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The Tempest and Shakespeare's Geographic Imagination

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Katie Thompson

on 30 April 2014

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Transcript of The Tempest and Shakespeare's Geographic Imagination

by Katie Thompson
"The Tempest" and Shakespeare's Geographic Imagination
The Tempest (1610-1611)
What inspired Shakespeare?
"The Tempest" is often thought to be William Shakespeare's last and final play he penned strictly on his own. It has been associated with several dramatic genres including: comedy, romance, and tragicomedy, and contains such themes as: the supernatural, exploration/wandering/discovery, and redemption. The play takes place on a remote, uncivilized island in the Mediterranean Sea where Prospero (the rightful Duke of Milan) and his daughter, Miranda, found shelter after being exiled from Milan. Seeking revenge, Prospero conjures a great storm to shipwreck his usurping brother, Antonio, and his accomplice, King Alonso of Naples. Ultimately, Prospero forgives Antonio and Alonso, while Miranda and Alonso's son, Ferdinand, marry, and Prospero returns to Milan as the Duke and gives up his magical powers.
The Journey
Alonso, Ferdinand, Sebastian, Antonio, Gonzalo, Stefano, and Trinculo were traveling back from Tunis (Africa) to Milan (Italy) from Alonso's daughter's wedding to the Prince of Tunis when Prospero conjured the tempest to trap them on his island. They landed on the island somewhere in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. It is possible Shakespeare's fictitious island was geographically based on the Italian region Sardinia (Frey, 29). However, Ariel's description of the harbor in which she safely hid the rest of the crew gives another hint as to where the island might be located:

"Thou call'dst me up at midnight to fetch
dew from the still-vexed Bermudas, there she's hid;"

This is the first direct reference to the Bermuda islands in the play, however there are many more indirect references. It is more likely that, although not geographically in the Mediterranean Sea, the island is actually based off the Caribbean island chain and the contemporary European exploration of The New World (Frey, 29).
Sea Venture (1609)
An English naval fleet bound for Jamestown, Virginia was shipwrecked on an island in the Bermudas in July of 1609 due to a horrendous storm. Of the nine ships in the fleet, seven made it to Jamestown, one sunk in the hurricane, and the last (the Sea Venture) crashed onto an island. On board the Sea Venture was the new governor of colony of Virginia. Because the fleet was originally bound for Virginia, they claimed the island an extension of the colony of Virginia, and the crew created a settlement until they collected enough resources to leave (Vaughan, 255).
True Reportory (1609)
Passenger William Strachey wrote a 22 page letter to a woman in England about his experiences in the storm and on the island.
The letter was published in English newspapers and is quite probable that Shakespeare read it. It was published under the title "True Reportory." Aside from the main plot of a shipwreck after a torrential hurricane, several themes, descriptions, and plot narratives from the letter can be seen mirrored in "The Tempest" (Kathman).

1. The Sea Venture carried very important political figures including the new governor of the colony of Virginia. In "The Tempest", Shakespeare's political figures are the King of Naples and the Duke of Milan.

Both sources feature key political/government figures traveling for diplomatic purposes (colonizing Virginia or the marriage of two empires), being lost at sea, and getting trapped on an island after a great storm.

Magellan's Voyage
Despite the nearly 100 years that had passed since The Tempest was written and Magellan's circumnavigation trip in 1522, French and Italian accounts and pamphlets of Magellan's voyages were widely populated and distributed throughout Elizabethan England (Frey, 34). In 1555, Richard Eden published an English translation of "Decades of a Newe World" - an anthology of letters, reports, and narratives of great expeditions including Christopher Colombus, Hernan Cortez, and Ferdinand Magellan. Scholars have drawn verbal, thematic, and plot lines parallels between the descriptions of Magellan's voyages and "The Tempest" (Stritmatter and Kositsky, 25).

1. Fletcher's report of Drake's crew meeting the Patagonians for the first time was one of amazement for their hospitality and kindness. "Yea they showed us more kindness then many Christians would have done, nay more than I have for my own part found among many of my Bretheren." (qtd. in Frey, 35).

Conversely, when Gonzalo describes the banquet hosted by the strange Shapes he declares:

"Their manners are more gentle, kind than of
Our human generation you shall find
Many - nay almost any."

Both sources contain references to the gentle hospitality of the people of the native land - whether that means the Patagonians or Caliban.
Although little is known about Shakespeare's life and education, scholars have been able to track major influences of his work across history. He was known to borrow themes, plots, characters, and sometimes direct lines from such sources including: Ovid, Plutarch, Seneca, history, poems, the Geneva Bible, and even contemporary early modern events (McDonald, 149-156). This presentation will focus on three early modern geographic influences of "The Tempest" by comparing the actual historical event/document to the themes, characters, and scenes in the play itself. It will highlight cultural and historical events that helped shape the plot and themes of "The Tempest". The comparisons will provide contextual insight into the construction of the play and demonstrate that, although "The Tempest" features strong elements of fiction and fantasy, it is also a play bound very much in Shakespeare's reality.
Figure 3. John Ogllby, 1675. Detail of: An Illustration of the Kingdom of England or Dominion of Wales. (source: Digital Image Collection: Shakespeare Folger Library.
Figure 2. List of all characters in "The Tempest". (source: Digital Text Collection: Shakespeare Folger Library)
Figure 4. Detail of Map of Carthage Empire and Roman Empire (source: Black History Heroes)
Scholars have agreed that the text of "The Tempest" suggests that Shakespeare's mind was strongly on and aware of the European explorations and colonizations happening in the New World (Frey, 31). Miranda even goes so far as to make a direct reference:

"How many goodly creatures there are here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
Thou hast such people in't!"

During the 16th and 17th centuries, pamphlets describing the explorations and voyages of the newly colonized Americas circulated Europe in many different languages, and it is almost certain that Shakespeare was quite aware of the current events happening (Vaughan and Vaughan, 40). The Bermuda Islands were first discovered by Spanish explorers in 1503, however it wasn't until an accident in 1609 that the British also laid claim to the islands.
Why The Bermudas?
Figure 4. Christopher Saxton, 1590. Detail of: Atlas of the Counties of England and Wales. (source: Digital Image Collection: Shakespeare Folger Library)
Figure 5. Detail of Chapter in 'True Reportory", 1610. (source: Shakespeare Online)

1.When documenting interactions with the Patagonian natives, Magellan's crew described their worship of a divine deity named "Setebos" who they believed had diving powers (Stritmatter and Kositsky, 25-6). In "The Tempest", Caliban (the native of the island) refers twice to "Setebos" as his god (I.ii.372) and in addressing a prayer (V.i.261).

Both sources describe a divine presence (called the same yet rare name) whom the "native" figure worships.

2. Italian accounts of Magellan's travels documented a mutiny aboard one of his ships by two crew members named Antonio and Sebastian. Magellan dispelled the mutiny with help from his mate Gonzalo Gomez di Espinosa (Frey, 34). "The Tempest" features three characters named Antonio, Sebastian, and Gonzalo. Antonio convinces Sebastian that if he kills Alonso, he will be the King of Naples, so they hatch a plan to usurp the thrown that ultimately goes awry.

"And yet methinks I see it in thy face,
What thou shouldst be. Th' occasion speaks the, and
My strong imagination sees a crown
Dropping upon they head."
(II.i. 205-208)

Both sources feature a failed mutiny/take-over for the lead role (either Captain or King) by men/characters who have the same names.
Magellan's Travels
Figure 7. Detail of portrait of Ferdinand Magellan. (source: Totally History)
Magellan's Travels
3. One of the ships of Magellan's fleet was wrecked in a storm, however the narratives describe how everyone aboard miraculously survived. "All the men were saved by a miracle, for they were not even wetted" (Frey, 34).

Similarly, everyone survives in the play, and Gonazlo describes how their clothing seemed fresh and dry after the storm.

"Our garments, being as they were,
drenched in the sea, hold, notwithstanding, their fresh-
ness and gloss, being rather new-dyed than stained with
salt water."

Both sources feature torrential storms from which everyone survives and miraculously stays dry and clean.
True Reportory (1609)
2. Strachey writes that crew members survived off "berries, whereof our men seething, straining, and letting stand some three or four daies, made a kind of pleasant drinke" (Strachey, 18). Caliban describes his first meeting with Prospero where the magician "would'st give me / Water with berries in't" (I.ii.334-5).

Both sources use similar language (water, berries) when describing comprable techniques for survival on a lush, tropical island.

3. Strachey describes 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" (Strachey, 12). Stephano describes his survival by telling Caliban "I escap'd upon a butt of sack which the sailors heaved o'erboard" (II.ii.121-22), and he then later tells Trinculo "bear this away where my hogshead of wine is" (IV.i.250-51). Additionally, at different times, Trinculo, Alfonso, and Caliban call the robes and clothing "luggage".

Both sources feature similar language (luggage, hogshead, wine, bear/beere) referencing how characters survived the storm.
Drake's Travels
When Sir Frances Drake mapped out his voyages, he followed a route similar to Magellan's circumnavigation. Drake and his crew also spent time with the Patagonian natives in South America, and his chaplain, Francis Fletcher, kept a detailed journal of all their interactions and experiences (Frey, 35). The similarities between the behavior of the Patagonians and Caliban and Ariel are striking.
2. Fletcher also described the Patagonians' first experience drinking and enjoying the wine that Drake's crew brought with them. The wine "so suddenly entered into his head that he was so drunk or at least so overcome with the spirit of the wine that he fell flat" (qtd. in Frey, 36). They also danced and sang while drinking.

In 'The Tempest", when Stephano and Trinculo introduce Caliban (the native) to wine, Caliban refers to it as "celestial liquor" (II.ii.115), becomes inebriated, and then starts singing about freedom.

Both sources describe the first experience of those who have never drunk wine before.
Drake's Travels
Figure 9. Giles Terera as Caliban, Nicholas Lyndhurst as Trinculo and Clive Wood as Stephano in Sir Trevor Nunn's 2011 production of "The Tempest". (source: The Daily Mail).
The historical documents and events presented each demonstrate a strong factual connection to different elements of Shakespeare's "The Tempest". By directly comparing three historical records to the text of the play, this presentation described the specific details of his sources of inspiration. These connections are of vital importance for understanding the cultural and historical significance of his writings. By understanding the sources of Shakespeare's inspiration, scholars can better identify and understand his reality, knowledge, personality, and society. It is through historical connections like these that scholars can better trace his life - what he might have known, experienced, read, etc. Geographically, we are able to create a map tracking Shakespeare's ideas and knowledge. This is important, for it is through ideas and knowledge that humans can build personal connections to each other.
Eriksen, Alanah. "Ralph Fiennes proves a box office draw as "The Tempest" takes £1m in advance ticket sales." Daily Mail Online. Sept. 2011. web. Apr. 2014. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2034375/Ralph-Fiennes-proves-box-office-draw-The-Tempest-takes-1m-advance-ticket-sales.html.

Frey, Charles. "The Tempest and the New World," Shakespeare Quarterly, 30, (1979) 29-41.

Kathman, David. "Dating "The Tempest"". Shakespeare Authorship Page. Apr. 1996. web. Apr. 2014. http://shakespeareauthorship.com/tempest.html.

McDonald, Russ. "The Bedford companion to Shakespeare: An introduction with documents," New York: Bedford/St.Martin's, 2001. Print.

Shakespeare, William. "The Tempest". Ed. Peter Holland. New York: Penguin, 1999. Print.

Strachey, William (1572-1621), “A true reportory of the wracke, and redemption of Sir Thomas Gates Knight; upon... the Ilands of the Bermudas,” in Samuel Purchas (1577–1626), Purchas his pilgrims. London: William Stansby for Henrie Fetherstone, 1625. Folger STC 20509 c.1 vol. 4, pages 1734–1737.

Stritmatter, Roger and Lynne Kostisky. "On the date, sources, and design of Shakespeare's "The Tempest". North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc., 2013. Print.

Vaughan, Alden T. "William Strachey's 'True Reportory' and Shakespeare: A closer look at the evidence," Shakespeare Quarterly,59 (2008) 245-273.

Vaughan, Virginia and Alden Vaughan. "The Arden Shakespeare: The Tempest". London: South China Printing Co. Ltd., 1999. Print.
Figure 1. John Ogllby, 1675. An Illustration of the Kingdom of England or Dominion of Wales. (source: Digital Image Collection: Shakespeare Folger Library.
Figure 6. Abraham Ortelius, 1606. The Theatre of the Whole World: Set Forth by that Excellent Geographer Abraham Ortelius. (source: Digital Image collection: Shakespeare Folger Library).
Figure 8. Juan de la Cruz Cano, 1790. Detail of: Mapa Geografico de America Meridional (source: David Rumsey Digital Map Collection)
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