On one level Miranda and Ferdinand can actually be seen as ‘insignificant’ in The Tempest, because they are such a ‘clichï¿½d’ romantic couple. So their actions and speeches in the play are fairly limited, because of the simple and very ‘typical’, “love story” and also because they are both young and naï¿½ve and so their plot is quite static. On the other hand they can also be seen as vitally significant in The Tempest because they are one of the components that contribute to the main theme of the play, “Order”, and to many of the other themes surrounding this main theme, such as the nurture/nature debate, Elizabethan hierarchy, fate, love, reconciliation etc…
All these themes relate to or are the build up of the ‘mother’ theme, order.
Prospero’s plan is to restore ‘order’ following the injustice done to him and Miranda. To do this he needs to restore himself as duke of Milan but also bring harmony between the people with whom he has had conflict with i.e. Alonso. The love between Miranda and Ferdinand is the key to this as Ferdinand is the heir to Alonso’s throne and Miranda is Prospero’s heir. Therefore they can be seen as holding the theme in place because they consolidate Prospero’s plan of order and reconciliation. Also, by them coming together we are reassured that the future of Milan and Naples will also be close friends for the next generation and the next because now they’re allies. So even though their characters are simplistic and so can seem insignificant it is their ultimate function that makes them significant in the play as a whole. They are the future generation that represent a ‘fresh start’, (which could be the reason why Shakespeare made them both such naï¿½ve, young characters); Miranda and Ferdinand can be seen as a blank page, (clear of sins).
At the end of the play in Act 5 Scene 1 “Prospero discovers Ferdinand and Miranda playing at chess”. Everyone is joined together at this part of the play; Ferdinand and Miranda are revealed together playing chess. This gives the image of these two being in control and taking the role of leadership; by them playing chess and controlling their chess pieces this can be linked to royal duty. So perhaps Shakespeare uses chess as a symbol of them being the next rulers. The older generation, even though they’ve been through trials and suffering that Prospero had inflicted on them, they still are fairly fixed characters. Antonio and Sebastian will remain villains lurking in the background, Gonzalo is still noble and wise, Alonso, even though he repented and regretted what he had done, being old we’d expect his main characteristics to stay the same. So by Miranda and Ferdinand coming together and being the new generation, and the outcome of the reconciliation, we can see that they are significant because of their status, they are the next king and queen, and contribute to an understanding of various themes in the play.
Our initial expectation of Ferdinand is that he is quite a selfish uncourageous character because Ariel reports to Prospero that he was first to jump ship in the tempest leaving his father and uncle aboard, but then this is challenged when he bravely attempts to withstand imprisonment by Prospero.
“I will resist such entertainment till
Mine enemy has more pow’r”
He seems to have suddenly gained this strength and bravery, even though perhaps it was to impress this young lady he had just met who he thinks is extremely beautiful and a “…goddess on whom the air attends”. By being so intoxicated by Miranda he may try and look good by being the typical ‘brave young hero’. This may hint that the ‘nurture’ derived from love which changed his ‘nature’. This is only one of the ways that the theme nurture/nature is presented to us by Ferdinand’s character.
The word “entertainment” belittles Prospero and his magic, making it almost ‘amusing’ for Ferdinand to watch and so making him superior. But that he will “resist”, could portray how his royalty has shaped some of his characteristics such as his pride and also his illusion of always being in control. So Ferdinand insults Prospero in this way to elevate himself. As a Prince he is brought up as knowing that he is the “chosen” one from God making him more important than any ordinary person. This was a theory that was thought to be true during the Elizabethan times, as “they believed in the divine right of kings, which meant that all kings were ‘appointed’ by God” 1 and knowing this of course would give them more self-pride. So it could be the nurturing of Ferdinand that gave him that pride and ability to stand up for himself in this kind of situation, or the nurturing of loving Miranda and wanting to make a good impression. It becomes debateable whether his motives are nature or nurture.
Ferdinand does also have a sensitive side to his personality which we see when he grieves for his father (Alonso) who he thinks is dead
“…I weep: myself am Naples”
By referring to himself as “Naples” he gets across a sense that he is alone and isolated, as he is the only direct heir, (and the two elements of kingship and Naples are here identified as one). This would then make the audience feel sympathy for him. By feeling sympathy for him it’d also make them like Ferdinand’s character which could’ve been Shakespeare’s intentions. Ferdinand, unlike the rest of the characters, is upset about being the king by himself so suddenly, whereas characters like Sebastian and Antonio would murder anyone to have the throne. This makes Ferdinand stand out because he puts his father over Naples, he thinks he is to be king but is crying for his father. An audience would find this refreshing because he is a pure character with no cruel intentions and in The Tempest there are only a few with that similar character, (Gonzalo, Prospero, Miranda and Ariel.) This would make his character significant as it is unlike the majority of the characters. Shakespeare would want the audience to see Ferdinand in a positive light, to counterbalance the initial report of his cowardice. So when he does get engaged to Miranda and becomes the heir of Naples and Milan, Shakespeare would want it to be portrayed as a happy occasion so that it’s seen as a ‘happily-ever-after’ conclusion, rather than the audience not happy with the outcome of the play. His sensitivity is also shown through the way he speaks to Miranda. He becomes extremely poetic and romantic; his love is gentle and protective. He is touched when Miranda offers to share his labour but will not let her suffer on his behalf:
“No, precious creature;
I had rather crack my sinews, break my back,
Than you should such dishonour undergo,
While I sit lazy by.”
By using the word “creature” Ferdinand suggests she is too magnificent to be seen as ‘human’ in his eyes and “precious” makes her seem rare and special. And telling her it’d be “dishonour” for her suggests her superiority. This is evidence for Ferdinand’s love for Miranda because of how much above himself he puts her.
This romance that is simple but sweet lightens up the play that so far is fairly negative. Shakespeare makes Miranda and Ferdinand very gentle and loving characters which again is a contrast to the majority of other characters and scenes. Miranda being the only female character makes it seem that this would be the normal nature of females. On the island Ferdinand is portrayed as similar to Miranda, being unselfish and caring, this could be to show that it’s not only women that have that nature because excluding Gonzalo all the men can be seen as selfish. For example Alonso had helped with exiling Prospero for reasons that they had had a ‘war’ between them, and when being ship wrecked only cared for him and having lost his heir and although there were efforts to comfort him he ignored them, not thinking of the comforter’s feelings (Gonzalo). Even though Prospero is very noble, and his plans are so that he becomes duke of Milan again, it’s also for his daughter and the future of Milan and Naples. But his caring character isn’t portrayed through sweet talk as much as Ferdinand. Prospero is seen in a ‘strong’, ‘macho’ man image, and so he can’t always express how he feels at the same level as Ferdinand. Ferdinand and Miranda’s love seem more significant because of Ferdinand’s expressions. No other male in the play is so much focused on the one theme of ‘love’, and no other male expresses his feelings of being so desperately in love in his poetic manner.
Miranda is also a very loving character. At the start of the play she displays an emotional nature; she sincerely cares for the people in the tempest. Her feelings of compassion set the tone of the main theme of the play, reconciliation.
“O I have suffered
With those that I saw suffer!”
This quote shows her to be ‘selfless’ and caring; she suffers by seeing others suffer, not even knowing who they are. Living on the island, the only two people she knows are her father Prospero and the deformed slave Caliban, and she hasn’t seen another female other than herself. This makes her seem very ignorant of the world by having very little experience with people and of anything outside the island. However, she must have learnt a lesson from her acquaintance with Caliban, who had tried to rape her after she was kind to him. It would then seem she would learn not to trust people so easily because not everyone is as nice as she is! But then, when at the end all Alonso’s people from the ship come together and Miranda meets them she thinks them all to be so amazing; “How many goodly creatures are there here! / How beauteous mankind is!” This shows how she still has her naivety about people. But Miranda, against her nature, really hates Caliban and avoids his company “Tis a villain, sir / I do not love to look on.” She also speaks in a way towards him that you would not expect Miranda who is of a gentle and sympathetic nature.
Which any print of goodness wilt not take,
Being capable of all ill!”
This speech by Miranda is spoken with such courage and vehemence, that some modern editors give it to Prospero, because it’s so unlike her character.2 However what must be remembered is that Shakespeare is the writer and he must have had a reason for giving Miranda who is the ‘ideal woman’, a character without blemish or artifice, a speech which seems to go against her nature. This may have been to show that Miranda is a naï¿½ve, innocent character but that it could only be due to her circumstances. This sudden outburst that is so against her character could be a feisty, angry character that’s deep inside her. But only let out when she is feeling threatened, like being with a creature who had tried to rape her. And so if perhaps she were in a cruel, threatening environment for a longer period of time, her character may be completely different! The speech also serves to predispose the audience’s reaction to Caliban before they actually meet him.
Therefore we can see that the story of Miranda and Ferdinand’s love also reflects on the nature/nurture debate in general. The nature/nurture debate is definitely a clear theme in The Tempest, and the characters in the play are very obviously shown to be doing things either because of their nature or their nurture and are then ranked in their hierarchal “order” according to this. God would therefore be first, then angels/spirits (Ariel would therefore be higher up in the hierarchy). And kings were higher than ordinary people. They assumed all kings were of good nature and if there were to be a bad king they believed that those people were being punished for something they had done.3 The Nature and Nurture debate is one of the themes that Ferdinand and Miranda help the understanding of in the play.
Both Ferdinand and Miranda’s natures are seen to be innocent and caring but then Miranda for example, is much simpler than Ferdinand and that would probably be due to their different upbringings. An example of this is when they are having a conversation where Ferdinand is being extremely poetic and romantic but Miranda doesn’t “beat about the bush”, not because she’s stupid but perhaps because she lacks common courtesy of how a woman was thought to be, “shy”, and not as upfront, because she was not brought up in a society to learn these common attitudes of how women behave and speak.
“Miranda: Do you love me?
Ferdinand: O heaven, O earth, bear witness to this sound,
And crown what I profess with kind event
If I speak true…I
Beyond all limit of what else I’ th’ world,
Do love, Prize, honour you.”
From this we can see a big difference in how they speak. Miranda is much more direct, Ferdinand prefers to be more poetic and express his feelings in a much more dramatic way which makes Miranda seem much more important because inferiors addressed the superiors as “you” rather than “thou”, 4and so he makes her superior to him. Again he may be used to people professing their love in an exaggerated romantic way but Miranda has lived a very simple life and knows simple language. The language reflects their different nurturing.
“Miranda: There’s nothing ill can dwell in such a temple.
If the ill spirit have so fair a house…”
This may seem again to be a naï¿½ve remark from Miranda although appearances were believed to show someone’s inner character (i.e. their nature) so just as Caliban has been shown to have a cruel selfish character his image is seen to be deformed and ugly. Ferdinand and Miranda however are both described as beautiful and “unearthly” looking so this would tell the audience of Elizabethan times that they have good natures. By them bringing these thoughts and ideas of that society it also is more engaging for a modern audience who would no longer think like that, but can see how an Elizabethan audience’s perceptions were of people.
Miranda can be seen as the most important character because Prospero, who had planned the tempest and everything that came after, had done it for Miranda!
“I have done nothing but in care of thee
Of thee, my dear one; thee my daughter”
We see Prospero’s love and affection for his daughter; he repeats the term “thee” making her special and emphasising ‘sincerely’ how everything was only done for her. By making the tempest, Prospero had got a husband for Miranda although he did it secretly and only allowed Ferdinand and Miranda to be together if they truly loved each other, (after he had put Ferdinand through some trials first). He did not force the relationship, nor did he make it obvious that he intended it. He just set up the meeting and let ‘fate’ take its turn, and it was fate that Ferdinand and Miranda fell hopelessly in love. Fate is another theme that isn’t only in this play but in a lot of Shakespeare’s plays, if not all. The Elizabethans believed very much in fate and astronomy and everything happening for a reason, (again this would make it more interesting for a modern audience to connect with history). Ferdinand had jumped ship, and so was away from the rest of the company, this made it easier for Prospero to get Miranda to meet him on his own. This would’ve been also seen as fate to an Elizabethan audience. And so this is a significant theme that Ferdinand and Miranda bring into the play.
Ferdinand and Miranda’s characters are quite refreshing to the audience when the other characters aren’t seen in such a pure, perfect light, excluding Gonzalo and Ariel. But Ferdinand and Miranda are still very different from these two characters also seen as all good, because they are in love! Romance is the key to softening an audience into liking characters because it is such a common feeling everyone in all of time has felt love and romance at one point in their life. And this makes it easy for them to relate to Ferdinand and Miranda more than any other character in the whole of the play. For example not many people would have been stranded on an island by their evil brother, or may have married their daughter off to a king far away, and so Ferdinand and Miranda’s love become the something an audience can relate themselves to. By relating themselves to it, they become more involved in it and therefore this makes the love story of Ferdinand and Miranda very significant for an audience.
The reestablishment of order is the main purpose of the play and this is largely created by the union of Ferdinand and Miranda. Prospero and Alonso as mentioned, both had their faults as rulers. Previously, Prospero wasn’t a faithful duke as he admits; his priority was more into his magic and his books “And my state grew stranger, being transported/And rapt in secret studies”. In some ways he blames himself for what happened to him and Miranda because he felt he was not paying enough attention to what was going on around him. Alonso was also unfaithful as he joined with Antonio to strand Prospero on the island so that Antonio could take over, therefore letting down a fellow leader. But Prospero’s plan was to ‘forgive and forget’; he forgives Alonso, and wants to start afresh. When Prospero and Alonso finally meet again near the end of the play Alonso immediately asks for forgiveness. “Thou pardon me my wrongs.” And when he mentions he has lost his son, Prospero says he has lost his daughter as well (of course they meant it in different ways).
Alonso: “A daughter?
O heavens, that they were both in Naples
The king and queen there!”
This reaction was of course extremely convenient as that is how it actually was, Ferdinand and Miranda did wish to marry and be king and queen of Naples, and it was also the intention Prospero had. This confirms that their relationship is important in the play as a whole. Alonso and Prospero both understood that this reunion would enable Naples and Milan to have a closer relationship and move on from the past. And so Alonso and Prospero’s way of reconciliation is through their children’s marriage.
Love, Fate, Nature Vs Nurture, Elizabethan Hierarchy, Reconciliation, all of these themes are under the umbrella of the main theme of Order and all these themes as discussed, play a part with the characters Ferdinand and Miranda. Their individual characters are understood and explained through the themes but also their love determines the outcome of the entire play. Their love brings the harmony between Naples and Milan (Prospero and Alonso), and this leads to reconciliation which then proposes the order between people. Therefore Ferdinand and Miranda’s love story is extremely significant in the play The Tempest because they help to shape the themes and overall establish the meaning and moral behind the play as a whole, the maintenance of order.