I am your wife, if you will marry me.
If not, I’ll die your maid. To be your fellow
You may deny me, but I’ll be your servant
Whether you will or no.
Back at Prospero’s cell, Ferdinand takes over Caliban’s duties and carries wood for Prospero. Unlike Caliban, however, Ferdinand has no desire to curse. Instead, he enjoys his labors because they serve the woman he loves, Miranda. As Ferdinand works and thinks of Miranda, she enters, and after her, unseen by either lover, Prospero enters. Miranda tells Ferdinand to take a break from his work, or to let her work for him, thinking that her father is away. Ferdinand refuses to let her work for him but does rest from his work and asks Miranda her name. She tells him, and he is pleased: “Miranda” comes from the same Latin word that gives English the word “admiration.” Ferdinand’s speech plays on the etymology: “Admired Miranda! / Indeed the top of admiration, worth / What’s dearest to the world!” (III.i.37–39).
Ferdinand goes on to flatter his beloved. Miranda is, of course, modest, pointing out that she has no idea of any woman’s face but her own. She goes on to praise Ferdinand’s face, but then stops herself, remembering her father’s instructions that she should not speak to Ferdinand. Ferdinand assures Miranda that he is a prince and probably a king now, though he prays his father is not dead. Miranda seems unconcerned with Ferdinand’s title, and asks only if he loves her. Ferdinand replies enthusiastically that he does, and his response emboldens Miranda to propose marriage. Ferdinand accepts and the two part. Prospero comes forth, subdued in his happiness, for he has known that this would happen. He then hastens to his book of magic in order to prepare for remaining business.
There be some sports are painful, and their labour
Delight in them sets off. Some kinds of baseness
Are nobly undergone, and most poor matters
Point to rich ends. This my mean task
Would be as heavy to me as odious, but
The mistress which I serve quickens what’s dead
And makes my labours pleasures.
This scene revolves around different images of servitude. Ferdinand is literally in service to Prospero, but in order to make his labor more pleasant he sees Miranda as his taskmaster. When he talks to Miranda, Ferdinand brings up a different kind of servitude—the love he has felt for a number of other beautiful women. Ferdinand sees this love, in comparison to his love for Miranda, as an enforced servitude: “Full many a lady / I have eyed with the best regard, and many a time / Th’ harmony of their tongues hath into bondage / Brought my too diligent ear” (III.i.39–42). When Miranda stops the conversation momentarily, remembering her father’s command against talking to Ferdinand, the prince hastens to assure her that he is worthy of her love. He is royalty, he says, and in normal life “would no more endure / This wooden slavery [carrying logs] than to suffer / The flesh-fly blow my mouth” (III.i.61–63). But this slavery is made tolerable by a different kind of slavery: “The very instant that I saw you did / My heart fly to your service; there resides, / To make me slave to it” (III.i.64–66). The words “slavery” and “slave” underscore the parallel as well as the difference between Ferdinand and Caliban. Prospero repeatedly calls Caliban a slave, and we see Caliban as a slave both to Prospero and to his own anger. Ferdinand, on the other hand, is a willing slave to his love, happy in a servitude that makes him rejoice rather than curse.
At the end of the scene, Miranda takes up the theme of servitude. Proposing marriage to Ferdinand, she says that “I am your wife, if you will marry me; / If not, I’ll die your maid. . . . / You may deny me; but I’ll be your servant / Whether you will or no” (III.i.83–86). This is the only scene of actual interaction we see between Ferdinand and Miranda. Miranda is, as we know, and as she says, very innocent: “I do not know / One of my sex, no woman’s face remember / Save from my glass mine own; nor have I seen / More that I may call men than you, good friend, / And my dear father” (III.i.48–52). The play has to make an effort to overcome the implausibility of this courtship—to make Miranda look like something more than Prospero’s puppet and a fool for the first man she sees. Shakespeare accomplishes this by showing Ferdinand in one kind of servitude—in which he must literally and physically humble himself—as he talks earnestly about another kind of servitude, in which he gives himself wholly to Miranda. The fact that Miranda speaks of a similar servitude of her own accord, that she remembers her father’s “precepts” and then disregards them, and that Prospero remains in the background without interfering helps the audience to trust this meeting between the lovers more than their first meeting in Act I, scene ii.
Of course, Prospero’s presence in the first place may suggest that he is somehow in control of what Miranda does or says. At the end he steps forward to assure the audience that he knew what would happen: “So glad of this as they I cannot be, / Who are surprised with all” (III.i.93–94). But Prospero’s five other lines (III.i.31–32 and III.i.74–76) do not suggest that he controls what Miranda says. Rather, he watches in the manner of a father—both proud of his daughter’s choice and slightly sad to see her grow up.