Shakespeare: A Slave to Love
In a previous post, I started talking about Shakespeare’s The Tempest and how one of the main themes of the play is the desire for freedom. I noted that the desire for freedom is closely related to the desire for power, and that such a desire can be a dangerous thing.
In the case of Miranda, however, her desire for more freedom from the dominion of her father is not very pronounced. She is certainly not a rebellious child, and she really only wants to be free to love, not free to dominate. And herein lies a paradox. Loving always entails giving up my freedom and binding myself to someone else. Being free to love, therefore, means being free to surrender my freedom to someone else. When Miranda falls in love with one of the shipwrecked sailors, a young prince called Ferdinand, the freedom she desires from her father is merely his permission to give herself to another. Like desiring money to buy a gift, love only desires freedom to be able to give it away. “The very instant that I saw you,” says Ferdinand to Miranda, “did my heart fly to your service; there resides, to make me slave to it.”
He is a slave, but a slave of his own volition, for love relishes being in the power of another. “They are both in either’s power,” remarks Prospero fittingly about the two lovers. “You may deny me,” pleads Miranda with Ferdinand, “but I’ll be your servant, whether you will or no.” – “My mistress, dearest; and I thus humble ever,” replies he. “My husband, then?” asks she. “Ay, with a heart as willing as bondage e’er of freedom: here’s my hand.” – “And mine, with my heart in’t.”
They both willingly give up their freedom in order to celebrate a “contract of true love.” They choose bondage to each other over freedom without the other.
It might be worth taking a moment to personally reflect on this relationship between freedom, love, and bondage. I often notice that my desire for freedom and my love for other people are pulling me into opposite directions. On the one hand, I want the best for my wife and children, and what else is love than wanting the best for someone? On the other hand, my bond to them prevents me from doing many things that I would otherwise love to do. If I focus too much on the things that I cannot do because of my wife and children, it produces resentment, and resentment diminishes love. If, in contrast, I steer my thoughts more to what is best for them, the resentment about my lack of freedom diminishes.