Dating The Tempest
- Correspondences with Strachey's True
- 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 public
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 Verbal Parallels.
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
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
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!"
- 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
- Strachey tells how "we . . . had now purposed to have cut
down the Maine Mast" (12); the boatswain in the play cries,
"Down with the topmast!" (1.1.34).
- 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?"
- 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
- 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" (1.1.65-68).
- 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
- 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
- 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"
- 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 canon.
- 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
- 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
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.
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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's account:
- 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
- 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" (3.2.241).
- 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
- 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 letter.
- 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 common
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
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 Kermode.
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