Dating The Tempest
- Correspondences with Strachey's True Reportory
- The Significance of the Parallels
- Shakespeare's Access to Strachey's Letter
Though Oxfordians consistently try to deny it, one of the biggest
problems for their theory is The Tempest, which can be dated with
virtual certainty as having been written between late 1610 and mid-to-late
1611, six to seven years after the death of the Earl of Oxford in 1604. J.
Thomas Looney, the originator of the Oxford theory, accepted this dating
(one of the few times sense overcame him in the writing of Shakespeare
Identified) and thus denigrated the play mercilessly in an attempt to
show that it was not written by "Shakespeare" (i.e. Oxford). Later
Oxfordians have looked coolly upon this subtraction from the canon, and
have tried to show that the play could have been written earlier than
1604; they have done this to their own satisfaction, and so consider the
issue more or less closed. However, the issue is anything but closed; all
Oxfordian attempts I am aware of to date the play before 1604 (and I think
I've looked at the most elaborate, including those of Charlton Ogburn and
Ruth Loyd Miller) are in fact astonishingly flimsy, and fail completely
to confront the overwhelming evidence that in writing The Tempest,
Shakespeare made extensive use of narratives describing the wreck and
redemption of the ship the "Sea-Venture" in Bermuda in 1609, and the
events which ensued when the crew made it safely ashore. Oxfordian
writings tend to misrepresent the facts on this issue rather blatantly; I
aim here to set the record straight, and (I hope) convince the reader that
the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford could not have written The Tempest.
First, a summary of the historical facts. [note1] In
early June, 1609, nine ships set out from England, carrying around 600
people altogether, to strengthen the new English colony in Virginia. The
"Sea-Venture" was the lead ship, and carried Sir Thomas Gates, the
newly-appointed Governor of the colony, and Sir George Somers, the Admiral
of the Virginia Company. For most of the voyage all went well, but on
July 25 a violent storm (probably a hurricane) overtook the ships and
raged for several days. After the storm had subsided, four of the nine
ships found each other and proceeded on to Virginia, and three of the
others eventually made it into port as well. The "Sea-Venture" never
showed up, and was presumed to be lost; word to that effect made it back
to England by the fall and created a public sensation, since interest in
the expedition was very high. But unknown to the rest of the world, the
battered ship had managed to reach Bermuda before running aground, with
all aboard making it safely ashore. The Bermudas had a reputation as a
place of devils and wicked spirits, but the colonists found it to be very
pleasant, and they lived there for the next nine months while building a
new ship out of native wood under Somers's guidance. They set sail on May
10, 1610, and reached Jamestown, Virginia two weeks later. A ship
carrying Governor Gates and others left Jamestown two months later and
reached England in September; the news of their survival caused another
Several accounts of the wreck and survival of the "Sea-Venture" were
rushed into print in the fall of 1610. The first of these, A Discovery
of the Barmudas, came out in October; it was written by Sylvester
Jourdain, who had been aboard the "Sea-Venture" and had returned to
England with Gates. A month later A True Declaration of the Estate of
the Colonie in Virginia was published. This was edited together from
various documents as a piece of pro-Virginia propaganda on behalf of the
Virginia Company, the consortium of investors who had underwritten the
trip; the subtitle indicated that it included "a confutation of such
scandalous reports as have tended to the disgrace of so worthy an
enterprise." [note2] Shakespeare almost certainly read
the two above pamphlets and used them in writing The Tempest, but more
important than either was William Strachey's True Reportory of the Wrack,
and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates Knight. Though it was not published
until 1625, Strachey's account is dated July 15, 1610, and circulated
among those in the know; it is addressed to an unidentified "Excellent
Lady," who was obviously familiar with the doings of the Virginia Company.
As I will show, William Shakespeare had multiple connections to both the
Virginia Company and William Strachey, and it is not at all surprising
that he would have had access to Strachey's letter. As I will also show,
this letter saturates The Tempest, providing the basic scenario, many
themes and images, and many details of plot and language. The first
recorded performance of The Tempest was at Court on November 1, 1611,
allowing us to date the play's composition with remarkable accuracy to the
roughly one-year period between the fall of 1610 and the fall of 1611.
To Table of Contents
The following is a list of thematic, verbal, and plot
correspondences between Strachey's account and The Tempest; in some
cases, parallels are also noted with Jourdain's Discovery of the
Barmudas and the anonymous True Declaration, in general only when they
are closer to the play than Strachey. [note3] I have
grouped them according to general categories: Background, The storm, The
Island, The Conspiracies, Other Events on the Island, and Miscellaneous
For completeness' sake, I have tried to include all the significant
parallels I could find, even though not all of them are of equal
importance. Many of these are quite striking, involving similar wording
in similar or identical contexts. Others are less impressive when looked
at in isolation, since they are of a type that might be found in other
travel narratives, but their sheer number and breadth (much greater than
in other narratives) is significant. Taken as a whole, these parallels
constitute very strong evidence -- virtual proof, I would say -- that
Shakespeare had read Strachey's account closely and had it in mind when he
wrote The Tempest.
To Table of Contents
The "Sea-Venture" was one of a fleet of nine ships which set out in 1609
to strengthen the English colony in Virginia; it carried Gates, the newly
appointed Governor of Virginia, and his entourage. A storm separated the
Sea-Venture from the other ships, and the rest of the fleet continued on
safely to Virginia, assuming that Gates had drowned. The situation in
The Tempest is exactly parallel: the ship is part of a fleet on its way
to Naples; it carries Alonso, King of Naples, and his entourage; a storm
separates the ship from the rest of the fleet, which continues on to
Naples, assuming Alonso has drowned:
and for the rest o' th' fleet
(Which I dispers'd), they have all met again,
And are upon the Mediterranean float
Bound sadly home for Naples,
Supposing that they saw the King's ship wrack'd,
And his great person perish. (1.2.232-37)
To Table of Contents
- Strachey describes the storm as "roaring" and "beat[ing] all light
from heaven; which like an hell of darknesse turned blacke upon us . . .
The sea swelled above the clouds, which gave battel unto heaven" (6-7).
In The Tempest, Miranda describes the waters as being in a "roar," and
says that "The sky it seems would pour down stinking pitch, / But that the
Sea, mounting to th' welkins cheek, / Dashes the fire out." (1.2.1-5)
- Strachey says that "Our clamours dround in the windes, and the
windes in thunder. Prayers might well be in the heart and lips, but
drowned in the outcries of the officers" (7); in the play the boatswain
says, "A plague upon this howling; they are louder than the weather, or
our office" (1.1.36-7), and a few lines later the mariners cry, "To
prayers! To prayers!" (1.1.51).
- Strachey tells how "in the beginning of the storme we had
received likewise a mighty leake" (8); Gonzalo says the ship in the play
is "as leaky as an unstanched wench" (1.1.47-48).
- Strachey says that "there was not a moment in which the
sodaine splitting, or instant oversetting of the Shippe was not expected"
(8); the mariners in the play cry, "We split, we split!" (1.1.61).
- Strachey tells how "we . . . had now purposed to have cut down
the Maine Mast" (12); the boatswain in the play cries, "Down with the
- Strachey says that "who was most armed, and best prepared, was
not a little shaken" (6); Prospero asks, "Who was so firm, so constant,
that this coil / Would not infect his reason?" (1.2.207-08).
- Strachey says that "Our Governour was . . . both by his speech
and authoritie heartening every man unto his labour" (10); as soon as he
appears, King Alonso says, "Good boatswain, have care. Where's the
Master? Play the men" (1.1.9-10).
- Strachey has a description of St. Elmo's fire that corresponds
in many particulars to Ariel's description of his magical boarding of the
King's ship. Strachey: "Sir George Somers . . . had an apparition of a
little round light, like a faint Starre, trembling, and streaming along
with a sparkeling blaze, halfe the height upon the Maine Mast, and
shooting sometimes from Shroud to Shroud, tempting to settle as it were
upon any of the foure Shrouds . . . running sometimes along the Maine-yard
to the very end, and then returning . . . but upon a sodaine, towards the
morning watch, they lost the sight of it, and knew not which way it made .
. . Could it have served us now miraculously to have taken our height by,
it might have strucken amazement" (11-12). Ariel:
I boarded the King's ship; now on the beak,
Now in the waist, the deck, in every cabin,
I flam'd amazement. Sometimes I'ld divide,
And burn in many places; on the topmast,
The yards and boresprit, would I flame distinctly,
Then meet and join. Jove's lightning, the precursors
O' th' dreadful thunder-claps, more momentary
And sight-outrunning were not; (1.2.196-203)
- Jourdain says that "all our men, being utterly spent, tyred,
and disabled for longer labour, were even resolved, without any hope of
their lives, to shut up the hatches" (4-5) and "were fallen asleepe in
corners" (6); Ariel describes "The mariners all under hatches stowed, /
Who, with a charm joined to their suff'red labor / I have left asleep"
(1.2.230-32). Strachey mentions "hatches" four times (10, 10, 13, 25);
Shakespeare in Act 5 again mentions "the mariners asleep / Under the
hatches" (5.98-99), and the boatswain says, "We were dead of sleep, / And
(how we know not) all clapp'd under hatches" (5.230-31).
- Jourdain says that the sailors "drunke one to the other,
taking their last leave one of the other" (5); in the play the boatswain
says, "What, must our mouths be cold?" (1.1.52), after which Antonio
complains, "We are merely cheated of our lives by drunkards" (1.1.56), and
Sebastian says "Let's take our leave of him" (1.1.64).
- Strachey tells how the sailors "threw over-boord much luggage
. . . and staved many a Butt of Beere, Hogsheads of Oyle, Syder, Wine, and
Vinegar, and heaved away all our Ordnance on the Starboord side" (12).
Stephano says that "I escap'd upon a butt of sack which the sailors heav'd
o'erboard" (2.2.121-22), and later tells Caliban to "bear this away where
my hogshead of wine is" (4.1.250-51); both Caliban (4.1.231) and Alonso
(5.1.299) call the stolen apparel "luggage."
- Strachey says that "death is accompanied at no time, nor place
with circumstances so uncapable of particularities of goodnesse and inward
comforts, as at Sea" (6); Gonzalo says, "Now would I give a thousand
furlongs of sea for an acre of barren ground, long heath, brown furze, any
thing. The wills above be done! But I would fain die a dry death"
- Strachey tells how "we were inforced to run [the ship]
ashoare, as neere the land as we could, which brought us within three
quarters of a mile of shoare" (13); Jourdain adds that the ship "fell in
between two rockes, where she was fast lodged and locked, for further
budging" (7). Ariel in The Tempest, after confirming for Prospero that
the ship was "nigh shore" (1.2.216) says, "Safely in harbor / Is the
King's ship, in the deep nook" (1.2.226-27).
- In both cases everybody on board made it safely ashore.
Strachey attributes this to the benevolence of God: "that night we must
have . . . perished: but see the goodnesse and sweet introduction of
better hope, by our mercifull God given unto us" (13); "by the mercy of
God unto us, making out our Boates, we had ere night brought all our men,
women, and children, about the number of one hundred and fifty, safe into
the Iland" (13). In The Tempest, the safe landing is attributed to the
benevolence of Prospero:
The direful spectacle of the wrack, which touch'd
The very virtue of compassion in thee,
I have with such provision in mine art
So safely ordered that there is no soul--
No, not so much perdition as an hair
Betid to any creature in the vessel. (1.2.26-31)
- Jourdain tells how they "had time and leasure to save some
good part of our goods and provision, which the water had not spoyled"
(7-8); Gonzalo mentions how "our garments, being (as they were) drench'd
in the sea, hold notwithstanding their freshness and glosses, being rather
new dy'd than stain'd with salt water" (2.1.62-65).
- In Strachey the shipwrecked party is split up into two groups;
in The Tempest they are split up into two main groups, plus Ferdinand.
To Table of Contents
- Strachey writes about how it had been thought that the
Bermudas were "given over to Devils and wicked Spirits" (14); Jourdain
calls it "the Ile of Divels" (title page) and "a most prodigious and
enchanted place" (8); A True Declaration says that "these Islands of the
Bermudos, have ever beene accounted as an enchaunted pile of rockes, and a
desert inhabitation for Divels; but all the Fairies of the rocks were but
flocks of birds, and all the Divels that haunted the woods, were but
heards of swine" (10-11). Such references certainly could have been the
germ which suggested to Shakespeare the magic elements of the play; note
that Ariel at 1.2.214-15 quotes Ferdinand as saying, "Hell is empty, / And
all the devils are here," and that "devils" are mentioned a dozen times
altogether in the play.
- Strachey writes of the "great strokes of thunder, lightning
and raine in the extremity of violence" (15). Trinculo says of Caliban,
"I took him to be kill'd with a thunder-stroke" (2.2.108); and earlier
Antonio says, "They dropp'd, as by a thunder-stroke" (2.1.204). (These are
Shakespeare's only two uses of the word "thunder-stroke"; he
usually--seven times--used "thunderbolt.")
- Strachey also writes of the "many scattering showers of Raine
(which would passe swiftly over, and yet fall with such force and
darknesse for the time as if it would never bee cleere again)" (16). In
the course of Trinculo's monologue at 2.2.18-41, a storm with "black
cloud[s]" (20) passes over quickly.
- Strachey mentions palm trees of which "so broad are the
leaves, as an Italian Umbrello, a man may well defend his whole body under
one of them, from the greatest storm raine that falls" (19). This
suggests Trinculo hiding under Caliban's "gaberdine" (2.2.38) to escape
the above rainstorm.
- A True Declaration calls the Bermudas "a place hardly
accessable" (10) and "an uninhabited desart" (11), but Jourdain says,
"yet did we finde there the ayre so temperate and the Country so
aboundantly fruitful of all fit necessaries" (9). In the play, Adrian
says, "Though this island seem to be desert . . . Uninhabitable, and
almost inaccessible . . . Yet . . . It must needs be of subtle, tender,
and delicate temperance" (2.1.35-43).
- Strachey says that "There are no Rivers nor running Springs of
fresh water to bee found upon any of [the islands]"; their "Wels and Pits"
were "either halfe full, or absolutely exhausted and dry," though
eventually the men found "some low bottoms" which "we found to continue as
fishing Ponds, or standing Pooles . . . full of fresh water" (20). Fresh
water is similarly hard to find on the island of The Tempest: Caliban
reminds Prospero how "I lov'd thee / And show'd thee all the qualities
o' th' Isle, / The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place and fertile"
(1.2.336-38); later he offers to show Trinculo "the best springs"
(2.2.160), and still later he threatens, "I'll not show him where the
quick freshes are" (3.2.66-67).
- Strachey tells of the "high and sweet smelling Woods" (19),
yet also mentions "Fennes, Marishes, Ditches, muddy Pooles" and "places
where much filth is daily cast forth" (21); A True Declaration similarly
tells of the "temperat aire," but also the "fennes" and the "salt water,
the owze of which sendeth forth an unwholsome & contagious vapour" (14).
In the play Adrian says, "The air breathes upon us here most sweetly," to
which Sebastian retorts, "As if it had lungs, and rotten ones," and
Antonio adds, "Or, as 'twere perfumed by a fen" (2.1.47-9). Fens are
mentioned twice more in The Tempest -- "from unwholesome fen" (1.2.322);
"bogs, fens, flats" (2.2.2) -- but only twice more in the rest of the
- Strachey tells how the ship they built on Bermuda was made of
"Cedar" and "Oke" (40); Prospero, in his speech at 5.33-57, mentions "oak"
and "cedar" within four lines of each other.
- Strachey mentions the "Berries, whereof our men seething,
straining, and letting stand some three or four daies, made a kind of
pleasant drinke" (18); Caliban says that Prospero "wouldst give me /
Water with berries in't" (1.2.333-34).
- Strachey mentions, among other animals, "Toade" (17),
"Beetell" (18), and "Battes" (22); Caliban curses Prospero with "toads,
beetles, bats" (1.2.340).
- Strachey also mentions "Sparrowes" and "Owles" (22), both of
which are mentioned in passing in the play (4.1.100, 5.1.90). In fact,
the relevant passage of Strachey mentions owls and bats consecutively:
"Owles, and Battes in great store"; and Ariel's song in Act 5 mentions
them in consecutive lines: "There I couch when owls do cry. / On the bat's
back I do fly" (5.1.90-91).
- Strachey has a lengthy passage about a bird called the
"Sea-Meawe" which the men caught "standing on the Rockes" (22); Caliban
tells Stephano that "I'll get thee / Young scamels from the rock"
(2.2.171-72). Scamels" is usually taken to be a misprint for "Sea-mells,"
a variant of "Sea-mews."
- Strachey has a paragraph about the "Tortoyse," which he says
"is such a kind of meat, as a man can neither absolutely call Fish nor
Flesh, keeping most what in the water, and feeding upon Sea-grasse like a
Heifer" (24). Prospero calls Caliban "thou tortoise" (1.2.316), while
Trinculo wonders whether he is "a man or a fish" (2.2.25), and Stephano
repeatedly calls him "moon-calf" (e.g., 2.2.106, 2.2.135-6).
To Table of Contents
In both Strachey's account and The Tempest, much of the action once the
parties safely reach shore involves conspiracies. A True Declaration
says that "the broken remainder of those supplies made a greater shipwrack
in the continent of Virginia, by the tempest of dissention: every man
overvaluing his own worth, would be a Commander: every man underprising
an others value, denied to be commanded" (14-15), making the connection
between the tempest at sea and the tempest of conspiracies which must have
inspired Shakespeare. Elsewhere (8) the same tract speaks of "this
tragicall Comaedie." Many elements of the conspiracies in The Tempest
are directly suggested by Strachey.
- The conspirators in Strachey question the governor's authority
and threaten his life: "one Stephen Hopkins" said "that it was no breach
of honesty . . . to decline from the obedience of the Governour" (30-31);
and we are told that "the life of our Governour, along with many others
were threatened" (32). Similarly in The Tempest, the two sets of
conspirators question the authority of, and threaten the lives of, both
Alonso and Prospero.
- However, Strachey also tells how the conspiracies never got
very far because someone always gave them away: "Humphrey Reede (who
presently discovered it [a plot] to the Governour" (30); "some of the
association . . . brake from the plot it selfe, and (before the time was
ripe for the execution thereof) discovered the whole order" (33).
Similarly, Ariel foils both of the plots in The Tempest: the first by
singing a warning in Gonzalo's ear, the other by flying off and telling
Prospero ("This will I tell my master" (3.2.115)).
- Strachey tells how "so willing were the major part of the
common sort (especially when they found such a plenty of victuals) to
settle a foundation of ever inhabiting there," and notes that "some
dangerous and secret discontents nourished amongst us, had like to have
bin the parents of bloudy issues and mischiefs" (28). This parallels the
plot of Stephano and Trinculo ("the common sort" among the shipwrecked
party) to stay and rule the island: Stephano says, "we will inherit here"
(2.2.175), and Caliban later urges them to "Do that good mischief which
may make this island / Thine own for ever" (4.1.217-18), to which Stephano
responds, "I do begin to have bloody thoughts" (4.1.220-21).
- Strachey tells how some of the rebels "by a mutuall consent
forsooke their labour . . . and like Out-lawes betooke them to the wild
Woods" because of "meere rage, and greedinesse after some little Pearle,"
after which they demanded that the Governor give them each "two Sutes of
Apparell" (35). In the play, after Stephano and Trinculo have convinced
Caliban to abandon his labors for Prospero, Ariel leads them through
"Tooth'd briers, sharp furzes, pricking goss, and thorns" into "th'
filthy-mantled pool" (4.1.180-82) (Strachey on page 21 mentions "muddy
Pooles"), after which they try to steal the "glistering apparel" (4.1.193)
that Prospero has set out for them.
- Strachey describes how one Henry Paine, "his watch night
comming about, and being called by the Captaine of the same, to be upon
the guard," violently refused to do so, going on to say "that the
Governour had no authoritie of that qualitie" (34-35). Later Strachey
describes how some of the men, "watching the advantage of the Centinels
sleeping" (38), freed one of their fellows who was bound to a tree after
being accused of murder. This is suggestive of how Antonio, after telling
Alonso that "We two, my lord, / Will guard your person while you take your
rest, / And watch your safety" (2.1.196-98), goes on to plot with
Sebastian against the sleeping king's life; it also suggests Caliban,
Stephano and Trinculo's plotting to murder Prospero while he sleeps.
- In Strachey, a plot against the Governor is discovered "before
the time was ripe for the execution thereof" after which "every man [was]
thenceforth commanded to weare his weapon . . . and every man advised to
stand upon his guard" (33). In the play, the plot of Sebastian and
Antonio against the King is foiled before they can execute it, after which
Gonzalo says, "'Tis best we stand upon our guard, / Or that we quit this
place. Let's draw our weapons" (2.1.321-22).
- Strachey describes how one of the conspirators "was brought
forth in manacles" (31); Prospero threatens Ferdinand, "I'll manacle thy
neck and feet together" (1.2.462).
To Table of Contents
- Much of Strachey's narrative describes the building of a new
ship to reach Virginia, a project which involved much cutting and carrying
of wood. In the play, both Caliban (in 2.2) and Ferdinand (in 3.1) are
made by Prospero to carry wood:
- The men in Strachey "were . . . hardly drawn to it [chopping and
carrying wood], as the Tortoise to the inchantment, as the Proverbe is"
(28); Caliban is similarly reluctant ("I needs must curse" (2.2.4)), but
has no choice because of Prospero's magic.
- On the other hand, Strachey describes how "the Governour
dispensed with no travaile of his body, nor forbare . . . to fell, carry,
and sawe Cedar . . . (for what was so meane, whereto he would not himselfe
set his hand) . . . his owne presence and hand being set to every meane
labour, and imployed so readily to every office, made our people at length
more diligent" (28). Ferdinand is similarly enthusiastic:
There be some sports are painful, and their labor
Delight in them sets off; some kinds of baseness
Are nobly undergone; and most poor matters
Point to rich ends. This my mean task
Would be as heavy to me, as odious, but
The mistress which I serve, quickens what's dead,
And makes my labors pleasures. (3.1.1-7)
- Strachey tells how in Virginia, the Indians killed one of the
Englishmen whose canoe ran aground near their village. This murder
troubled Gates, "who since his first landing in the Countrey (how justly
soever provoked) would not by any meanes be wrought to a violent
proceeding against them, for all the practices of villany, with which they
daily endangered our men, thinking it possible, by a more tractable
course, to winne them to a better condition: but now being startled by
this, he well perceived, how little a faire and noble intreatie workes
upon a barbarous disposition, and therefore in some measure purposed to be
avenged" (62-63). This is paralleled in the play by Prospero's initial
kindness toward Caliban, turning to anger and revenge after Caliban's
attempted rape of Miranda.
I pitied thee,
Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour
One thing or other . . .
But thy vild race
(Though though didst learn) had that in't which good natures
Could not abide to be with; therefore wast thou
Deservedly confin'd into this rock,
Who hadst deserved more than a prison. (1.2.353-62)
- Strachey says that "It pleased God to give us opportunitie, to
performe all the other Offices, and Rites of our Christian Profession in
this Iland: as Marriage" (37-38), and goes on to describe a wedding
between Thomas Powell (a cook) and Elizabeth Persons (a maid servant).
This may have suggested the love story between Miranda and Ferdinand,
culminating in marriage; cf. especially Prospero's warning not to "break
her virgin-knot before / All sanctimonious ceremonies may / With full and
holy rite be minist'red" (4.1.15-17).
- The debate among Gonzalo, Antonio and Sebastian in act 2,
scene 1 about the nature of paradise parallels the public debate in
England in the wake of the attempted colonization of Virginia beginning in
1607, three years after Oxford's death. It is well known that Shakespeare
got the wording for Gonzalo's speeches from Florio's English translation
of Montaigne's De Cannibales, published in 1603, but the references
cited in note 3, particularly Cawley and Gayley, show in
detail how the debate in the play parallels the public debate in England
c. 1610, and how it was explicitly recognized that "Plaiers" were involved
in the discussion.
To Table of Contents
None of the following parallels would have much value as evidence taken by
themselves, but combined with the mass of correspondences noted above, I
think they can be taken as further evidence of Shakespeare's knowledge of
- Strachey has a digression (55) in which he mentions Aeneas,
followed closely (56) by a digression in which he mentions Dido; the
discussion among Antonio, Sebastian, etc. in act 2, scene 1 has a puzzling
digression on Dido and Aeneas (77-86).
- Strachey at one point cites "Gonzalus Ferdinandus Oviedus,"
the Spaniard who had written the first description of the Bermudas ninety
years earlier (14); this suggests the names of Gonzalo and Ferdinand.
- Strachey mentions "the sharpe windes blowing Northerly" (16);
Prospero mentions "the sharp wind of the north" (1.2.254).
- Strachey repeatedly uses the word "amazement":
as does Shakespeare
- "taken up with amazement" (6),
- "with much fright and amazement" (8),
- "strucken amazement" (12);
- "No more amazement" (1.2.14),
- "I flam'd amazement" (1.2.198),
- "All torment, trouble, wonder, and amazement / Inhabits here"
- Strachey uses the phrase "bear up" twice: "bearing somewhat
up" (10), "our Governour commanded the Helme-man to beare up" (13); and so
does Shakespeare: "to bear up / Against what should ensue" (1.2.157-58),
"therefore bear up and board 'em" (3.2.2-3). Shakespeare's only other use
of "bear up" is in The Winter's Tale: "bear up with this exercise"
- Strachey describes the newly rebuilt ship "when her Masts,
Sayles, and all her Trimme should be about her" (39); in the play the
boatswain, in exactly the same context (Ariel has just magically rebuilt
the ship), tells how "we, in all our trim, freshly beheld / Our royal,
good, and gallant ship" (5.236-37).
- Strachey mentions "Fluxes and Agues" (58); Stephano in act 2,
scene 2 repeatedly mentions Caliban's "ague" (66, 93, 136).
- Strachey, in the description of the storm, mentions a "glut of
water" (7); Gonzalo, in the same context, says "He'll be hang'd yet, /
Though every drop of water swear against it, / And gape at wid'st to glut
him" (1.1.58-60), the only appearance of the word "glut" in Shakespeare.
- Strachey also mentions "hoodwinked men" (12), and
Shakespeare's use of the word "hoodwink" at 4.1.206 ("hoodwink this
mischance") is one of three in the canon.
- Strachey mentions "Boske running along the ground" (48); in
the masque in The Tempest, Ceres mentions "my bosky acres" (4.1.81),
Shakespeare's only use of this word.
To Table of Contents
As the above list shows, Strachey's True Reportory (and to a
lesser extent the other two narratives) pervades the entire play. It
provides the basic premise and background of the shipwreck, many details
of the storm, the general characteristics of the island along with many
details, the basic elements and many details of the conspiracies, many
verbal parallels (most of them involving similar or identical contexts),
and direct suggestions of the magic, love story, wood-carrying, and
Prospero vs. Caliban elements of the play. Moreover, it is obvious that
Shakespeare could only have borrowed from Strachey, Jourdain, and A True
Declaration rather than the other way around; this was not another work
of fiction Shakespeare was basing his play on, but three independent
accounts of actual events which did not happen until 1609-10.
Rather than dealing with the mass of evidence we have just seen,
Oxfordians usually attack straw men and present badly distorted versions
of what Shakespeare scholars actually say. To hear Ruth Loyd Miller tell
it, the only connection between the Bermuda pamphlets and The Tempest is
Ariel's reference to the "still-vex'd Bermoothes" at 1.2.228-9, and she
goes on to triumphantly note that there had been other accounts of
shipwrecks in the Bermudas before 1604 which she says Oxford could have
used. [note4] I am forced to conclude from this that
Miller has simply not bothered to read any of the literature on the
sources of The Tempest, for if she had she would not make such an
astonishingly ill-informed statement. The evidence that Shakespeare used
the Bermuda pamphlets has nothing to do with the "still-vex'd Bermoothes"
line, and would be just as strong were that line not in the play. None of
the pre-1604 voyagers' accounts offered by Miller or other Oxfordians
contain anything remotely like the broad and pervasive parallels with The
Tempest found in the 1610 Bermuda narratives; at best they offer only
general and sporadic correspondences. Stephen May's account of a
shipwreck on Bermuda in 1593, often cited by Oxfordians, mentions the
"foule weather" of the Bermudas and "great store of fowle, fish, and
tortoises," but the storm bears little resemblance to that of The
Tempest, and the closest thing to a conspiracy is when the men demand
wine from the captain, get drunk, and run the ship aground. Charlton
Ogburn, in The Mysterious William Shakespeare (389), gives a third-hand
report of a 1602 voyage to the island of Cuttyhunk, near Massachusetts,
which he claims as a possible source for the play. Ogburn gives a few
parallels involving the island (e.g. "Mussels, nuts, and crabs appear in
both"), but there was apparently no storm involved and no conspiracies,
and the fact that Ogburn cites his source as an "undated clipping" from
the New York Times Book Review makes it difficult for interested
scholars to check the accuracy of what he says or pursue the matter
further. Other accounts cited by Oxfordians contain general similarities
here and there to some elements of the play, such as one might expect to
find in any travel narrative involving shipwrecks and/or islands, but none
of them has the entire scenario of the play, many major and minor plot
elements, and much of the language, as Strachey's 1610 letter does. This
is not to say that Shakespeare used no sources from before 1604 --
Cawley's article, cited in note 3, lists many possible
or probable ones -- but these were mostly used for specific details, such
as the name Setebos (taken from Eden's Historie of Travayle).
There are a few other arguments which have been used occasionally by
Oxfordians in a desperate attempt to deny Shakespeare's dependence on
Strachey. Ogburn cites Richard Roe, who pointed out that the play is set
in the Mediterranean -- not in Bermuda at all! True, but irrelevant;
nobody claims that the play is actually set in Bermuda, only that
Shakespeare took many elements of the play from an account of events which
happened in Bermuda. Roe also suggests that Ariel's "still-vex'd
Bermoothes" line might refer to the seedy area of Elizabethan London
popularly known as the Bermudas. It is certainly possible that
Shakespeare put in a double-entendre here for the benefit of the
groundlings, but if so, so what? As noted above, the "still-vexed
Bermoothes" line is very peripheral to the whole question of sources, and
Roe's arguments say nothing about the mass of parallels to Strachey.
To Table of Contents
Since Strachey's account is dated July 15, 1610 but was not
published until 1625, some Oxfordians have dismissed the idea that
Shakespeare of Stratford could have used this letter in writing the play.
However, there is every reason to believe that he did have access to it,
since Shakespeare had multiple ties to both William Strachey and the
Virginia Company. Strachey's letter was addressed to an unidentified
"Lady," who obviously had intimate knowledge of the expedition and the
whole Virginia project; it was sent back to England along with Gates in
the summer of 1610 along with a less frank and more upbeat "Despatch" (the
manuscript of which still exists in Strachey's handwriting) which formed
part of the basis for A True Declaration (cited above). Shakespeare had
many connections to members of the Virginia Company, among whom Strachey's
letter undoubtedly circulated, and any one of them could have let him see
it. For example:
- William Leveson, who was in charge of attracting investors for the
Virginia enterprise, was a business associate of Shakespeare's; he had
acted as trustee in 1599 when Shakespeare and four of his fellow
Chamberlain's men bought a half share of the Globe theater.
- Dudley Digges, one of the most active and important members of
the council, was the stepson of Shakespeare's friend Thomas Russell (who
oversaw Will's will), brother of Leonard Digges of First Folio fame (who
lived in Stratford with his stepfather when not traveling abroad), and
friend of both Shakespeare's fellow actor John Heminges (who attended
Digges's wedding and signed as a witness) and Ben Jonson (for whose
Volpone Digges wrote some commendatory verses). Leslie Hotson pointed
out in his book I, William Shakespeare that Digges visited his
stepfather in Stratford in late 1610 to attend to some business matters,
suggesting that he might have brought along a manuscript of Strachey's
- Another member of the Virginia Council whom Shakespeare almost
certainly knew was Sir Henry Rainsford of Clifford Chambers, since the two
men were part of the same tight circle of friends in and around Stratford.
Shakespeare's son-in-law/friend John Hall was the Rainsford family
physician; Rainsford was a good friend of Shakespeare's Stratford friend
John Combe (both Shakespeare and Rainsford are left bequests in Combe's
will, of which Rainsford was executor); and Thomas Greene of Stratford,
who lived in Shakespeare's house for a time and referred in his diary to
"my cosen Shakespeare," also referred in his diary to many conversations
between himself and Rainsford, with whom he was obviously close.
- And finally, Strachey himself was heavily involved in the
London theater, and he and Shakespeare at the very least knew of each
other and had common acquaintances. Strachey was a sharer in the Children
of the Queen's Revels, a major rival to the Chamberlain's / King's Men and
the "eyrie of children" scornfully alluded to in Hamlet. (Their
landlord at the Blackfriars was Shakespeare's longtime friend and
colleague Richard Burbage.) In his capacity as sharer, Strachey worked
with the playwrights who wrote for the company, including Jonson, Marston,
Chapman, and Day; he wrote a commendatory sonnet for the 1605 Quarto of
Jonson's Sejanus, a play in which Shakespeare acted. Though Strachey
himself did not return to England until the fall of 1611, it seems quite
likely that his letter circulated among some of his and Shakespeare's
Gayley (cited in note 3) notes many other possible
connections between Shakespeare and the Virginia Company, some of them
more speculative than others. We will probably never know exactly how
Shakespeare came to see Strachey's letter, but as the above web of
connections shows, he had ample opportunity to do so through his numerous
connections with the Virginia Company.
To Table of Contents
I hope the above has been convincing in showing that the writer of
The Tempest was heavily influenced by the Bermuda narratives of 1610,
especially Strachey's letter, and thus that the Earl of Oxford (who died
in 1604) was not the author. It will not do to suggest, as Charlton
Ogburn and some other Oxfordians do, that any passages alluding to
Strachey could have been added by another hand after Oxford's death; the
later hand would have had to completely rewrite the entire play under such
a scenario, leaving one to wonder just what parts these people believe
Oxford wrote. The only way out for the Oxfordian theory that I can see is
to follow Looney in denying that "Shakespeare" wrote The Tempest, but
then you would have to explain who did write it, why it is so closely
linked thematically and linguistically with Shakespeare's other romances,
and why it was included in the First Folio as Shakespeare's (as the first
play in the volume, no less). I will not speculate on these matters, but
will merely observe that The Tempest is far more damaging to the
Oxfordian case than most Oxfordians would like to believe.
To Table of Contents
The following account is based principally on Joseph Quincy Adams's
introduction to the 1940 reprint of Sylvester Jourdain's Discovery of the
Barmudas, with some input from the sources listed below in note 3. Some modern sources call the ship the
"Sea-Adventure," but both Jourdain and William Strachey, who were aboard
the ship, call it the "Sea-Venture" in their written accounts; thus that
is the name I will use.
A third account of the Gates expedition's adventures in Bermuda and
Virginia was published in late 1610: a 22-stanza ballad called Newes from
Virginia by "R. Rich, Gent., one of the voyage" (reprinted in 1937 by
Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints). This contains nothing noteworthy for
our purposes, but it does illustrate the popular interest in the story.
Over the next few years a steady stream of publications relating to the
Virginia expeditions appeared, including an augmented and retitled version
of Jourdain's account published in 1613.
Quotations from the play are from The Riverside Shakespeare, edited
by G. Blakemore Evans, with act, scene, and line numbers given; quotations
from Strachey are from the edition in Hakluytus Posthumus, or Purchas His
Pilgrimes, vol. 19 (1904: James MacLehose and Sons), with page numbers
given; quotations from Jourdain are taken from the facsimile reprint
edition published by Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints in 1940, and edited
by Joseph Quincy Adams; quotations from A True Declaration are from the
edition in Tracts and Other Papers, edited by Peter Force, vol. 3
(Washington, 1844; reprinted by Peter Smith, 1963). A modernized edition
of Strachey's and Jourdain's accounts was published by The University
Press of Virginia in 1964 as A Voyage to Virginia in 1609, edited by
Louis B. Wright. Fuller accounts of Shakespeare's sources for The
Tempest can be found in Robert Ralston Cawley's "Shakspere's Use of the
Voyagers" in Publications of the Modern Language Association of America,
41 (1926), pp. 688-726; C. M. Gayley's Shakespeare and the Founders of
Liberty in America (1917); Geoffrey Bullough's Narrative and Dramatic
Sources of Shakespeare, Volume 8; and the two Arden editions of The
Tempest, the first edited by Morton Luce and the second edited by Frank
The Shakespeare Newsletter, Spring 1990, p. 12. Miller also claims
that Jourdain's Discovery of the Barmudas was, "according to
Stratfordians, . . . the sole source available for Shakespeare to know of
a shipwreck at Bermuda," a patently false statement. Jourdain's account,
while probably read by Shakespeare, was very much secondary in importance
to Strachey's True Reportory.
To Table of Contents
Back to Shakespeare Authorship Home Page