Miranda is the virginal, fourteen-year-old daughter of Prospero. (We know her age because her dad says she wasn't yet three years old when they landed on the island and twelve years have passed since then. We know she's a virgin because everyone in the play is always talking about it. Seriously. Check out "Symbols" if you want to know why the play makes such a big deal about Miranda's V-Card, but come right back.)
After spending a dozen years on a remote island with her old man and the hideous slave Caliban, Miranda falls in love at first sight the moment she lays her eyes on the oh-so-dreamy Prince of Naples. What's cool about Miranda is that she's not at all bashful when she tells her dad she thinks Prince Ferdinand is hot: "I might call him / A thing divine, for nothing natural / I ever saw so noble" (1.2.498-500).
Shakespeare also gives Miranda one of the most hopeful (and famous) lines in the play. Check out what Miranda says when she spots the shipwreck victims at the end of the play:
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't! (5.1.215-218)
Here, Miranda is the mouthpiece through which Shakespeare expresses the idea that human beings (and life in general) are pretty marvelous, despite the fact that we are all flawed creatures. (P.S. Aldous Huxley liked this passage so much that he made the phrase "brave new world" the title of his famous book.)
We know what you're thinking. Miranda has no real life experience to speak of (hello, she's been on the isle since she was a baby), so her judgment is questionable at best.
Okay, we admit that Miranda is pretty naïve, but that's part of what makes her such an endearing figure. In the play, she represents the guileless innocence of youth and, when she falls in love with Ferdinand, her romantic union is the thing that will bring together Prospero and his former enemy, the King of Naples.
Although some study guides might tell you that Miranda's a wimp who lets her dad use her as a pawn, we think she's got a lot of nerve. (That said, it's true that her dad is pretty manipulative.) When she has the chance, Miranda takes her fate into her own hands. She declares her love to Ferdinand, thinking her father still hates him. She doesn't know that Prospero secretly helped the situation along, but she's willing to do what she wants, even though it could get her into trouble with Daddy.
When Prospero pretends to be mad that Miranda has fallen for Ferdinand, she totally stands up for herself: "My affections/ Are then most humble. I have no ambition / To see a goodlier man" (1.2.586-588). The girl isn't wise in the ways of the world, but she has a brave heart and a spirit to follow it.
Miranda's most important personal qualities might be her ability to feel empathy and amazement. When we first meet her, she's frantically begging her father to have pity on the passengers of the storm-tossed ship, which is more than we can say for Prospero (1.1.). In fact, she's so worked up that Prospero assures her "Be collected. / No more amazement. Tell your piteous heart / There's no harm done" (1.2.14-16).
To be amazed in Shakespeare's day literally meant to be taken with terror—the word comes from how one would feel when facing a labyrinth, a literal maze. You'd be a bit scared, but maybe you'd be taken over by the wonder of this unknown thing, and brave enough to go into it anyway. Amazement might be the most fitting word for this girl—as she faces the unknown bravely, armed with her good courage and big heart, she finds innocent wonder and delight.
Miranda's name literally means "that which must be admired" (from mirari—to admire). She looks on the world with a childlike wonder, which is more than naïveté and might actually just be the eyes of an artist, able to see the beauty in everything. Admiration is an important word for Miranda from the other side too, as she isn't the only one doing all the looking: she is much admired by those who look upon her.