There is a glaring lack of women with agency (or women at all for that matter) in The Tempest. The romance as a whole is oddly reminiscent of something out of Disney – there’s certainly no doubt Disney has adopted this story line in some aspect of a Princess film – but even more so than the romantic happy ending plotline, the protective, paternalistic figure controlling the destiny of his daughter narrative is one that has been told and retold in all aspects of entertainment. Although considered a “heroine,” Miranda evidently lacks the confidence or power to be considered a strong woman or a symbol of feminism by any means. Certainly, she is young and her innocence informs her emotional reactions, the first of which is to the shipwreck. In her very first lines, Miranda sympathizes to an almost depressive level, claiming “I have suffered/ With those that I suffer: a brave vessel,/ Who had, no doubt, some noble creature in her/ Dashed all to pieces!” (1.2.5-8). A melancholy, emotional girl of little direction, Miranda looks to her one and only companion and superior, her father, for any and all answers.
Throughout the entirety of the play, I can’t help but to feel suffocated by Miranda’s natural subordination to Prospero, who clearly has offered little prosperity in his daughter’s life in the last twelve years. Even after disclosing some information about why they happen to be stranded on an island alone with no other humans, Prospero physically subdues Miranda with a kindly said, but still disturbing spell, saying “Here cease more questions:/ Thou art inclined to sleep… / I know thou canst not choose” (1.2.184-186) And as the play progresses, this sense of “choice” is one that seems to be absent from Miranda’s life despite her ultimate happiness with Ferdinand.
Although Prospero appears to genuinely care about Miranda’s wellbeing, his meticulously arranged marriage between his daughter and Ferdinand seems overprotective at best and sleazy at worst. Prospero is purposely hostile towards Miranda’s pleas to not harm Ferdinand, and rather threatens to “chide” or punish her for wanting to save a “Caliban”, a word derived from the character considered “degraded and bestial” (OED), nothing more than subhuman. Miranda, wholly dependent on her father’s guidance, is simply tricked into shifting allegiance to yet another man – the first man other than her father, and her immediate husband upon Prospero’s reluctant approval.
Meanwhile, the only other main female character discussed is the dead witch by the name of Sycorax. Described as “foul” and “damn’d” the several times she is mentioned, it’s evident that Prospero has a generally negative experience with females and regards most as unnecessary. The ever-passive “heroine” Miranda, however, lacks the knowledge to even challenge her father’s expectations and desires, making me question if this romantic play is truly a successful romance after all. The single couple that results from the play hardly partakes in any action, much less decision-making. Miranda, though utilized as an agent in getting back at Prospero’s enemies, is nearly dispensable as a free standing character of the play, and consequently offers little in the feminist rhetoric.