Thursday, January 10, 2013

Miranda's Oppression in Shakespeare's "The Tempest"

Miranda's Oppression

The England of Shakespeare’s time had only recently become a matriarchy. This new female power created a shift in the centuries-old male hierarchy. Thus, Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne created a feminist awakening among English women. Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” addresses the expectations of women in a patriarchal society. Prospero’s indoctrination of Miranda with patriarchal ideals is still problematic in some Muslim societies. Miranda is stranded on an island for the play’s entirety, forced to be attentive to her father, and is referred to as property. The refusal to let their daughters be educated, the isolation of their daughters from society, and their view of their daughters as property, are opinions shared by Prospero and many Muslim fathers. Therefore, a modernization of Shakespeare’s play, reset in Iran with a dominating father and cloistered daughter exemplifies the patriarchal order still at work in the world.

Prospero asserts his dominance over his daughter by stating his superiority. He tells Miranda that “I have done nothing, but in care of thee / (Of thee my dear one, thee my daughter), who / Art ignorant of what thou art, nought knowing of whence I am, nor that I am more better” (I. ii. 16-19). He orders her to “sit down,” “pluck my magic garment from me,” and demands she “obey and be attentive” during his storytelling ( I. ii. 32-3, 23, 38). She is also ordered to “sleep, awake, come on, see, speak, be quiet, obey, be silent, hush and be mute” (Loomba 331). His physical orders and insistence for her attention ensures continuation of his patriarchal beliefs as does her education. Miranda’s learning relies solely on what her father chooses to teach her; he controls her intelligence. Her desire for “more to know / Did never meddle with [her] thoughts” (I. ii. 22-23). Miranda’s obedience training ensures that she will not question what lessons her father tells her. A young woman in Iran is taught to be obedient to all men. The Iranian Miranda sadly obeys her father’s commands. Her father’s story of family betrayal causes Miranda to drift into a daydream. Her father’s, “Dost thou hear?” wakens her (I. ii. 106). Miranda’s sarcastic retort, “Your tale, sir, would cure deafness” includes reverential respect for her father while showing her annoyance at the story’s repetition (I. ii. 107). There are no books in their home except the Quran. When Miranda chooses passages regarding women’s education, her father redirects to another passage regarding a woman’s place as wife and mother. Her father emphasizes that education is not necessary for these roles. Both Miranda and the Iranian woman internalize their father's teachings.

These teachings include the thought of women as property. Prospero's assumption of contrrol of Miranda represents the white male hierarchy within England at the time of the play's original production. Male English explorers claimed land for their country just as they claimed ownership of English women. Prospero sees Miranda as “property to be exchanged between father and husband” (Loomba 331). Prospero tells Ferdinand, “then, as my gift, and thine own acquisition / Worthily purchas'd, take my daughter” (IV. I. 13-4). Prospero views Miranda as property that he controls. She conforms to these ideas because they are the only ones she knows. The Iranian daughter knows she will be controlled all her life by men. According to Islamic law she is to answer to her father, then her husband, then her son. Both fathers view their daughters as property, and due to their isolation from an outside world of alternate thought, both daughters internalize this way of thinking.

In order to maintain control of their daughters, each father must keep them isolated. Prospero keeps Miranda isolated even though he has powers that could allow them to leave the island. Miranda's isolation from Milan and all of society allows for complete control by her father. The Muslim father keeps his daughter locked in the house away from the world outside. This isolation ensures the father's control over all aspects of their daughter's lives, with no possibiliy of free thinking and independent decision making.

Just as the consciousness among Elizabethan women was raised, so too are Muslim women's. The centuries-old indoctrination of Muslim women by Muslim men in regards to their education, being regarded as property, and their isolation from society is being addressed within their own communities. To demonstrate a new, feminist ending the Muslim daughter must leave Iran to pursue an education and live independently. She throws off the mantle of male oppression by doing these things and especially by not marrying Ferdinand. Prospero liked Ferdinand so much because Miranda's marriage to him would ensure continuation of the patriarchal order. Miranda not marrying Ferdinand and wanting an egalitarian relationship represents her enlightenment.

Shakespeare's keen perception of gender inequality is shown with the gender dynamic between Miranda and Prospero. The hierarchal disorder Elizabeth's ascension to the throne created among the sexes centuries ago is still relevant today. This inequality is revisited in Loomba's critique of “The Tempest” and draws attention to the fact that hundreds of years later these issues are still at the forefront of discussion with anyone seeking an egalitarian society. The fact that “The Tempest” can be reworked feasibly into a modern setting proves that the gender inequality of Shakespeare's time is still alive.

Works Cited

Johnson, Dean, ed. Shakespeare Riverside Anthology. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1997.

Loomba, Ania. “Gender, Race and Renaissance Drama” Bedford: St. Martin's.