Miranda is the finest among all the women created by Shakespeare, the type of what he regarded as a perfect woman unspoiled by social customs and conventionalities. She has had no contact since her babyhood with men or women, except her reserved and studious father, who has trained her in all essential needs of life, speech, dress, gentleness, obedience, and modesty. She was under three when she left Milan, and her only recollection of social life is that of women in attendance on her. She is totally unaware of her status in life and of the world in general. So far as she knows all the world consists of herself and her father and the strange creature Caliban who waits on them. She is probably unaware of the existence of Ariel, for her father puts her to sleep before the spirit comes at his call. She is fifteen when her father first reveals their past life to her. Her age appears to us more slowly maturing northerners as being too early for her quite evident maturity, but in Italy women at fifteen are as ready for marriage as at nineteen or twenty with us, Juliet, in the play, Romeo and Juliet, was fourteen.
Miranda’s name, like that of Prospero, is taken from the Latin, the present participle of the verb mirari, mirandus, to admire or to wonder, and means literally the admired one. Ferdinand, in the love scene opening Act III, when he asks her name, breaks out in exclamations as to its suitability for her, “Admired Miranda! Indeed the top of admiration !” And, as we proceed in the story, we agree with him that she is a source of wonder and admiration.
There is mentioned in the play as to her personal appearance, the color of her eyes and hair, her stature, her bearing. We depend on the effect that she produces on others, on her actions and speech. The first impression that she makes on Ferdinand leads him to call her a goddess, and immediately we picture to ourselves the sculptured forms of Venus and Juno. Alonso also terms her a goddess when he first meets her, Act V, Sc. 1, 187, and when Caliban tempts Stephano with her as a wife, he states that her beauty is her most important characteristic and that she is beyond comparison with any other woman, Act III, Sc. 2, 96.
She is filled with grief over the supposed drowning of the passengers on the ship, among whom there surely must be some worthy creature, an oracular or mysterious prophecy, which was to be filled in a manner she little expected. Her heart ached to think of the sufferings her father must have endured when he was cast adrift in a “rotten butt”. She was moved to tears of gratitude over the kindness of Gonzalo in providing for their future. Her pity for Ferdinand’s hard and menial task led her to try to take the wood from him and pile it herself, and she did her utmost to induce her father to relent in his supposed harshness. Her sympathy led her to her first disobedience of her father’s commands. Her sensitive nature as a woman led her to tears under excess of gladness or sorrow.
Her father’s revelation of their rank and the existence of other people and the good and bad in them has awakened her womanhood, has opened her eyes to the tree of knowledge, just as Eve’s were opened, but so differently, by the serpent. Fortunately, Ferdinand was the first man for her to see, the upright and cultured prince, and her whole being flowed out to him. Her next acquaintance was the court of Naples with the same appearance and dress as Ferdinand, and she exclaimed on the beauty of men and the goodly world that produced such. Work was simply an obligation that comes to all, undivided in nature by our conventions of menial and white-collar distinctions. The piling of the wood became necessary because of her father’s law, and it made no difference whether a man or a woman did it. Her disobedience to her father revealing her name to Ferdinand and in meeting him secretly resulted from the conflict between duty and sympathy, and instinctively she chose the latter.
In her innocence of the regulations of society and her native spontaneity, her whole heart goes out to Ferdinand at first sight. She has now attained womanhood, and naturally, her entire being calls for a mate. She sees in Ferdinand all that is necessary to fill out her life, and she frankly asks him if he loves her. To her, love and service in love are the same things, and if he does not want her as his wife, she will gladly become his servant. His acceptance of her as a wife is gratefully acknowledged, but not much more than that. She would be equally grateful merely to serve him, and she immediately leaves him after the avowal. Her response is vastly different from the swooning happiness of Portia after Bassanio’s success in selecting the right casket in The Merchant of Venice. But her love is steadfast and serene, and the emotions of both are so well controlled that they are next found settled down at a game of chess.