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Thursday, November 01, 2012

The Tempest

If by your art, my dearest father, you have
Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them.
The sky, it seems, would pour down stinking pitch,
But that the sea, mounting to the welkin's cheek,
Dashes the fire out

For some reason, The Tempest seemed an appropriate choice for this week.  And for today, since the play was presented at court on November 1, 1611.

We have several copies of The Tempest, not counting those included in the Folios. Here's a 1725 copy "collated and corrected" by Alexander Pope.

William Shakespaeare, The tempest. A comedie. Collated and corrected by the former editions by Mr. Pope. Dublin: George Grierson, 1725.  Rosenbach Museum & Library. EL1 .S527te

The play famously opens "on a ship at sea" that is being tossed in a storm.

William Shakespaeare, The tempest. A comedie. Collated and corrected by the former editions by Mr. Pope. Dublin: George Grierson, 1725. Rosenbach Museum & Library. EL1 .S527te
Critics have identified many sources on storms which may have influenced Shakespeare. One of these is the 1609 wreck of the Sea Venture. The Sea Venture was heading for Virginia when it was blown off course by a hurricane and ran aground off the Bermudas. The ship's passengers and crew, who included Sir Thomas Gates, the new governor of the Virginia colony, and Sir George Somers, the admiral of  Virginia, remained on the island for three-quarters of a year while building new ships and finally reached Virginia in May of 1610. 

The story of the Sea Venture appeared in several printed accounts in the fall of 1610: Silvester Jourdain's first-hand account, A Discovery of the Barmudas; the Virginia Company's A True Declaration of the Estate of the Colonie in Virginia; and the ballad Newes from Virginia by Richard Rich, "one of the voyage." Here's our copy of A True Declaration... and its description of the islands of the Bermudas as "accounted as an inchanted pile of rocks and a desert inhabitation for Devils" but actually haunted only by "flocks of birds" and "heards of swine."


A true declaration of the estate of the colonie in Virgina. London: Printed for William Barret, 1610. Rosenbach Museum & Library. A 610t
A true declaration of the estate of the colonie in Virgina. London: Printed for William Barret, 1610. Rosenbach Museum & Library. A 610t
We also have a copy of William Strachey's account A true reportory of the wrake, and redemption of Sir Thomas Gates, which many scholars suggest has the closest links with the shipwreck in Shakespeare's Tempest.  Strachey was a member of the wrecked voyage and after reaching Virginia, wrote a letter dated July 15, 1610 to an "Excellent Lady" describing the events. The letter wasn't published until 1625, when it appeared in Purchas his Pilgrimes, but scholars have suggested that it circulated in manuscript and noted that Shakespeare knew several men connected with the Virginia Company and may have known Strachey.

Scholarly debate over the relationship between Strachey and The Tempest has been complicated, with some arguing that specific passages from Strachey are echoed in Shakespeare, others claiming a more general connection, and still others (primarily, but not solely, anti-Stratfordians) dismissing it as a source. (See Alden Vaughan, “William Strachey’s ‘True Reportory’ and Shakespeare: A Closer Look At the Evidence.” Shakespeare Quarterly . Volume 59, Number 3, Fall 2008, among others, for a description of this debate)

Here is our copy of Strachey's letter, printed in Purchas his Pilgrimes. At the Folger Shakespeare Library's site Shakespeare in American Life you can read both Strachey's account and the Shakespearean play and take a look for yourself.

Samuel Purchas, Purchas his Pilgrimes. In five books. The Fourth Part. London: Printed by William Stansby for Henrie Fetherstone, 1625. Rosenbach Museum & Library. A f. 625p

We at the Rosenbach hope our readers are not themselves too tempest-tossed and we extend our sympathies to those of you affected by the recent storm.


Kathy Haas is the Assistant Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog



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