One of the more noticeable themes in The Tempest is Prospero’s relationship with his daughter, Miranda, and the near Godlike figure he is to her. Miranda’s opinion of her father is a result of many factors. For one, she is ignorant of anything that exists outside of the island. One might perceive Miranda as unintelligent, especially with lines like, “More to know / Did never meddle with my thoughts” (i.ii.22-23), but in actuality, it is her ignorance that makes her this way. Secondly, her father is all that she has. He has protected her and provided for her and is, quite literally, her entire world. Prospero says to her, “No harm. / I have done nothing but in care of thee, / Of thee, my dear one—thee my daughter” (i.ii.15-17). Miranda may feel some sense of obligation to her father; she says to him, “Alack, what trouble / Was I then to you!” (i.ii.153-154) when discussing their treacherous voyage to the island. Her father replies, “Oh, a cherubim / Thou wast that did preserve me” (i.ii.155-156). Miranda may depend on her father, but he is equally dependent upon her. Lastly, this Godlike view Miranda has of her father could also be contributed to the fact that Prospero can perform magic. To Miranda, this would appear as if her father possessed some divine, heavenly power. There are many contributing factors, chiefly Miranda’s ignorance, that allow Prospero to exert this authority over her.
One could argue that what exists between Prospero and his servant, Ariel, is similar to a father-daughter relationship. She, too, views him as all-powerful and as her ‘master’. She greets him, saying,
“All hail, great master! Grave sir, hail! I come
To answer thy best pleasure, be ’t to fly,
To swim, to dive into the fire, to ride
On the curled clouds. To thy strong bidding, task
Ariel and all his quality.”
Ariel, too, feels a sense of obligation towards Prospero. He rescued her from a far worse situation and reminds her of this whenever she asks for her freedom. He says to her, “Thou liest, malignant thing! Hast thou forgot / The foul witch Sycorax, who with age and envy / Was grown into a hoop? Hast thou forgot her?” (i.ii.259-261). Prospero’s relationship with Ariel is one of manipulation and less so of co-dependency at this point, yet I found myself comparing Ariel’s relationship with Prospero to Miranda’s relationship with him. In Ariel’s case, it is apparent that Prospero has the upper hand and that their relationship is not one of equality. Ariel may have benefited when Prospero freed her from Sycorax, but since then, she is more use to him than he is to her. In Miranda’s case, however, both she and her father benefit from the situation. Miranda would likely not survive without her father; he has made sure of this. Likewise, without Miranda’s support and obedience, Prospero would not feel the same sense of power and control. Additionally, his relationship with his daughter is important to him; she serves as a reminder and connection to what his life once was. She lifts his spirits.
Shakespeare explored father-daughter relationships in many of his works, several of which we have read this semester. However, this is the first instance in which the daughter is entirely obedient and behaves in the manner fathers expected their daughters to. In a Midsummer’s Night Dream, Hermia’s father, Demetrius, quarrels with his daughter because she wants to marry a man he does not approve of. Their relationship is not one of contentment. Similarly, in Othello, Desdemona elopes behind her father’s back and her father, Brabantio, is enraged. In both instances, these fathers believe that their daughters have broken the law by disobeying them. I found Miranda and Prospero’s relationship interesting in contrast to what we have previously seen of fathers and daughters in Shakespeare’s work. I began to think that perhaps a father and daughter can only have a happy relationship if it is one of complete obedience on the daughter’s part.