A Feminist Take on The Tempest
Shakespeare, being a product of his time, is not usually regarded as a feminist writer. Nor would I know exactly how he would respond to a feminist production of one of his plays, especially his swan-song, The Tempest. Wabash College, though, has taught me that an author is more than likely the least helpful source for information on a text or work of literature. This is certainly applicable to our production of The Tempest, a production where the main female character, in fact the only female character, is given strength Shakespeare may not have intended.
Briefly, The Tempest is Shakespeare’s last known full work; it falls into the genre of a Romantic play, that is a sprawling journey with a story arc to match that of his comedies, usually ending in marriage and resolution of an otherwise convoluted plot. The Tempest certainly does have a convoluted plot and also ends in marriage, or at least the promising of marriage. Prospero, the main character, was driven from his Dukedom of Milan by his brother. He ended up on an island and plotted revenge through the aid of his sorcery for twelve years before divine circumstance allowed him to actually follow through with it. His revenge is a complicated one, so I won’t focus on it specifically, but what is important is that Prospero could be read as an angry character, overwhelmed with a desire to set the world right again by regaining his Dukedom.
One of the main players and assistants in his revenge is his young daughter Miranda. When reading the text, she can be seen as another pawn in his game. He sets her up to marry Ferdinand, heir to Naples and thus establishes a dynasty for his name. Wabash’s production, though, makes her out to be a much more forceful character. Their relationship is very close, and Miranda has power over her father. This is most evident in the opening scene when she criticizes the storm her father is making. She uses words such as “beg” and “plead” to get him to stop. When reading the text, she was a much more passive character, but Wabash plays these lines like commands instead. She is given power over the most powerful character in the play.
Also, her love for Ferdinand is played not like a strategic maneuver, but instead as true love. Miranda was only three years old when she first arrived at the island, and because of that doesn’t know what other men look like. The play is a positive discovery of mankind in her regard. She refers to the world in very positive terms, “What a brave new world!” is her most famous quote. In the Wabash production she helps Ferdinand carry the burdens her father has set on him, she is a force to be reckoned with, not just a passive female as may have been the intention. She is stubborn and intent on pursuing her own happiness, not a happiness set upon her by anyone else.