Fathers and Daughters in Renaissance England
Kathryn Martin

In Renaissance England, the relationship between parents and their children was very different than what we know today. In modern society, this relationship is an ever-changing one, parents have to be different things for their children as they grow up, be it a teacher, confidant, a friend, and even a disciplinarian. In Renaissance England, the parent child relationship was based on the fifth commandment, which stated, “Honor thy father and mother” but most importantly was “honor thy father.” England at this time was a patriarchal society and, “Daughters are perhaps the greatest victims of a patriarchal family and Elizabethan daughters were no exception” (Singh, p33). Prospero and Miranda, the father and daughter in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, are an example of a relationship between a father and daughter in Renaissance England, however they were slightly different from the norm of their time.

During this time in England, the father was the head of the household and his wife and children were to answer to him. “A woman’s status depended upon that of her husband, or if she remained single, upon that of her family” (Masek, p141). A Girl during this era was always dependent on a male figure; it was most likely her father until she was married then it became her husband. Everything was based on the male line and girls were treated as inferior beings within the household because they were essentially being raised to be good future wives.

In this male-centered society, women were held at a lesser status, and always had to answer to her father. A man had complete control over his family; they were considered his property to do with as he pleased. His sons inherited this lands and titles, but his daughters were sold off to live in another man’s household when they married. Boys were educated to take over for their fathers, girls were taught skills to help then run their own households and please their husbands. Fathers chose their daughter’s husbands for them, which usually had nothing to do with love, the concept on which marriage is based on today.

Marriage in Renaissance England was based on political power and social climbing. “In the words of Susan Dwyer Amussen’s words ‘the family and the sate were inextricably intertwined in the minds of English women and men of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries’; as a consequence, ‘we cannot understand politics (as conventionally defined) without understanding the politics of the family’” (McBride, p1). Fathers tried to marry their daughters off to acquire more land, titles and increase social status, but they also had to provide a dowry for their daughter. A dowry could include anything from money to land, and the larger the dowry the more desirable the girl was to her future husband and his family. Girls had little to no say in the matter and most likely did not meet her husband until their wedding day.

Prospero and Miranda, however, have a slightly different kind of relationship for their time. Prospero has to be everything for Miranda because she has no known mother and since they are on an unihinhabited island, she could not have been sent to a household of a relative, which was common place during this time. “Prospero is both a father and a mother to her and all his actions are motivated by only one desire: to secure a happy future for her” (Singh, p52). Prospero even tells her at one point in the play “I have done nothing but in care of thee, of thee, my dear”(Act I , Scene 2, Lines 16-17). This relationship of Prospero caring for Miranda as both mother and father with out even female servants to help and doing everything with genuine concern for her well being was rare, for this time especially in the upper classes of society.

Even though Prospero genuinely cares for his daughter, and takes care of her as both mother and father, this is still a traditional renaissance relationship between a father and a daughter. Prospero is in complete control of Miranda; he has raised her in his image and like most fathers of his day demands respect. “Obey, and be attentive”( Act I, Scene 2, Line 39) he commands her when he telling her the story about they came to the island. Also like the fathers of this time, Prospero decides and chooses who Miranda is going to marry. Prospero has decided that Miranda will marry Ferdinand and because he is the only other man besides her father and Caliban, Ferdinand immediately enthralls Miranda. “The young lovers Ferdinand and Miranda are characterized very economically. Miranda’s modesty and innocence are appropriate to the romantic situation in which she is placed-that of never having a young man before…Ferdinand, a pampered prince, gladly undergoes servitude and labor for his love” (Smith p5-6). Prospero also controls the speed at which their relationship progresses, by accusing Ferdinand of only pretending to be the Prince of Naples and makes him haul wood; this act only further exemplifies Prospero’s power and control over his daughter. But Miranda, in her own way, can rebel against this control: in her own way “Ferdinand and Miranda resist what they suppose to be Prospero’s will in their complete love for each other, and are rewarded after their ordeal of wood carrying, by the masque” (Smith, p4).

In the modern, day this would not be the case; daughters are treated as equals and allowed to choose who they want to marry or even if they want to get married at all. Daughters today are encouraged to be educated and have careers so they can support themselves. Fathers in today’s society are still protective of their daughters and are still involved in lot of their decisions, but the girls are allowed exponentially more freedom than in the past. But, times are very different now; we have very different problems that the women of the past could never even have fathomed. Yet, at the same time a lot of issues with fathers are same, the struggle for freedom and rebellions against an overprotective parent they very similar to the issues teenage girls and their fathers face today. The only difference is today there are laws that will protect children in extreme case that the daughters of yesterday could never even dream of.

The bond between a father and daughter is very important in the life of a girl; it can affect her whole way of looking at life, and today it is treated with the care it deserves. Prospero also, to some extent, treated it in this way, by looking out for Miranda’s happiness, but, without relinquishing the control that the Renaissance social norms dictated. Yet, most daughters were not so lucky, always having to submit to their fathers will no matter what it was. I, for one, am extremely grateful that this is no longer the case and women today are allowed to make their own decisions in life.


Work Cited

Masek, Rosemary. Women of England: From Anglo-Saxon Times to the Present. Hamden: Archon Books, 1979. Print.

McBride, Kari B. Domestic Arrangements in Early Modern England. Pittsburgh: Duquesnes UP, 2002. Print.

The New American Bible. Anaheim: Foundation, 1995. Print.

Singh, Sarup. Family Relationships in Shakespeare and The Restoration Comedy of Manners. London: Oxford UP, 1983. Print.

Smith, Hallett, ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of The Tempest. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1969. Print.

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. 3rd ed. New York: Pearson, 2009. Print.