From The Tempest. Ed. Henry Norman Hudson. Ginn and Company.
America may justly claim to have had a large share in suggesting and shaping the delectable workmanship of The
Tempest. In May, 1609, a fleet of nine vessels under the command of Sir George Somers sailed from England with
provisions and five hundred settlers for the newly founded colony of Virginia. On July 25 a storm separated the
"Sea Adventure" (some narratives give the name as "Sea
Venture") from the other vessels of the fleet, and, with
Somers and Sir Thomas Gates on board, it was wrecked
three days later on the coast of the Bermudas. The crew reached one of the islands in safety, and in May, 1610, continued their voyage to Virginia in two boats of cedar which they had built on the island.
Meanwhile news of the disaster had reached England, and intense was the excitement there
when in 1610 some of those who had taken part in these
thrilling experiences returned home. That year saw the appearance of at least four narratives of the wreck, and to all
Shakespeare may have had access. It is not unlikely that he
would learn some details from the lips of the returned sailors
and adventurers themselves. In this connection the fact is
noteworthy that Shakespeare's friends and patrons, the earls
of Southampton and Pembroke, were among the noblemen
interested in the Somers expedition for business reasons.
1. Strachey's True Reportory. The earliest written narrative
of the shipwreck of the "Sea Adventure" is in a Reportory, dated July 15, 1610, addressed by William Strachey (Strachy)
from Jamestown to some "excellent lady" in England. The full tide of this Repertory as printed, probably for the first
time, in Purchas, Part IV, lib. ix, ch. vi, is here given in facsimile:
In the Reportory and The Tempest are several striking
verbal coincidences, both in the account, of the storm and, in
the description of the birds and berries of the island; and
the probability is strong that Shakespeare had access to
Strachey's original manuscript, which seems to have been
brought to England by Sir Thomas Gates immediately after
it was written. Strachey was a man of genuine poetic power;
and it is interesting to note that in 1612 he had a lodging in
the Blackfriars, where Shakespeare purchased a house in 1613.
2. Jourdan's Discovery, Silvester Jourdan (Jourdain) came
to England with Gates in 1610, and in October published
his narrative- of the famous wreck under the following title:
A Discovery of the Barmudas, otherwise called the Ile of
Divels: By Sir Thomas Gates, Sir George Sommers, and
Captayne Newport, with diuers others. Set forth for the loue
of my Country, and also for the good of the Plantation of
Virginia. Sil. Jourdan, London, 1610, Jourdan's pamphlet
describes the region as "never inhabited" but "ever esteemed
and reputed a most prodigious and enchanted place." "Yet
did we find there the ayre so temperate and the country so
aboundantiy fruitfull for the sustentation and preseruation
of man's life . . . that we were refreshed and comforted."
3. A True Declaration. Towards the close of 1610
appeared a third narrative of the shipwreck of the "Sea
Adventure," and a description of the regions involved. The
title reads: A True Declaration of the Estate of the Colonie
in Virginia, With a Confutation of such scandalous Reports
as have tended to the disgrace of so worthy an enterprise. In
this anonymous pamphlet, purporting to be published "by
Advise and direction of the Councell of Virginia," the wreck
is said to have been caused by a thunderstorm; the after events are called a "Tragicall-Comaedie"; and the Bermudas
are described as "an inchanted pile of rockes, and a desert
inhabitation for divels"; but, adds the writer, "all the fairies
of the rocks were but flockes of birds, and all the divels that
haunted the woods were but heardes of swine."
4. Riches Newes from Virginia. Along with these prose
narratives of the year 1610 must be mentioned a set of
"butter-women's rank to market" verses, a ballad with the
following title: Newes from Virginia, The Lost Flocke triumphant, with the happy Arriual of that famous and worthy
knight, Sr Thomas Gates, and the well reputed and valiant
Captaine Mr, Christopher Newporte, and others, into England, With the manner of their distresse in the Hand of
Deuils (otherwise called Bermoothawes), where they remayned
42 weekesy and builded two Pynaces in which they returned
into Virginia. By R, Rich, Gent,, one of the Voyage, London,
1610. The third stanza repeats the interesting spelling "Bermoothawes" (cf. note, I, ii, 229):
The seas did rage, the windes did blowe,
distressed were they then;
Their ship did leake, her tacklings breake,
in daunger were her men.
But heaven was pylotte in this storme,
and to an iland nere, Bemioothawes call'd, conducted then,
which did abate their feare.
From such contemporary narratives as these Shakespeare
derived color and atmosphere for his enchanted island. That
he did not intend the Bermudas as the scene of the action
is evident from Ariel's words in I, ii, 228-229.
How to cite this article:
Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Ed. Henry Norman Hudson. New York: Ginn and Company, 1909. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2010. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/keydates/tempestbermuda.html >.