The Tempest: Colonial Encounters and Gendered Readings (3)

by Amatoritsero (Godwin) Ede

When the shipwrecked party arrive on the Island a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ is made over Miranda and she is married off without her consent to Ferdinand through a love spell cast by her father. Alonso, King of Naples and Ferdinand’s father – in appreciation of Prospero’s good deed of saving his son, who was assumed drowned or lost – promises the duchy of Milan to Prospero. Thus The Tempest is a political act predicated upon a sexual discourse. One would like to deconstruct the relationships of characters in the text. To concretise this we should simply formulate a sentence reflecting the main paradigm and conclude by drawing a diagram of the relationships thus :

a. Prospero is Miranda’s father
b. Miranda is Prospero’s daughter

Prospero is Miranda’s father

Miranda is Prospero’s daughter

We could take this further by simply replacing the terms above with each male character in The Tempest. But the point of emphasis is the Prospero/Miranda relationship. The horizontal and vertical axes correspond to the syntagmatic and paradigmatic axis in a filial relationship respectively. The vertical line shows the other possible relationships which Prospero and Miranda could have. The lexical item “lover” is our point of emphasis.

The dramatic enactment begins with Prospero ordering a storm to a particular purpose, i.e. that of bringing his political opponents unto the island so that he could better manipulate his political future. When Miranda begs him to still the storm a conversation ensues where he refers to himself in the third person, forcing Miranda to ask if he was actually her father. His careful and ambivalent answer insinuates his awareness of her powerful sexuality as a young and beautiful woman and the possibility of the subversion of the role of father to that of lover.

Later on he accuses Caliban of having raped Miranda. This might express a certain kind of jealousy as Caliban does not have to control his desire, if any – since he has no filial relationship to Miranda and as a `monster´ does not have to keep to any socially constructed codes of behaviour (i.e. courtly love) (accusation of rape: Act I, Sc. II, 350).

Caliban’s assumed libidinality functions as a site unto which Prospero projects his own frustrated sexuality, and as a reminder for Prospero of the possibility of losing his masterfulness, while Miranda becomes a site for a possible disruption of his civility and correct sexual behaviour. Prospero promptly channels his sexual desire into political energy with the assistance of Ariel, casting a spell on Ferdinand and Miranda so that they fall in love. In this way he is saved from his possible fall from grace and at the same time achieves his future political reinstatement as duke of Milan. His strident warnings of chastity to Ferdinand emphasise his repressed sexuality concerning Miranda.

Thus he controls not only the sexuality of the body politic as Brown maintains but also his own sexuality because he projects his potentially truant and subversive desire unto Ferdinand, who performs for him what he (Prospero) could only do at the risk of losing his position as the masterful as opposed to Caliban, the masterless. He always carried on about civility and primitivity in the Art/nature opposition. “Art” demands that he does not descend to Caliban’s “nature” by having carnal knowledge of Miranda.

Thus his function is only voyeuristic, Ferdinand becoming something of a rival for him. Although he instituted the whole proceeding himself he still looks upon the wooing of Miranda by Ferdinand with a more than unusual paternal interest, exclaiming as if in ecstasy `It works´. And later on he becomes unusually angry when he must leave this voyeuristic spectacle of his inverted sexuality and deal with Caliban’s rebellion since the dramatic enactment which he set in motion to subvert as well as satisfy his own concupiscence is interrupted. The broken marriage proceedings is the moment of his climax brutally curtailed.

Thus Miranda’s sexuality is used as a tool for Prospero’s political as well as sexual ends. She is a lone woman in a male world dominated by a powerful patriarch, Prospero. All others are male figures who never relate to her with much consideration for her individuality. Prospero never gives her the opportunity of falling in love out of her own volition. He chooses Ferdinand for her through magic.

Caliban never considers that she might be hurt by his deprecating response on being accused that he had attempted to rape her. Even language is chosen for her by her father. At the point where she berates Caliban, she uses the high-blown imagery and diction of her father. Prospero also decides for her what or who is a man and who is not. In short, she is the centre of a quiet political and sexual male plot – quiet because it is carefully disguised in the text. To quote Donaldson on the matter, Miranda’s – the Anglo-European woman’s- “textaul selflessness in The Tempest produces the character effect of women’s oppression under the rule of their biological and cultural Fathers” (Donaldson, 16). This Donaldson refers to as the Miranda Complex.

The Miranda complex is then not only colonial, it is also sexual. The charge of incest becomes an indirect one, more on the level of carnal desire and of voyeurism.

Sources quoted

Aschroft, Bill et al. The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Postcolonial Literatures. (New York Routhledge; 1982).
Boehmer, Elleke. Colonial and Post-colonial Literatures.(Oxford: Oxford UP,1995)
Brown, Paul. This Thing of Darkness I Acknowledge Mine: The Tempest and the Discourse of colonialisasm in Political Shalkespear : Essays in cultural Materialism. eds. Jonathan Dollimore and Allan Sinfield(Ithaca: Cornell UP, 48-71)
The Tempest: Arden edition. ed.Frank Kermode. (London: Metheun 1987).
xi Low, Ching-Liang Gail. White Skins/ Black Masks: Representation and colonialism (London: Roughtledge 1992):
Barker, Francis & Hulme Peter. Nymphs and Reapers heavily Vanish: The discursive con-texts of The Tempest
Donaldson, Laura, E. Decolonizing Feminisms (London:Roughtledge, 1992)
Sartre , Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness
The Times Literary supplement
Skura, Meredith Anne. The Case of Colonialism in The Tempest.
Shakespear quarterly No 1 (spring 1989): 42-69.
Willis, Deborah. Shakespear’s Tempest and the Discourse of Colonialism.

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1 comment

Anonymous September 28, 2005 - 3:25 pm

a vision for those from the erstwhile colonies


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