[Miranda, the Tempest, by John William Waterhouse]

Of all the primal bonds, that between father and daughter has been perhaps the least examined by psychologists and by artists . . . with the notable exception of Shakespeare, himself the father of two daughters, one of them the twin of his only son Hamnet who died in childhood.

Father-daughter relationships figure prominently in 21 of Shakespeare’s surviving plays, and they are examined from almost every angle, most of them problematic. In the comedies the relationship is presented primarily through the eyes of the daughters, in the later magical romances primarily through the eyes of the fathers.

Diane Dreher’s Domination and Defiance, published in 1986, was the first book specifically devoted to the subject of fathers and daughters in Shakespeare, and it’s a fine, illuminating study. It’s central thesis is that Shakespeare’s view of father-daughter relationships was both wise, psychologically speaking, and startlingly progressive, socially and politically speaking. Traditional patriarchal domination of the daughter by the father is always seen as destructive in Shakespeare’s plays, harmful to the psyches of both father and daughter, and to the social order itself.

As with all insights into Shakespeare’s work, the book raises intriguing but always unanswerable questions about Shakespeare’s biography. What real-life family dramas informed the clashes between fathers and daughters in the plays of Shakespeare’s early and middle periods? What epiphanies led to the sublime, almost mystical and always deeply moving reconciliations between fathers and daughters in the late romances?

It’s impossible to believe that there were no such connections between the life and the work — it’s equally impossible not to be vexed that they can never be summoned up into the light, except by way of Prospero’s enchanted, phantasmagorical visions.