more independent role, which makes it appear that she is not controlled by her father and therefore her marriage to Ferdinand is not her most important role. This can be seen in Act 3, Scene 2, where Miranda tells Ferdinand, ‘My father is hard at study; pray now, rest yourself’, when she sees him carrying wood as instructed by Prospero. This is the first example where we as an audience see Miranda disobeying her father, and the first time she makes any kind of decision for herself. The power of her love for Ferdinand is so great that she is willing to go against her his wishes in order to stop Ferdinand having to perform any kind of painful or strenuous tasks. This supports the idea that Miranda’s main role is not simply to marry Ferdinand, as she proves here that she has her own mind and her own opinions, and so will not simply abide by her father’s plot. She shows that it is her own decision to fall in love with Ferdinand, by telling him, ‘I am your wife; if you’ll marry me’; her confidence completely unordinary for a woman of this time, who would have shown far more passive behaviour and obeyed her father’s rules, and would never agree to marry a man without first her father’s permission. However, Miranda knows nothing of the society of her time as she has spent her whole life on an isolated island, and therefore her sole purpose is not to marry Ferdinand as a result of her father’s plot, but simply that she wants it for herself.

Sofia Munoz Valdivieso argues that ‘[Miranda’s] role is crucial for the development of events in the play’, which can be shown in our trust as an audience in Miranda’s judgement. Her innocence and purity is what makes Ferdinand assume she is ‘a goddess’, and what makes us as an audience depend on and sympathise with her as a character. One example of this is in regards to Caliban, whom she refers to as a ‘villain’ and a ‘savage’ because of his attempt to supposedly ‘violate [her] honour’. However, it could be argued that Caliban is none of these things, and that as a creature it is simply in his nature to reproduce, or ‘repopulate the isle with Calibans.’ When viewed from this perspective, we can argue that Caliban is not a ‘savage’, but simply acting with his natural instincts as an animal. However, our first instinct is to view Caliban as Miranda does, her honest and caring nature wins us over as an audience and makes us inclined to view her opinions as correct and just. This gives her huge amounts of control over the events in the play, as we go on what Miranda says and believes, without questioning whether or not these judgements are fair.

Another role that Miranda plays is the mediator between Prospero and Alonso; it can be argued that she is the key to their reconciliation as her engagement to Ferdinand brought the two families back together. After discovering Miranda and Ferdinand together, Alonso says to them both, ‘Give me your hands. Let grief and sorrow still embrace his heart that doth not wish you joy.’ His taking of both of their hands resembles the reconciliation of himself and Prospero, their children’s love having brought forgiveness to each other, and Alonso refutes the idea of anyone who does not wish them joy. Here it can be seen that Miranda’s most important role is to bring the two families together and to bring peace between Prospero and his brother.

It could also be argued that Shakespeare has used Miranda’s purity to highlight all of the other characters’ imperfections. For example, her kindness makes Antonio and Sebastian’s plot to kill Alonso and Gonzalo seem even more treacherous and cruel; her honesty and naivety makes it seem abhorrent that Alonso could ever banish his own brother and his child from their home, and her gentle obedience towards her father makes his harshness towards her seem unjust; such as when he refers to her as ‘wench’ and commands her to ‘be quiet.’ Her persistent kind and gentle nature makes the sly cunning and betrayal of all the other characters more prominent, as her characteristics are such a strong contrast to theirs. This could argue that Shakespeare has used Miranda as a tool to highlight the sins brought by society and the purity that comes with nature.

As a character, it can clearly be seen that Miranda’s main role is not simply to marry Ferdinand, but that she has a wide variety of roles throughout the play. It first appears that Prospero is the one in control of the play’s plot, and that every event is as a result of his power, however, it becomes more apparent to us as an audience that in actual fact, Miranda being the only female in the play, and her kind, compassionate nature, makes us follow her opinions and decisions and believe her views of other characters. This makes Miranda seem greatly in control, and her contrast in personality and moral values compared with the other characters in the play implies a sense of beauty and innocence in all things that are natural. All of these individual roles that Miranda performs lead to one main role, in that Miranda’s character has been created to show the shallow, materialistic needs that society has made us desire as humans, and that the natural lifestyle of creatures, and those who live without means to impress –such as Miranda, who knows nothing other than the isolation of the island- are the happiest, and with nature brings purity and kindness, and Shakespeare seeks to put those to shame who live a life where they ignore all sense of morality, as it causes lies and destruction. Miranda’s character highlights all of this, her naivety to deceit and dishonesty is what is shown to make a happy and honest person.

“Miranda serves one important purpose – to marry Ferdinand. To what extent do you agree with this statement?”

As the only female character in ‘The Tempest’ it seems Miranda carries a significant burden on her shoulders: she is the only daughter to Prospero and our only example for the treatment of women in this play. It can certainly be argued that her main role is to marry Ferdinand, thus securing her Father’s return to the Milan nobility. Yet Shakespeare’s creation of such a ‘pure’ character would possibly be negated if her only role was as a plot device for her Father’s salvation. Thus it is important to consider whether Miranda’s ‘ideal’ nature and other admirable qualities merely serve to secure her marriage, or if these qualities result in her having a much more significant role throughout the play.

Prospero’s tight control over the action of the play suggests that little occurs on the Island which is beyond his control, in this way it seems that Miranda’s purpose in the play has been engineered by Prospero, as a way to secure his return to his position as the Duke of Milan. Shakespeare’s adherence to Aristotle’s unities of place and time serve to create a concentrated and tightly controlled plot, as Powell states this ‘channels the control of the play’s action into one character’, in this case Prospero. Consequently, even when Miranda and Ferdinand are seemingly sharing private moments of romance Prospero retains an element of control: he has brought them both together and then observes how they interact. He stands above the couple out of their sight, resulting in his appearance as a god-like omnipotent character, as Shakespeare explores the more humanist view prevalent in the Renaissance era of man in God’s image. After observing the couple Prospero comments ‘my rejoicing/at nothing can be more’ as he expresses his intense happiness at their union with the hyperbolic phrase that ‘nothing’ could make him happier. However Mabillard remarks that Prospero has ‘[crafted] the union of Miranda and Ferdinand as a vehicle by which the two fathers can further their reconciliation’. This is certainly apparent when Prospero tells Alonso of the engagement, as he says ‘My dukedom since you have given me again,/ I will requite ye with as good a thing’, thereby evoking the conditional language of a bartered deal: ‘since’ Prospero has returned to his rightful place in the Great Chain of Being he will allow Ferdinand to marry Miranda. Moreover by comparing his return to power as a ‘good a thing’ to Miranda’s upcoming marriage, it seems that power and marriage are merged entities, furthering the idea that Miranda’s only purpose is to marry Ferdinand and thereby help her Father in his long-awaited escape from exile.

Her marriage seems to serve many purposes: not only is greater trust forged between King Alonso and Prospero by the marriage of their children, but the union also strengthens Prospero and Miranda’s social status, as Miranda will one day become Queen of Naples. Miranda’s strategic marriage also serves a didactic role in ‘The Tempest’ by suggesting that The Great Chain of Being will always be restored; seemingly Miranda and Prospero benefit in the long term from their ‘twelve years’ in exile, whilst anyone who has tried to gain power has been thwarted and exposed. Therefore from one perspective Miranda’s role in the play is merely to marry Ferdinand, thereby satisfying Renaissance audiences that at the end all is as it should be and providing hope amid the power struggles of this Shakespearean tragicomedy. Gonzalo comments ‘on this couple drop a blessèd crown;/ for it is you that have chalked forth the way’ as it seems Miranda’s role to marry also provides hope to the courtiers who have been burdened by the power struggles among them, instead the purity of the couple’s love to Gonzalo provides a guide for the true ‘way’ forward. Interestingly it is the youngest characters who Gonzalo sees as guiding the way, as perhaps Shakespeare uses Miranda’ marriage to demonstrate the hope of love over the corruption of Renaissance civilisation.
However Shakespeare’s creation of a character as untainted as Miranda seems to suggest that she also serves the role of highlighting the impurities of the characters around her or promoting the kindness of others. As Rolfe explains, Miranda can be seen as the ‘ideal maiden’ as she has been ‘brought up from babyhood in an ideal way’ away from the corruption of civilisation. Her purity is apparent through her concern for and kindness towards others, as she tells Prospero that if it is by his ‘art’ that he has ‘put the wild waters in this roar, allay them’. The use of the imperative ‘allay’ in particular suggests Miranda’s concern for the safety of those aboard the ship and quickly her concern is passed to the audience. As part of Miranda’s first lines in the play Shakespeare establishes Miranda as a trustworthy character, whilst the fact that her speech precedes Prospero’s first lines suggests that as an audience we will typically look to her for moral guidance. Her empathy seems to overwhelm her, as she laments that ‘[she has] suffered/ With those [she saw] suffer’ amidst the tempest created by her Father, as unlike most of the characters in this play Miranda is unconcerned by power and therefore appears much kinder and less selfish. However Miranda also serves to demonstrate that Prospero is not the fearful wizard he may initially appear, as he reassures her that all he has done is ‘in care of [her]’. This tenderness between Father and Daughter allows Shakespeare to garner trust for Prospero, by suggesting that he is motivated by his love for Miranda, not merely his desire for retribution. In this way Miranda’s role in the play widens beyond merely her engagement to Ferdinand.
Upon first glance Miranda calls Ferdinand ‘a thing divine’, with similarly religious imagery used by Ferdinand to describe Miranda as a ‘goddess’, as from the moment the couple meet even their speech parallels each other, suggesting that they are truly compatible and therefore foreshadowing the marriage which is to come. As supported by Rolfe who states ‘[t]heirs is not the wild passion of Romeo and Juliet’ instead ‘it is the simple outcome of pure and healthy feeling’. The spontaneity of the lovers immediate feelings for each other suggests that Miranda’s purpose is also to pursue her own happiness, as we must consider that it is her choice to marry Ferdinand, as she initially disobeys her father to tell Ferdinand ‘I am your wife if you will marry me’. Her sentence begins and ends with personal pronouns as (unusually for a female character in this period) Miranda has taken decisive control of their courtship, declaring her feelings and what she wants. In fact she seems to give Ferdinand little choice, telling him if he refuses she will still remain devoted to him by dying ‘[his] maid’. Ferdinand appears equally as devoted, as upon being told her name he compliments her ‘[i]ndeed the top of admiration, worth/ What’s dearest to the world!’ with the use of the exclamative illustrating his love for her. Moreover the use of the superlative ‘dearest’ suggests Ferdinand’s unwavering love. Interestingly, Shakespeare invented the name Miranda by using it for the first time in ‘The Tempest’, as Ferdinand explains it means ‘admired’ or wonder. From a feminist perspective this perhaps furthers the idea that Miranda is merely a ‘prize’ for Prospero to marry off in return for his dukedom. However the omission of Miranda’s marriage in Prospero’s initial plan suggests the sincerity of Miranda’s marriage as her purity and ‘wonder’ has captivated Ferdinand.
The compatibility of the lovers supports Mabillard’s suggestion that ‘the purer, nobler passion [of love] was beyond the control’ of Prospero’s magic. This is supported by the lack of reference to marriage by Miranda or Prospero before Miranda meets Ferdinand. Moreover it seems their compatibility has not been forced, as she touchingly states ‘I would not wish/ any companion in the world but you’. The grandeur of the reference to the whole ‘world’ does not seem a mere exaggeration coming from Miranda as her pure image means we trust her to be sincere. Interestingly she again parallels Ferdinand who earlier called her the most wondrous women in ‘the world’ as Shakespeare presents the couple as compatible equals, thereby suggesting that Miranda’s role is not just marriage, but rather happiness through love. To modern audiences there are many options beyond marriage which form happy endings for female characters, however to contemporary Renaissance audiences marriage was the prime concern for women: how well a woman married dictated her future financial and social security, and therefore happiness. In this way Miranda’s role does not seem to be merely that of marriage, rather Shakespeare rewards her with marriage due to her kindness and integrity throughout the play and the past. By beginning the play in media res it seems that Miranda is being rewarded for her patience in the relatively isolated ‘twelve years’ of her youth, meaning she has earnt her happy ending and expected future happiness as Queen of Naples. The idea that Miranda marries a man she loves with social status above her own furthers the suggestion that Miranda’s marriage is a happy ending due to her fulfilment of other roles such as a respectful daughter and caring person.

One critic has called the Tempest ‘a rich resource for appropriations of women which revise, reshape and refocus the role of the woman’, which suggests that Miranda’s role in ‘The Tempest’ is not merely confined to marriage, but rather she allows Shakespeare to disrupt the restrictive gender roles of the Renaissance period. Unlike wealthy women of Miranda’s status back in Milan she is willing to partake in menial labour, offering to carry logs for Ferdinand as ‘[she] should do it/ with much more ease, for my good will is to it,/ And yours it is against’. Her insistence that she should do this physical task with ‘much more ease’ than her male love interest would have disrupted the typical societal conventions of chivalry and submissive women in the Renaissance period. In this way Miranda can certainly be seen to ‘revise’ roles for women. Rolfe explains Miranda is ‘ignorant at least of all the conventional ways of social life’ and therefore is able to challenge the ideas that subservient gender roles are ‘natural’, instead serving to prove that civilisation renders these restrictions inherent in society through rigid conventions. Miranda’s element of autonomy in combination with her and Ferdinand’s compatibility seem to support the view that ’Miranda and Ferdinand seem to rescue each other’, as Miranda’s role is not solely to marry but also to gain freedom from Prospero’s often stifling control by choosing to spend her life with the man she loves.
Ultimately it is difficult to argue beyond the idea that one of Miranda’s most important roles in the play is her marriage to Ferdinand, as this provides a lighter element of romance for the audience in Shakespeare’s tragi-comedy, whilst also providing hope for the future by securing Miranda and Prospero’s positions for when they return to civilisation. However Miranda is not only unique for her gender in the play, as her upbringing away from civilisation has freed her from restrictive social conventions which allow her to moderately challenge the traditional subservient role of women. Moreover her ‘ideal’ nature also secures her role as the moral compass of the play, often reassuring the audience or acting as a foil to allow Shakespeare to condemn the power hungry courtiers. Seemingly Miranda’s role is much more complex that it may first appear, as she also exercises autonomy from her Father by choosing her own suitor, thereby securing her own happiness.