Summary and Analysis
Act III: Scene 1
Ferdinand enters carrying a log, which he claims would be an odious task except that he carries it to serve Miranda. His carrying of the logs is a punishment but one he willingly accepts because thoughts of Miranda make the work seem effortless.
Miranda enters and, when Ferdinand will not rest, offers to take up his chore so that she might force him to rest, but Ferdinand refuses. Although she was instructed not to reveal her name, Miranda impulsively divulges it to Ferdinand. Ferdinand, for his part, has known other beautiful women, but he admits to having never known one as perfect as Miranda. Miranda confesses that she has known no other women, nor any other man, except for her father. Now, she would want no other man except for Ferdinand. At this, Miranda remembers that she has been instructed not to speak to their guest and momentarily falls silent. When Ferdinand avows that he would gladly serve her, Miranda asks if he loves her. At his affirmative reply, Miranda begins to weep. She tells Ferdinand that she is unworthy of him but will marry him if he wants her. He quickly agrees, and the couple finally touch, taking each other's hands, as they pledge their love.
Prospero has been listening, unseen. He acknowledges Miranda and Ferdinand's natural match as being "Of two most rare affections" (75), but he has other plans that need his immediate attention, and so he turns to his books and other waiting business.
This scene leaves no doubt that Prospero is the absolute ruler of his small island. Ferdinand is set to the same task as Caliban, carrying logs. Although he is a prince, Ferdinand must bow to the same authority that Caliban, a slave, observes. Even Miranda is not exempt from Prospero's rule. She is not supposed to speak to Ferdinand. Moreover, she is not permitted to even give him her name, although she does. As part of Prospero's power, he must pretend to oppose the romance between Miranda and Ferdinand; however, the audience knows that Prospero is not opposed to such a union, and in fact, he had hoped that they would love one another. But Prospero must maintain the illusion that he is in absolute control, and so, he imposes rules to guarantee his authority.
In part, Prospero is playing the role that any father must play when his daughter has a suitor. Protecting Miranda's worth is tied to protecting her virginity; thus, he watches the courtship, unseen. Miranda is an obedient daughter, as proved by her dismay when she forgets herself and reveals her name to Ferdinand. But she is also a young woman in love, and when her father is occupied, she immediately looks to release Ferdinand from his labors.
Miranda has no experience with people. She has never seen another woman and does not know that she is beautiful. She has no experience with men, other than her father and Caliban. Because of her isolation, she has developed no artful skills at flirting, and when Ferdinand tells her that he loves her, Miranda weeps. Their love scene is sweet and tender, and without artifice. Prospero watches this exchange, not just to control its outcome, but to protect his only child. Miranda is more vulnerable than most young women, and she needs a strong father to protect her. As such a strong authority figure, Prospero is well suited to protect Miranda from any dangers that this new experience might present. But his watchful observances also recall the godlike control that he has exercised over every other individual being and every action that has occurred on the island.
This loving scene serves as a bridge between two scenes of low comedy. Wedged just before and just after, this romantic interlude reminds Shakespeare's audience of the contrast between the pure and tender love of Ferdinand and Miranda and the debauchery of Caliban, Stefano, and Trinculo. Ferdinand's labors are willingly accepted, because Miranda's mere presence fills all his work with pleasure. This happy labor contrasts to the cursing that opened the previous scene, when Caliban also carried logs. Ferdinand and Miranda's love embodies an ideal love, one in keeping with the expectations of nature. There is gentle humor and genuine heartfelt feelings, and there are none of the artificial trappings of conventional courtship.
Both Ferdinand and Miranda express their feelings honestly and with dignity. Their encounter adds something important that had been missing — authentic nobility of manner. Their nature, or breeding, has led them to behave with deportment, as would be expected of the children of the aristocracy. Both young lovers behave in a responsible manner that was missing from their fathers' lives. Thus, Ferdinand and Miranda fulfill the promise of reconciliation, which is an important element of this play. The plotting and betrayal of the fathers is atoned for by their children. For this to work successfully, Alonso and Prospero's children must be elevated far above their fathers in both decorum and honor.
hest [Archaic] a behest; a bidding; an order. Miranda was commanded not to reveal her name.
foil to keep from being successful; thwart; frustrate.
wooden slavery being compelled to carry wood.
hollowly here, insincerely.
maid here, handmaiden, a woman or girl servant or attendant.