The Tempest

Taking a Second Look at Courtly Love: Shakespeare's The Tempest College

William Shakespeare’s usage of the trope of courtly love in The Tempest is not what it seems. In The Tempest, a man trained in the art of magic, Prospero, causes a shipwreck on his island. On this ship is his brother, Antonio, who usurped Prospero's dukedom in Milan and sent him off to sea. The King of Napes, Alonso, is also on this ship, and his son, Ferdinand, falls in love with Prospero’s daughter, Miranda. The trope of courtly love is most clearly seen in the affection between Miranda and Ferdinand. This trope emerged in medieval European literature, and some of its characteristics include a flawless lady who is unattainable or not easily accessed, a need for secrecy, and participants taken from the nobility. At first, one may think that courtly love is used to show how fairytale-perfect Miranda and Ferdinand’s love is, but actually, the utter perfection of their love calls upon the reader to question its authenticity. This skepticism adds yet another layer to Prospero’s character, as he might be the one controlling the love, and speaks to the condition of women during Shakespeare's own time.

Aspects of Ferdinand and Miranda’s relationship clearly align with the trope of courtly love. When Ferdinand first lays eyes on...

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