How Shakspere Came to Write the 'Tempest'
OF COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY
IN THE CITY OF NEW YORK
Papers on Playmaking:
I HOW SHAKSPERE CAME TO WRITE THE 'TEMPEST'. By Rudyard Kipling.
With an introduction by Ashley H. Thorndike.
II HOW PLAYS ARE WRITTEN. Letters from Augier, Dumas, Sardou,
Zola and others. Translated by Dudley Miles. With an
introduction by William Gillette.
III A STAGE PLAY. By Sir William Schenck Gilbert. With an
introduction by William Archer.
IV A THEORY OF THE THEATER. By Francisque Sarcey. Translated by
H. H. Hughes. With an introduction and notes by Brander
V (Extra volume) A catalog of Models and of Stage-Sets in the
Dramatic Museum of Columbia University.
PAPERS ON PLAYMAKING
How Shakspere Came to
Write the 'Tempest'
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY
ASHLEY H. THORNDIKE
Printed for the
Dramatic Museum of Columbia University
_in the City of New York_
INTRODUCTION AND NOTES COPYRIGHT 1916 BY
DRAMATIC MUSEUM OF COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY
Introduction by Ashley H. Thorndike 1
How Shakspere Came to Write the 'Tempest' 23
Notes by A. H. T. 33
Mr. Kipling's brilliant reconstruction of the genesis of the 'Tempest'
may remind us how often that play has excited the creative fancy of its
readers. It has given rise to many imitations, adaptations, and sequels.
Fletcher copied its storm, its desert island, and its woman who had
never seen a man. Suckling borrowed its spirits. Davenant and Dryden
added a man who had never seen a woman, a husband for Sycorax, and a
sister for Caliban. Mr. Percy Mackaye has used its scene, mythology, and
persons for his tercentenary Shaksperian Masque. Its suggestiveness has
extended beyond the drama, and aroused moral allegories and
disquisitions. Caliban has been elaborated as the Missing Link, and in
the philosophical drama of Renan as the spirit of Democracy, and in
Browning's poem as a satire on the anthropomorphic conception of Deity.
But apart from such commentaries by poets and philosophers, the poem has
lived these many generations in the imaginations of thousands. There,
the enchanted island has multiplied and continued its existence. Shelley
Of a land far from ours
Where music and moonlight and feeling are one.
Shakspere created that land as the possession of each of us. Not far
removed, but close to the great continent of our daily routine and
drudgery, lies this enchanted island where we may find music and
moonlight and feeling, and also fun and mischief and wisdom. There, in
tune with the melody and transfigured as by the charm of moonlight, we
may encounter the nonsense of drunken clowns, the mingled greed and
romance of primitive man, the elfishness of a child, the beauty of
girlhood, and the benign philosophy of old age. We may leave the city at
the close of business, and, if we avoid the snares of Caliban and
Trinculo, we may sup with Prospero, Ariel, and Miranda.
How did Shakspere discover this enchanted island? From what materials
did he create the "baseless fabric of this vision"? What had London
playhouses to do with these spirits of thin air? On what books or plays
were these dreams made? Out of the issues of rivalry and profit which
beset the King's company of players at the Globe and the Blackfriars,
how came this "insubstantial pageant"? We have been told that the
Sonnets are the key with which to unlock Shakspere's heart; and perhaps
if we could answer all these questions we might have the key to his
imagination. I do not believe, however, that his imagination was lockt
up. Rather it was open wide to many impulses, hospitable to countless
influences. This apparently is the opinion of Mr. Kipling, who suggests
that Shakspere's "vision was woven from the most prosaic material, from
nothing more promising, in fact, than the chatter of a half-tipsy sailor
at the theater."
Mr. Kipling writes as one inventor of tales about another. Certainly no
one is better qualified to trace out the processes of the creative
imagination and to discover the very fabrics of its visions. In those
marvelous stories of his, who has not recognized a Shaksperian
catholicity in the quest of fact and a Shaksperian alchemy in its
transformation? He has himself created many enchanted islands and he
knows whereof they are made. The sailor just home from a famous
shipwreck on the Bermudas might have stept out of one of Mr. Kipling's
tales; but he becomes a factor in some very acute criticism, for the
sailor's "profligate abundance of detail at the beginning, when he was
more or less sober, supplied and surely established the earth-basis of
the play in accordance with the great law that a story to be truly
miraculous must be ballasted with facts."
Mr. Kipling's letter has found a place in all subsequent critical
discussions of the play, and has become a contribution to that
historical research which seeks to discover the ways and means by which
literature is made. It may not be unseemly therefore to bring together
as an introduction and commentary some other suggestions that criticism
has advanced in regard to the influences and incentives that directed
Shakspere's art in this play, written at the very close of his career
and at the moment when the Elizabethan drama had reached its highest
Recent investigation has added to our certainty that the play was
written in 1610 or 1611, for Mr. Ernest Law has shown that the
supposedly forged entry of its performance at court on November 1, 1611
is genuine. Various passages in the play indicate that it was not
written before July 1610, when Sir Thomas Gates and his ships sailed up
the Thames with news of the safety of the fleet that had departed from
Plymouth over a year before. This fleet of nine vessels had started for
the new colony in Virginia, had been scattered by a great storm, and the
ship 'Sea Venture' with the leaders aboard, Sir George Somers, Sir
Thomas Gates, and Captain Christopher Newport, had been cast ashore on
one of the Bermudas. But there had been no loss of life; the adventurers
had lived comfortably for many months, had built two pinnaces from the
materials of the wreck, and had rejoined their comrades in Virginia.
Before the arrival of Gates from Virginia, reports of the wreck had
reached London, so his safe return was a nine days wonder. Full accounts
were written. Two were printed in the autumn, and others circulated in
manuscript. Shakspere certainly read some of the pamphlets recounting
the strange experiences of the expedition, and he made some use of other
voyagers' tales, as Raleigh's 'Discovery of Guiana.' But he may have
heard much more than he read in the common gossip of the day. Or, enter
Mr. Kipling's sailor, "the original Stephano fresh from the seas and
From this original Stephano or from the voyagers' tales may have come
some hints for Caliban. There were many strange accounts of cannibals
and monsters. An earlier narrative tells of "a sea monster ... arms like
a man, without hair and at the elbows great fins like a fish." Indians
had been brought back from America; and only a few years before the play
several had been exhibited and aroused much curiosity. As Trinculo
observes, "When they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they
will lay out ten to see a dead Indian." Caliban was doubtless intended
to be of the earth, earthy, the opposite of Ariel, the spirit of the
air, and was also intended as a sketch of the savage resisting the
mastery of the European. But, brutish and savage though he be, he too is
a dweller in the enchanted island. For him too life has its romance.
There is no finer touch of Shakspere's magic in the whole play than
this. Marco Polo had recounted that "You shall heare in the ayre the
sound of tabers and other instruments, to put the travellers in fear,
&c., by evill spirits that make these sounds and also do call ...
travellers by their names." But Shakspere's Caliban reassures his
companions frightened by Ariel playing on a tabor.
Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices
That, if I then had wak'd after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that, when I wak'd,
I cried to dream again.
The enchanted island owes still more to preceding voyagers in the great
seas of romance. Shakspere had made many earlier voyages thither, but he
was not the first Columbus to search out the undiscovered lands of
illusions and enchantments. Fortunately for us he lived in the period of
imaginative adventure and steered his crafts on the oceans whence many
predecessors had returned treasure-laden. This is no place to relate the
various circumstances that placed the men of the sixteenth century in a
fortunate position for Romance, or to indicate the long development of
romantic-comedy in which Shakspere played so great a part. But surely
the interview between the dramatist and the sailor would have had very
different results if the Elizabethan theater had not been accustomed to
the union of the laughable and the romantic, the comic and the
marvellous. Such a union is not a common one. There are no
romantic-comedies in the literature of antiquity, and very few in modern
literature since Shakspere's death. He found a stage that was already
the home of romance, used to fantasy and medley, and used also to fill
out a three hours entertainment with sentiment and fun, music and
monsters, idealized heroines and puns.
Romance had found its readiest entrance to the stage thru the shows and
spectacles which delighted the courts of the Tudors. Venus and Diana, or
Loyalty and Sedition, or Red Cross Knight and Fairy Princess, or whoever
else, if sumptuously arrayed and bejeweled and sufficiently attended,
might be wheeled in on a huge car representing castle or garden or
island, decorated with flowers and spangles, begin with a tableau and
end with a dance. Along with all this splendor, it would not be thought
inappropriate to have a clown dance a jig or mimic the antics of a
drunken man. Such spectacles soon became the joy of the public as well
as of the court, and were imitated by many a rustic Holofernes or
Bottom. Nymphs and fairies, the Nine Worthies, or the Golden Age might
find representation by almost any village pedagog and his school
Out of such entertainments there soon developt a kind of comedy, at
first the peculiar property of the children of the royal choirs who
performed at court, but soon adapting itself to the adult companies and
public theaters. This comedy availed itself of any stories that might
come to hand, so they were strange, unusual, marvelous, impossible
enough, and accompanied them with music, dancing, and spectacle, and
with lively jests in the mouth of the smallest boys, dressed as pages.
Endymion in love with the moon, the judgment of Paris, Pandora and her
varied actions under the seven planets, the rival magic of Friars Bacon
and Bungay, Jack the Giant Killer, Alexander the Great in love with
Campaspe who preferred Apelles--these are some of the themes.
Astrologers, Amazons, fairies, sirens, witches, ghosts, are some of the
personages who appear along with the singing pages and Olympian deities.
Of course, these persons and these marvels are impossible on any stage,
most of all by daylight in the roofless public theaters of Shakspere's
London. But neither audience nor dramatist thought of impossibility.
They tried everything on their stage, even their wonderlands.
When Shakspere began to write plays, the stage was well used to romance.
It was the comedies of Lyly and Greene, with their beautiful and
unselfish maidens, their wonders and shows, their witty dialogs and
jesters, their lovers' crosses and final happiness, their Utopias and
fairies, which prepared the way for Shakspere's 'Two Gentlemen of
Verona' and 'Love's Labor's Lost,' and for his great series of romantic
plays from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' to 'Twelfth Night.' But by 1600,
both dramatists and audiences had become somewhat sophisticated and
tired of romance, and the theaters turned to plays of a different
fashion, to tragedies that searched the ways of crime and punishment,
and to comedies that treated contemporary folly and vice with realism
and satire. From the date of 'Twelfth Night,' 1601, to that of
'Cymbeline,' 1609, it is difficult to find a romantic-comedy on the
London stage. There are no more marvels and magic, no charming
princesses disguised as pages, no moonlit forests and terraces, no
rescues and reconciliations, not much sentiment and no fun except what
may be found on the seamy side of reality. Shakspere seems to have had
little taste for satire and he wrote no satirical and realistic plays of
the sort temporarily in fashion. But during these eight years, his
comedies, like 'Measure for Measure,' have no romantic charm, and his
energies are given to tragedy. He is occupied with the pomp and majesty
of human hope and with the inevitable waste and failure of human
achievement; but for his Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, Coriolanus and the
rest, there were no forests of Arden and no enchanted islands. Like his
associates, he seems to have forsaken romance.
What turned his imagination from tragedy back to romance? In my opinion
it was the success of two brilliant young dramatists, Beaumont and
Fletcher, who, in a series of remarkable dramas made romance again
popular on the London stage. Their romantic plays employ many of the old
incidents and personages, but in general character differ strikingly
from the plays of a decade or two earlier. They are hardly comedies at
all, tho they have their humorous passages, but tragedies and
tragi-comedies dealing with more thrilling circumstances and less naive
wonderments than the earlier plays. Instead of a combination of romance
and comedy, they aim at a contrast of the tragic and idyllic. They
oppose a story of sexual passion with one of idealized sentiment, and
delight in a succession of thrills as by clever stagecraft they hurry us
from one suspense into another surprise. Until the very end you can
scarcely guess whether it will be tragic or happy. Their land of romance
is somewhat artificial and theatrical; but yet it has as of old its
adventures, dangers, escapes, rescues, jealousies, suspicions,
reconciliations and re-unions. And it has its idyls of forests, and
fountains of love-lorn maidens and enraptured princes. It is a land of
thrills and surprises, but also of idealization and poetry. For in all
that choir of poets who wrote for the London theaters there was no one
except Shakspere who could excel these young dramatists in their power
to turn the affairs and emotions of mankind into copious verse, now
tumultuous, now placid, but always bubbling with fancy and flowing
If Shakspere's mind was directed again to romantic themes and situations
by the success of Beaumont and Fletcher's plays, the clearest evidence
of his indebtedness to them is to be found in his 'Cymbeline', which has
many marked similarities to their 'Philaster'. In his two plays which
follow, the 'Winter's Tale' and the 'Tempest', there is no detailed
resemblance to the romantic tragic-comedies of the younger men.
Shakspere, as well as they, had the whole tradition of romantic drama to
draw from, and in particular he had his own past practice. He did not
need to be shown how to depict romantic love, or charming heroines, or
ardent suitors. For drinking scenes, like those of Trinculo and
Stephano, or for dialog like that not very witty one of Gonzalo and the
courtiers, he had many passages in his own plays that served as guides.
Moreover, if 'Cymbeline' is an example of only partially successful
experimentation with new methods, the 'Winter's Tale,' and still more,
the 'Tempest,' seem to me triumphant and unguided excursions of his own
in the new field. But I think that Shakspere was attracted to this field
by contemporary stage-successes, and that in seeking for novel and
invented plots, in the contrast of tragic and idyllic elements, in the
unusual and rapidly shifting situations, in the loose and parenthetical
style, and in the elaboration of the _dénouement_, he was adapting
himself to the new formulas and fashions in which Beaumont and Fletcher
were the leaders.
Still another suggestion came from the theater, but this time from the
court. The court shows of the sort which we have noticed as
characteristic of the early years of Elizabeth's reign had given place
to a better ordered and more sumptuous spectacle, the Court Masque.
Under James I, with the great architect Inigo Jones to devise the
machines and setting, and with Ben Jonson to write the librettos, one of
these masques was a magnificent affair. It was given on festal occasions
at court and often cost thousands of pounds. It had but a single or at
most two performances, always at night, and it came to follow a
distinct formula. The kernel of the show was the masked dance in which
members of the court, even King and Queen, took part. This dance or
"masque proper," often elaborated into several measures, came near the
end of the show. As accompaniments there were (1) music, instrumental
and vocal, (2) a play of some length, usually with mythological or
allegorical motive, (3) various grotesque dances by professional
performers, preceding the main masque and often integrated with the
play, and (4) a spectacular stage-setting.
These shows were given in great halls, brilliantly lighted. The stage
was splendidly decorated. Gods and goddesses floated among the clouds,
and elaborate machines and scenes were devised. In one masque, a few
years before the 'Tempest,' "an artificial sea was seen to shoot forth
over the stage as it flowed to land, [this was the main machine--a great
stage four feet high on trestles] on which was a great concave shell
like mother of pearl" containing the masquers and conveyed by many
sea-monsters hidden by the torch-bearers. The costumes of the masquers
were in brilliant colors and heavily jeweled. These were often bizarre;
but Inigo Jones knew the monuments of classical antiquity and the
artistic achievements of Renaissance Italy as well as Jonson knew
classical and humanistic literature. The living pictures were often in
richness and color no unworthy rivals of the frescoes with which Rubens
had decorated the ceiling of the Masquing Hall.
Such expensive spectacles were beyond the reach of the professional
theaters, but contemporary dramatists frequently found something that
could be adapted or imitated for the public stage. So the antick dance
of satyrs in a 'Winter's Tale' (three of whom are announced as having
already appeared before the King) seems borrowed from an anti-masque in
Ben Jonson's 'Masque of Oberon.' In two plays of nearly the same date
there is a well defined effort to combine the masque and the regular
drama into a distinctive and novel dramatic entertainment, in the 'Four
Plays in One' of Beaumont and Fletcher and the 'Tempest' of Shakspere.
The 'Tempest' has always been a spectacular play on the stage, and so it
must have appeared to him--and as a spectacle having many of the
features of the court masque.
There is music and song. Ariel, Prospero, and even Caliban are proper
figures for a court show. The "masque proper" is used to celebrate the
betrothal in the fourth act. This is a simplified form of such a masque
as would be given at court. There is evidently some machinery--it is the
insubstantial pageant that calls forth Prospero's famous lines. Ariel,
Iris, Ceres, and Juno appear, Juno descending from the heavens. There is
music and a song, and Ferdinand cries:
This is a most majestic vision, and
Harmonious charmingly. May I be bold
To think these spirits?
And when Prospero says they are spirits summoned by his art, Ferdinand
Let me live here ever;
So rare a wond'red father and a wise
Makes this place Paradise.
It is not Miranda now, but the machine and costumes used in
court-spectacles that turn the platform into a land of romance.
Then enter Nymphs, "Naiads of the winding brooks with sedg'd crowns,"
and Sun burnt Reapers, "with rye-straw hats." These are the main
masquers and join in a graceful dance, until upon Prospero's sudden
start--"to a strange, hollow, and confused noise, they heavily vanish."
More ingenious is Shakspere's use of the anti-masques--i.e. dances by
professional performers drest in fantastic costumes as animals, satyrs,
statues, witches, etc. Such are the several strange shapes of III.3, who
first bring in the banquet and again enter "and dance with mocks and
mows and carrying out the table"; and in IV.1, the divers spirits who
"in shape of dogs and hounds" hunt about the drunken conspirators while
Prospero and Ariel set them on.
For a stage, then, that had long been used to romance, Shakspere planned
a new wonderment. For it he revived some of his old creations from
Illyria and Arden, and Fairyland, all transformed by
a sea change
Into something rich and strange.
And he added some excitements and novelties to keep pace with the
thrilling tragi-comedies of Beaumont and Fletcher. And just as years
before, in the 'Midsummer Night's Dream,' he had drawn hints from the
court entertainments by children, so now he conceived a spectacle
that--so far as was possible--might rival the great shows of the
Jacobean court. He did not need to go beyond the drama to find abundant
suggestions for his new venture.
But this was to be a play as well as a show, and must have some kind of
plot. Perhaps he found an Italian novella with the story. No one has
been able to find it since then. But stories somewhat similar to that of
the 'Tempest' occur in a Spanish tale and in a German play. There was
indeed a real Alfonso, king of Naples, and a duke of Milan who was
dispossesst, and another named Prospero. But whatever story Shakspere
found, it is my notion that he forgot most of it. The palace intrigues,
the rivalries of the banisht and usurping dukes, set at naught by the
love at first sight of their children, the perilous adventures, and the
_dénouement_ brought about by magic, were commonplaces of fiction.
Shakspere wanted to weld them into a more surprising fable.
Perhaps it was at the very moment when he was most intent on this
problem that the sailor from the fleet of Sir Thomas Gates hove into
view. Even the mariner's ballast of facts did not quite suffice. As
Shakspere wrote he recalled some lines from his old favorite Ovid to
fill out one of Prospero's descriptions; and he used the newly-read
Montaigne for Gonzalo's account of a Utopian commonwealth. And some fine
lines from Sir William Alexander's tragedy of 'Darius' seem to have
lingered in his recollection when he wrote of the great globe which is
like a pageant and life that is like a dream. As he wrote of Prospero he
thought too of his own career, of his own so potent art, of his promised
retirement, and the fading pageants of both life and art.
Perhaps, too, he may have thought of some of his battles of wit with Ben
Jonson in the Mermaid Tavern. Ben was a great stickler for the rules,
though he lamented that the Unity of Time was very difficult to secure
on the English stage. He thought masques should be kept distinct from
comedies, and he had no liking for fantastic medleys. Indeed, a few
years later he indulged in a scoff at Shakspere's "servant-monster" and
at "those who beget tales, tempests, and such like drolleries."
Shakspere, recalling some such discussion may have said to himself,
"Well, here is a play as fantastic as possible, and just to show
Benjamin what can be done, I will keep it in strict accord with his
classical Unities of Time and Place." For this or some other propose he
was for once at great pains to keep all the action within the time of
the stage-performance, tho in doing so he makes his one nautical error
by forgetting that the seaman's measure of time was a half-hour glass.
When Prospero first consults Ariel we are precisely told that it is two
o'clock in the afternoon, and just before the end of the drama we are
told that three hours have elapst.
It has taken me too long to enumerate some of the materials in addition
to those of Mr. Kipling's sailor with which Shakspere's fantasy worked.
I hope I may have suggested that almost always, as here in this
extraordinary flight of his imagination, he was writing as a playwright
and not without full use of the hints and opportunities which the
contemporary theater afforded. And I should like to suggest also that to
the playwrights of that theater there were open many and great
opportunities. Sailors home from a new world might cross the threshold
of the dramatist; and dramatists then could think of magicians and
monsters and fairies, of goddesses and drunken boors, of ideal
commonwealths, the three unities, and beautiful verse, all in terms of
the stage. Thru some such processes as have been rehearst, by some such
influences, Shakspere's imagination must have been led to the
construction of a spectacular play that would win applause both in the
Blackfriars playhouse and at court. Perhaps it is out of such varied
driftwood that all enchanted islands are created.
ASHLEY H. THORNDIKE.
(April 23, 1916).
How Shakspere Came to Write the 'Tempest'
How Shakspere Came to Write the 'Tempest'
_To the Editor of the Spectator._
SIR:--Your article on 'Landscape and Literature' in the _Spectator_ of
June 18th has the following, among other suggestive passages:--"But
whence came the vision of the enchanted island in the 'Tempest'? It had
no existence in Shakspere's world, but was woven out of such stuff as
dreams are made of."
May I cite Malone's suggestion connecting the play with the casting away
of Sir George Somers on the island of Bermuda in 1609; and further may I
be allowed to say how it seems to me possible that the vision was woven
from the most prosaic material--from nothing more promising in fact,
than the chatter of a half-tipsy sailor at a theater? Thus:
A stage-manager, who writes and vamps plays, moving among his audience,
overhears a mariner discoursing to his neighbor of a grievous wreck,
and of the behavior of the passengers, for whom all sailors have ever
entertained a natural contempt. He describes, with the wealth of detail
peculiar to sailors, measures taken to claw the ship off a lee-shore,
how helm and sails were workt, what the passengers did and what he said.
One pungent phrase--to be rendered later into:
'What care these brawlers for the name of King?'
--strikes the manager's ear, and he stands behind the talkers. Perhaps
only one-tenth of the earnestly delivered, hand-on-shoulder sea talk was
actually used of all that was automatically and unconsciously stored by
the island man who knew all inland arts and crafts. Nor is it too
fanciful to imagine a half-turn to the second listener as the mariner,
banning his luck as mariners will, says there are those who would not
give a doit to a poor man while they will lay out ten to see a
raree-show,--a dead Indian. Were he in foreign parts, as he now is in
England, he could show people something in the way of strange fish. Is
it to consider too curiously to see a drink ensue on this hint (the
manager dealt but little in his plays with the sea at first hand, and
his instinct for new words would have been waked by what he had already
caught), and with the drink a sailor's minute description of how he went
across the reefs to the island of his calamity,--or islands rather, for
there were many? Some you could almost carry away in your pocket. They
were sown broadcast like--like the nut-shells on the stage there.
"Many islands, in truth," says the manager patiently, and afterwards his
Sebastian says to Antonio:
I think he will carry the island home in his pocket and give it to his
son for an apple.
To which Antonio answers:
And sowing the kernels of it in the sea, bring forth more islands.
"But what was the island like?" says the manager. The sailor tries to
explain. "It was green, with yellow in it; a tawny-colored country"--the
color, that is to say, of the coral-beached, cedar-covered Bermuda of
to-day--"and the air made one sleepy, and the place was full of
noises"--the muttering and roaring of the sea among the islands and
between the reefs--"and there was a sou'-west wind that blistered one
all over." The Elizabethan mariner would not discriminate finely between
blisters and prickly heat; but the Bermudian of to-day will tell you
that the sou'-west or Lighthouse wind in summer brings that plague and
general discomfort. That the coral rock, battered by the sea, rings
hollow with strange sounds, answered by the winds in the little cramped
valleys, is a matter of common knowledge.
The man, refresht with some drink, then describes the geography of his
landing place,--the spot where Trinculo makes his first appearance. He
insists and reinsists on details which to him at one time meant life or
death, and the manager follows attentively. He can give his audience no
more than a few hangings and a placard for scenery, but that his lines
shall lift them beyond that bare show to the place he would have them,
the manager needs for himself the clearest possible understanding,--the
most ample detail. He must see the scene in the round--solid--ere he
peoples it. Much, doubtless, he discarded, but so closely did he keep to
his original informations that those who go to-day to a certain beach
some two miles from Hamilton will find the stage set for Act ii, Scene 2
of the 'Tempest,'--a bare beach, with the wind singing through the scrub
at the land's edge, a gap in the reefs wide enough for the passage of
Stephano's butt of sack, and (these eyes have seen it) a cave in the
coral within easy reach of the tide, whereto such a butt might be
(My cellar is in a rock by the seaside where my wine is hid).
There is no other cave for some two miles.
Here's neither bush nor shrub; one is exposed to the wrath of "'yond
same black cloud," and here the currents strand wreckage. It was so well
done that, after three hundred years, a stray tripper and no Shakspere
scholar, recognized in a flash that old first set of all.
So far good. Up to this point the manager has gained little except some
suggestions for an opening scene, and some notion of an uncanny island.
The mariner (one cannot believe that Shakspere was mean in these little
things) is dipping to a deeper drunkenness. Suddenly he launches into a
preposterous tale of himself and his fellows, flung ashore, separated
from their officers, horribly afraid of the devil-haunted beach of
noises, with their heads full of the fumes of broacht liquor. One
castaway was found hiding under the ribs of a dead whale which smelt
abominably. They hauled him out by the legs--he mistook them for
imps--and gave him drink. And now, discipline being melted, they would
strike out for themselves, defy their officers, and take possession of
the island. The narrator's mates in this enterprise were probably
described as fools. He was the only sober man in the company.
So they went inland, faring badly as they staggered up and down this
pestilent country. They were prickt with palmettoes, and the cedar
branches raspt their faces. Then they found and stole some of their
officers' clothes which were hanging up to dry. But presently they fell
into a swamp, and, what was worse, into the hands of their officers; and
the great expedition ended in muck and mire. Truly an island bewicht.
Else why their cramps and sickness? Sack never made a man more than
reasonably drunk. He was prepared to answer for unlimited sack; but
what befell his stomach and head was the purest magic that honest man
A drunken sailor of to-day wandering about Bermuda would probably
sympathize with him; and to-day, as then, if one takes the easiest
inland road from Trinculo's beach, near Hamilton, the path that a
drunken man would infallibly follow, it ends abruptly in swamp. The one
point that our mariner did not dwell upon was that he and the others
were suffering from acute alcoholism combined with the effects of
nerve-shattering peril and exposure. Hence the magic. That a wizard
should control such an island was demanded by the beliefs of all
seafarers of that date.
Accept this theory, and you will concede that the 'Tempest' came to the
manager sanely and normally in the course of his daily life. He may have
been casting about for a new play; he may have purposed to vamp an old
one--say, 'Aurelio and Isabella'; or he may have been merely waiting on
his demon. But it is all Prospero's wealth against Caliban's pignuts
that to him in a receptive hour, sent by heaven, entered the original
Stephano fresh from the seas and half-seas over. To him Stephano told
his tale all in one piece, a two hours' discourse of most glorious
absurdities. His profligate abundance of detail at the beginning, when
he was more or less sober, supplied and surely establisht the
earth-basis of the play in accordance with the great law that a story to
be truly miraculous must be ballasted with facts. His maunderings of
magic and incomprehensible ambushes, when he was without reservation
drunk (and this is just the time when a lesser-minded man than Shakspere
would have paid the reckoning and turned him out) suggested to the
manager the peculiar note of its supernatural mechanism.
Truly it was a dream, but that there may be no doubt of its source or of
his obligation, Shakspere has also made the dreamer immortal.
Mr. Kipling's letter was originally publisht in the (London) _Spectator_
for July 2, 1898. He allowed it to appear as his contribution to 'A Book
of Homage to Shakspere' (Oxford University Press, 1916, pp. 200-203).
But he has not yet included it in any collection of his miscellaneous
writings; and for his permission to reprint it in this series the
Committee in charge of the Dramatic Museum desires to express its
Malone's suggestion was presented in his essay, 'An Account of the
Incidents from which the Title and a Part of the Story of Shakspere's
"Tempest" were derived; and its true date ascertained.' This was
privately printed in 1808 and supplemented by an additional pamphlet in
1809. Both were reprinted in volume XV of the Boswell-Malone Variorum
edition of Shakspere in 1821. Malone's essay gives a careful analysis of
the several contemporary accounts of the shipwreck of Sir George Somers,
and of their relations to the 'Tempest.' In his preface Malone states
that his 'Account' was written "some years ago" but acknowledges that
his discovery had been anticipated by Douce in his 'Illustrations of
Shakspere' published in 1807.
In his little book, 'Shakspere's Sea Forms Explained,' (Bristol, 1910)
Mr. W. B. Whall, master mariner, expresses his belief that Shakspere's
use of sea phrases is copious and accurate. He declares that "Words and
phrases of an extremely technical nature are scattered thru" Shakspere's
plays; "and a mistake in their use is never made." Then he asks: "Could
a mere lubber have steered clear of error in the use of such terms?" (p.
6). Mr. Whall had earlier noted that there are seven years of
Shakspere's life as to which we have scarcely any information, and that
one of these years was the year of the Armada, 1588, when he had only
just attained his majority. Where was Shakspere and what was he doing?
"There was a hot press for men to man the fleet. Is it possible that he
was among the prest?" (p. 5).
It was a time of exaltation of all things pertaining to sea things; and
it is no wonder that the playwrights of the day, Heywood for one, made
frequent use of sea words. "The wonder is that without professional
acquaintance" Shakspere "should always use these terms correctly," (p.
18). He abounds in "Elizabethan sailor talk pure and simple." And a
little later Mr. Whall draws attention to the fact that "sea expressions
crop up in quite unexpected places"--just as theatrical expressions crop
up; "and that they are all phrased _as by a sailor_," (p. 19). Then Mr.
Whall quotes a remark from another master mariner, Captain Basil Hall,
who had earlier noticed this striking characteristic: "One would like to
know how Shakspere pickt it up."
When he comes to deal with the 'Tempest' Mr. Whall cites the saying of
Lord Mulgrave, some time first Lord of the Admiralty: "The first scene
of the 'Tempest' is a very striking instance of the great accuracy of
Shakspere's knowledge in a professional science." With this Mr. Whall
disagrees: "Now this does not of necessity follow. A playwright with any
sense would, if about to write such a scene, obtain professional
assistance unless he himself had professional knowledge to steer clear
of error. The whole scene is graphic, accurate and correct in the terms
of nautical speech.... But it is by no means such a proof of the
writer's sea knowledge as are the scattered and wholly unexpected
nautical references in many other plays, every one of which might have
been written by an experienced seaman."
The most recent and the most careful consideration of Shakspere's
acquaintance with seafaring life is contained in Mr. L. G. Carr
Laughton's essay on 'The Navy: Ships and Sailors,' contributed to
'Shakspere's England,' (Oxford University Press, 1916), 141-170.
A. H. T.
OF THIS BOOK THREE HUNDRED AND THIRTY-THREE COPIES WERE PRINTED FROM
TYPE BY CORLIES, MACY AND COMPANY IN SEPTEMBER : MCMXVI