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Miranda: Shakespeare's Portrayal of Pure Innocence in "The Tempest"

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A Scene from Act I, Scene 2 (Ferdinand courting Miranda)

A Scene from Act I, Scene 2 (Ferdinand courting Miranda)

Miranda: The Epitome of Purity

Miranda is indeed one of Shakespeare's most wonderful creations. She is a pure child of Nature (like Wordsworth’s Lucy, “created of every creature’s best”). She is the only woman in the play. Her name is the equivalent of "the wonderful one" or "the one who causes admiration" and her name is symbolic of her beauty, innocence, and modesty. When the play opens Miranda is almost fifteen and for the previous twelve years, she has lived on the island and has known only Prospero and Caliban.

Miranda: A Study in Elemental Womanhood

Prospero does not exaggerate in the least when he says to Ferdinand, “Thou shalt find that she will outstrip all praise and make it halt behind her.” She is an embodiment of all that constitutes ‘womanliness’. Speaking on the wonder of this creation, Mrs. Jameson, a discerning critic of Shakespeare's heroines, observes, “We might have deemed it impossible to go beyond Viola, Perdita and Ophelia as pictures of feminine beauty to exceed the one in tender delicacy, the other in ideal grace, and the last in simplicity, if Shakespeare had not done this and he alone could have done it. Had he never created Miranda we should never have been made to feel how completely the purely natural and the purely ideal can blend into each other.”

Miranda is a type of elemental womanhood; her portrait shows fewer character traits than those of any other Shakespearean heroine. Some unwise critics have found fault with this. Here Shakespeare is at pains to avoid disturbing in any way the impression that “her heart is an absolutely clean sheet.” Any complexity introduced into the character would have made her appear sophisticated and destroyed the impression.

The Embodiment of Compassion

The dominant trait of her character is her pity and compassion. This is shown at the beginning. The very first words she utters reveal her deep pity. The suffering of the shipwrecked party melts her very heart: “I have suffered with those that I saw suffer.” The cry of the suffering knocked against her very heart. Hence her piteous appeal to her father:

If by your art, my dearest father, you have

Put the wild waters in this roar allay them.”

When her father relates to her the story of his banishment from Milan, her “heart bleeds to think of the teen” that she had turned him to. Again when she hears her father mention Gonzalo’s assistance to him, she is filled with a sense of gratitude and longs to see that good man. Her nobility of instinct is revealed in that. Being of such a gentle disposition, her heart naturally goes out in sympathy to Ferdinand, when he suffers under the harsh treatment of Prospero. She offers to be his log-bearer for his sake and even disobeys her father for the sake of Ferdinand.

Miranda: The Eve of the Enchanted Island

Miranda: The Eve of the Enchanted Island

Innocence and Simplicity

Another striking feature of her character is her “soft simplicity, her virgin innocence, her total ignorance of the conventional forms and language of society. It is most natural that in a being thus constituted the first tears should spring from compassion, suffering with those that she saw suffer; and that her first sigh should be offered to a love at once fearless and submissive, delicate and fond. She has been taught no scruples of honour like Juliet; no coy concealment like Viola; no assumed dignity standing in its own defence” (Mrs. Jameson). She knows no guile, no convention, no concealment and frankly declares her love to Ferdinand. Nay, she even weeps at her own unworthiness to be his wife. We should not expect a girl of the twentieth century to behave in a like manner in such a situation. She is indeed a perfect child of nature.

The simplicity and innocence are a natural product of the circumstances she was brought up in. She had been cut off from all interaction with human society at the age of three. She had seen no other man than her father. Of the human world, she had no knowledge. Her exclamation at the sight of Ferdinand is characteristic of her: “What is’t? a spirit! Lord, how it looks about! Believe me, Sir, It carries a brave form. But ‘tis a spirit.” The same sense of Wonder is expressed when the shipwrecked party appears before her.

Miranda and Ferdinand  (Oil on Canvas- by Angelika Kauffmann)

Miranda and Ferdinand (Oil on Canvas- by Angelika Kauffmann)

Miranda: Beauty Personified

Physical Beauty

Miranda’s physical beauty is a reflection of her inner merit. It is quite natural imagine her nymph-like beauty from the effect she produces on her beholders. The beauty of nature and the music of the place had passed into her body and countenance and made her exquisitely lovely. She impresses her beholders as if she was the goddess of the island and no creature of flesh and blood. When Ferdinand first sees her he exclaims, “Most sure the goddess on whom these airs attend.” The same is the thought of Alonso when he sees her. “Is she the Goddess that hath severed us and brought us thus together?” Caliban, who has a fine eye for beauty, is susceptible to her charm and praises her thus before his newly-found masters:

“And that most deeply to consider is

The beauty of his daughter; he himself

Call her a non-pareil.”

We can do know better than quote the admirable summing up of the character of Miranda by Mrs Jameson. “The character of Miranda revolves itself into the very elements of womanhood. She is beautiful, modest, tender and she is these only; they comprise her whole being, external and internal. She is so perfectly unsophisticated, so delicately refined, that she is all but ethereal. Let us imagine any other woman placed beside Miranda – even one of Shakespeare's own loveliest and sweetest creations – there is not one that would not appear somewhat coarse or artificial when brought into immediate contact with this pure child of nature, this Eve of an Enchanted Paradise.”

Miranda Reacting to the Tempest Raised by Her Father

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