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Language A: Language and Literature HL

Written Task 2 Outline


Prescribed Question
Title of text for analysis[and author]
Part of the course that the task refers
Essay Title
Three key points that explain the
particular focus of the task

How and why is a social group


represented in a particular way?
The Tempest
Part 3
How are women represented in The
Tempest?
This essay focuses on the
representation of women in The
Tempest, a romantic comedy from
William Shakespeares collection Mr.
William Shakespeares Comedies,
Histories, & Tragedies published in
1623.
The essay will explore the following
issues:
The social norms of pure woman
in Elizabethan England
The presence of only one woman
in The Tempest
The importance of virginity

The Tempest is a Shakespearean romance from William Shakespeares collection Mr.


William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies published in 16231. Many critics
consider this play to be William Shakespeares last piece that he wrote on his own without any
collaboration. The drama is set on a remote island, where Prospero, the dethroned duke of
Millan, plans to regain his and his daughters place and position in the duchy of Milan using the
knowledge and power of magic and manipulation. In the beginning, he sets a storm (tempest) in
order to ensnare his usurping brother Antonio, the king of Naples Alonso and his son Ferdinand
to the remote island. The story and the plot of the play is heavily influenced by the tradition in
XVI and XVII century in Europe, mostly by the tragicomedy and commedia dellarte.2 The
protagonist in the work is Prospero who in fact is creating and manipulating all the action in the
play. There are several issues addressed by the play, one being the critique of colonialism and the
second being the treatment and position of women in the Elizabethan society.

This essay, in particular focuses on the issue of the marginalization in the Elizabethan
society. Actually, that is one of the main points in the play; the perception of women in England
during the Elizabethan time. Firstly, one can see the marginalized position of women in the fact
that there is only one physically present female character in the drama (Miranda, Prosperos
daughter). She is represents a symbol of an ideal Elizabethan women, possessing all the required
characteristics by the society for a perfect daughter and wife. She is innocent, naive,
inexperienced and submissive. In spite of being physically present in the play she is completely
passive and her influence on the course of the actions and events is minimal. By contrast, the
1 The Tempest, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tempest
2 The Tempest, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tempest

other female character in the play, Sycorax, is represented as damned and powerful witch.
Sycorax is dead at that moment and she is mentioned by several characters in the play. The fact
that the only woman in power is not present in the play and is depicted as an evil being denotes
the male perspective of the woman and power in that time. The powerful and unsubmissive
woman was seen as a threat by Prospero, in other words by the Elizabethan society; therefore
Sycorax is dead in the play, because Prospero sees her as competition. Although killed, her
influence is not diminished and her name still disturbs the male characters in the play, mainly the
Protagonist.

Another issue that distinct Miranda as a typical Elizabethan woman from the powerful
witch Sycorax, is possessing the undesirable female characteristics in that society is the
already mentioned notion of power. Miranda is the good, the pure and the meek innocent
character desired by all men, but in fact it is her weakness and powerlessness that makes her so
attractive to the men of that time. Not only she does not have an influence on the action of the
play, but also her own life is controlled by her father and she is a victim of his magic and a
subject of his game and manipulation. In contrast, Sycorax had a huge importance to the island.
In fact she was the master of the island before Prospero occupied it. However, since the play is
written from a male perspective (all other characters are male) and a woman with power and
integrity was seen as a threat, the woman is here represented as an evil witch. The fact that
Prospero practices magic and makes almost the same thing as she did, using the magic for his
personal benefits, makes us see that the representation of Sycorax is not objective at all and
probably she is not a witch, but a powerful and independent woman that is a possible danger to
the men.

The practicing of the sexual intercourse is another point that describes the perception of
the woman in the Elizabethan English society. The real women were supposed to be innocent and
inexperienced in term of men and love actions before marriage. They could only enjoy the
physical pleasures of love after they were married. Considering this point Miranda is again a
typical representative of the ideal woman then. She grew up on the isolated island and her father
Prospero and the ugly Caliban were the only male figures that she had seen before she met her
future husband Ferdinand. Regarding the issue of untying her knot Prospero publically said to
Ferdinand that is was forbidden before the marriage. Miranda had no control over her life, even
her virginity was controlled by her father and her future husband and the only way she could
become a queen was to be virgin until she marry the prince. On the other hand, Sycorax was
already pregnant and gave birth to Caliban. She might have been considered as a witch and an
evil woman, but she had the power to control her virginity and lifestyle and was a master of the
island without depending from a man to control her virginity. This type of power threatened men
and she is represented as a witch.
Above all, during Elizabethan England the patriarchal society many stereotypes were
created in terms of being a pure woman. The Tempest is a perfect example where the
stereotypes of purity, naivety and submissiveness are shown by the only female character
Miranda. In addition, the character of Sycorax exemplified the phobia of female empowerment
and any change in the social norms at all.