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For an island so small and so islolated, Bermuda is a place that will grasp for culture in anyway it can get it. That may not be a bad thing, for most people would like some sort of cultural identity. One of the more interesting claims, however, is that William Shakespeare wrote “The Tempest” about Bermuda. Actually, it might be easier to assert that Shakespeare wrote The Tempest as a reaction to Christopher Marlowe’s “Dr. Faustus.” However, with the publicized wreck of the Sea Venture, as well as birth of the English Colonial age, Bermuda’s claim may not be far fetched. Via bermuda-online.com:

April 23, 1564 was the birth, at Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire, England, of British playwright William Shakespeare. For Bermuda, he has a special claim to fame. His story about Bermuda in 1610 as the still vexed Bermoothes in “The Tempest” where the settlers had been alive and well after all after the sinking of the “Sea Venture” and had succeeded in their journey from Bermuda to Jamestown in Virginia, made the Town of St. George and Bermuda famous. It was because William Strachey wrote the description of the wreck of the Sea Venture in Bermuda in 1609 and the time spent there by the passengers and crew. He spent a year in America before returning to Lyme Regis. It was mostly from his accounts that Shakespeare wrote The Tempest. Except that instead of correctly showing Bermuda, Plymouth and Virginia in his story, he used an Italian island and the people as mythical.

Yet there are many sections of his play where he originally used the word for word accounts of the epic voyage of the “Sea Venture” ship that ended its days in Bermuda and gave him the inspiration for the drama. He was a friend of the Earl who knew Admiral Sir George Somers well. He was the first famous literary historian of Bermuda. He was the son of John Shakespeare, a highly respected citizen of Stratford, where he held various offices including that of bailiff, or presiding officer, and his wife Mary, the daughter of Robert Arden of the Warwickshire landed gentry, closely related to the ancient Catholic family of Arden. Alas, all versions of “The Tempest” have used the fiction of Shakespeare, instead of the facts and accounts of the “Sea Venture” he was given.

As with most Shakespearean studies, there are some disagreeing critics out there. After a quick Google search, it seems to be an Oxfordian position — that is, the people who claim “conspiracy theory” about the “true” identity of the bard. (Why that’s likely nothing more than a conspiracy theory can be saved for a later time). At anyrate, here’s the counter claim, using a variety of sources and points, via The Skakespeare Oxford Society:

This article glances briefly at the question of whether The Tempest is based on the 1609 Bermuda wreck. The method of Stratfordians, beginning with Louis Wright, who bank on The Tempest to refute the Oxford theory is to ignore all other shipwreck literature, and then to dredge through the 114 pages of William Strachey’s and Silvester Jourdain’s pamphlets (in Wright’s 1964 A Voyage to Virginia in 1609) looking for parallels. Naturally they can find some, but Stratfordians who were unconcerned with Oxford were not particularly impressed with the results.

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One Comment

  1. The current Oxfordian theory about the origins of The Tempest is that is was earlier known as A Tragidye of the Spanish Maz but was given the later title when London was abuzz with news of the wreck of the Sea Venture. Shakespeare more than likely got background information for The Tempest from Aristo’s Orlando Furioso, Erasmus’s Naugragium, and Eden’s Decades of the Newe Worlde all of which predate True Repertory by many many years.


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