The Tempest

Eating Men Like Air: Telling the “Truth” on Shakespeare’s Island

Like a sculpture etched in bas-relief, the intrigue of The Tempest is depicted on raised stone, but the story’s substance depends entirely on a realm of negative space. To grasp the gender discourse present in Shakespeare’s drama, one must appreciate the space that exists between surface and substrata in both the plot and the characters. In sunken, shadowy and overlooked regions of the text, audiences can find the moments that contour the discussion of gender — namely female — identity. In their subtleties, Miranda’s interactions with the other men on the island help expose Shakespeare’s vision of the “proper relationship” between men and women. Careful examination of both Miranda’s silence and her speech reveals a woman whose inner content often escapes casual readers. The essential landscape of her character is two-fold in nature: now submissive, now dynamic, at once obedient and rebellious. At first blush, she embodies the vision of Goethe’s “Eternal Feminine,” a Cypher whose dull, empty purity has “nothing to do with explosions” or “significant action.” Soon, though, the cautious reader recognizes that Miranda’s essentially isolated (and untouched by female authority) upbringing, to some extent uninfluenced by the thrust of...

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