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In this essay I intend to explore the ways that William Shakespeare has presented the relationships between the main characters within his play “The Tempest”. I shall investigate Ferdinand and Miranda’s relationship, the father/daughter bond between Miranda and Prospero and Caliban’s lust after Miranda.
Shakespeare was intending to represent several different groups of people in society through his plays and “The Tempest” was no exception to the rule. I aim to show how the “human” relationships in the play reflect real life relationships within Shakespeare’s own society (as well as his future audience), for which his plays were written and performed.
Ferdinand and Miranda’s type of relationship shows Shakespeare’s ideas about true love, recognising not just the emotional side of love, but the physical nature too. Miranda promises Ferdinand “The jewel in my dower” which is her virginity, a prized thing in Jacobean times. This knowledge would have been known by Shakespeare’s audience and knowing this helps us to understand Prospero’s protection of his daughter from Caliban.
Ferdinand is asked not to have lustful thoughts about Miranda as “Sour-eyed disdain and discord shall bestrew the union of your bed with weeds so loathly that you shall hate it both” meaning that sex before marriage will poison the lovers’ marriage bed so that they will both grow to loathe it. So they have to be careful, and make sure they respect the holy institution of marriage and the lifelong vows that it entails. In direct translation, the metaphorical “weeds” that would be strewn across their bed if they had sexual intercourse before marriage, as opposed to the well known phrase “a bed of roses” that they would have if they waited until after their wedding. Shakespeare has used the word “weeds” to show that nothing good can come from the union of the lovers’ bodies, weeds are unwanted and disliked by any gardener, whereas roses are beautiful and symbolic of all that is pure.
We already know that Miranda and Ferdinand make small mistakes about each other and each other’s lives “sweet lord you play me false” and this backs up Shakespeare’s reasoning for Prospero’s warning against breaking his daughter’s “virgin-knot”. Prospero’s suggestion that they need to sort out these mistakes before committing themselves to each other, physically, are not only welcomed by the couple and Alonso and the other courtly characters, but also a reflection of Shakespeare’s own beliefs about sex before marriage.
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Later, Ferdinand and Miranda appear to have some alone time together. Prospero has made Ferdinand toil at pulling logs from one place to another, a job similar to that of the slave, Caliban’s usual tasks. To Miranda this seems like enslavement, Ferdinand thinks “her father’s crabbed” meaning that Prospero is harsh and irritable, but I however see that Shakespeare has brought this noble and high-ranking character down to the level of that of a lowly foul-mouthed slave. This helps the audience to understand how strength of character and personality differs allowing them to see that the situation shows Ferdinand in a favourable light, we think him worthy of Miranda. The way he reacts to the situation he has been placed in, makes us sure that Shakespeare is suggesting that the suffering or labour undertaken creates an everlasting and enduring love between the two characters.
Miranda has said to Ferdinand “such baseness had never like such an executer” complaining about her father forcing her one true love to do such menial tasks, the jobs that Caliban was usually ordered to do. I see this as Prospero’s test of Ferdinand’s love.
Miranda and Prospero appear to have a very strong bond. This is a representation of Shakespeare’s idea of a father/daughter relationship. We are made to believe that if Prospero had ruled Milan better and had not been overthrown, the bond would not have been as strong. For the majority of Miranda’s life she apparently had “four or five women that once tended” her. This would have been the case with many daughters of the nobility, as their fathers would be so busy that they would have rarely seen their daughters, so Prospero and Miranda’s “past” is a direct reflection of how many noble families would have been structured in Jacobean times.
It is important that we realise this as Shakespeare was trying to prove a point that none of us are perfect and in some ways, Prospero is not entirely innocent of the crime of not looking after his own people properly. The bond grew because we understand that they only had each other for company when they were shipwrecked upon the island and Prospero had to teach his daughter, clothe her, feed her, cook or her and provide what little luxuries he could for her. The father/daughter bond is connected further by the alleged, attempted rape of Miranda by Caliban that we are told of, in which Prospero protected his daughter’s honour representing the protective nature of parental love. Shakespeare tells his audience of the events prior to the play through Prospero’s dwelling on his “past”, showing Prospero to be a strong character and to show that Miranda is an important factor of his life.
Miranda tells the audience of her relationship with her father through her line “Alack, What trouble was I then to you!” This shows that she cares about Prospero, and thinks of the torture that she may have been towards him on the journey to the island that he has told the audience about. His reply “O, a cherubim thou wast that did preserve me” sums up a typical image of parental love, an image that Shakespeare was probably keen to promote as much of his audience would have children of their own and could sympathise with Prospero’s feelings towards his only child.
But, as with all families there is a certain amount of arguments, and a couple of disagreements occur, perhaps to make the play seem a little more realistic, because however close a family may be, there are always arguments. In order to prevent Miranda from being hurt in love, Prospero made life very difficult for Ferdinand. The amount of “mean tasks” that the noble character is made to perform, tests his true love for Miranda.
Both Shakespeare (as the playwright) and Prospero (as the principal character) have placed Ferdinand into a position similar to that of Caliban’s. Prospero claims that he “did nothing but in care of thee” earlier on in the play, and this is shown later by his declaration that Miranda and Ferdinand are right for each other, and are, indeed, in love.
Some may see Miranda’s helping of Ferdinand as a betrayal of her father’s orders. However, Prospero has led her into the relationship and although he cannot control other character’s emotions, he can cause incidents to happen so that the pair would meet.
One of the strongest images linked to lust in the play comes from Caliban towards Miranda, in an attempted rape before the play starts. “I had peopled else this isle with little Calibans” suggests that not only is Miranda beautiful and Caliban greedy, but as Miranda is the only human woman he had ever seen, he could be confused about his emotions and mistook her kindness and friendship for lust and love.
“I pitied thee, took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour…” Miranda feels betrayed and almost guilty as she has unknowingly led Caliban to believe that she is as attracted to him as he is to her. However, we are shown that Miranda is kind and gentle character, she took her time to help Caliban and Shakespeare shows this through her kindly speech and Prospero’s harsh words contrast with those of his daughter’s.