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“THE Tempest and the Midsummer ght's Dream (says Warburton) are the noblest efforts of that sublime and amazing imagination, peculiar to Shakspeare, which soars above the bounds of nature, without forsaking sense, or, more properly, carries nature along with him beyond her established limits."
No one has hitherto discovered the novel on which this play is founded; yet Collins the poet told Thomas Warton that the plot was taken from the romance of “ Aurelio and Isabella,” which was frequently printed during the sixteenth century, sometimes in three or four languages in the same volume. In the calamitous mental indisposition which visited poor Collins, his memory failed him; and he most probably substituted the name of one novel for another: the fable of Aurelio and Isabella has no relation to the Tempest. Mr. Malone thought that no such tale or romance ever existed; yet a friend of the late Mr. James Boswell told him that he had some years ago actually perused an Italian novel which answered Collins's description; but his memory, unfortunately, did not enable him to recover it.
My friend, Mr. Douce, in his valuable “Illustrations of Shakspeare,” published in 1807, had suggested that the outline of a considerable part of this play was borrowed from the account of Sir George Somers's voyage and shipwreck on the Bermudas in 1609; and had pointed out some passages which confirmed his suggestion. At the same time, it appears that Mr. Malone was engaged in investigating the relations of this voyage; and he subsequently printed the results of his researches in a pamphlet, which he distributed among his friends; wherein he shows, that not only the title, but many passages in the play, were suggested to Shakspeare by the account of the tremendous Tempest, which, in July, 1609, dispersed the fleet carrying supplies from England to the infant colony of Virginia, and wrecked the vessel in which Sir George Somers and the other principal commanders had sailed, on one of the Bermuda Islands.
Sir George Somers, Sir Thomas Gates, and Captain Newport, with nine ships and five hundred people, sailed from England in May, 1609, on board the Sea-Venture, which was called the Admiral's Ship; and on the 25th of July she was parted from the rest by a terrible tempest, which lasted forty-eight hours, and scattered the whole fleet, wherein some of them lost their masts, and others were much distressed. Seven of the vessels, however, reached Virginia ; and, after landing about three hundred and fifty persons, again set sail for England. Two of them were wrecked, in their way home, on the point of Ushant: the others returned safely to England, ship after ship, in 1610, bringing the news of the supposed loss of the Admiral's ship and her crew. During a great part of the year 1610, the fate of Somers and Gates was not known in England; but
the latter, having been sent home by Lord Delaware, arrived in August or September. The Council of Virginia published a narrative of the disasters which had befallen the fleet, and of their miraculous escape. Previously, however, to its appearance, one Jourdan, who probably returned from Virginia in the same ship with Sir Thomas Gates, published a pamphlet entitled “A Discovery of the Bermudas, otherwise called The Isle of Divels; by Sir Thomas Gates, Sir George Somers, and Captain Newport, with divers others;” in which he relates the circumstances of the storm. “They were bound for Virginia, and at that time in 30° N. latitude. The whole crew, amounting to one hundred and fifty persons, weary with pumping, had given all for lost, and began to drink their strong waters, and to take leave of each other, intending to commit themselves to the mercy of the sea. Sir George Somers, who had sat three days and nights on the poop, with no food and little rest, at length descried land, and encouraged them (many from weariness having fallen asleep) to continue at the pumps. They complied, and fortunately the ship was driven and jammed between two rocks, fast lodged and locked for further budging.” One hundred and fifty persons got on shore; and by means of their boat and skiff (for this was half a mile from land) they saved such part of their goods and provisions as the water had not spoiled, all the tackling and much of the iron of their ship, which was of great service to them in fitting out another vessel to carry them to Virginia.
“ But our delivery,” says Jourdan,“ was not more strange in falling so opportunely and happily upon the land, as [than] our feeding and provision was, beyond our hopes, and all men's expectations, most admirable; for the Islands of the Bermudas, as every man knoweth that hath heard or read of them, were never inhabited by any Christian or heathen people, but ever esteemed and reputed a most prodigious and enchanted place, affording nothing but gusts, storms, and foul weather; which made every navigator and mariner to avoid them as Scylla and Charybdis, or as they would shunne the Divell himself: and no man was ever heard to make for this place; but as, against their wils, they have, by stormes and dangerousnesse of the rocks lying seven leagues into the sea, suffered shipwracke. Yet did we finde there the ayre so temperate and the country so aboundantly fruitfull of all fit necessaries for the sustentation and preservation of man's life, that, most in a manner of all our provision of bread, beere, and victuall being quite spoiled in lying long drowned in salt water, notwithstanding we were there for the space of nine months, we were not only well refreshed, comforted, and with good satiety contented, but out of the aboundance thereof provided us some reasonable quantity and proportion of provision to carry us for Virginia, and to maintain ourselves and that company we found there ;—wherefore my opinion sincerely of this island is, that whereas it hath beene, and is still accounted the most dangerous, unfortunate, and forlorne place of the world, it is in truth the richest, healthfullest, and (most] pleasing land (the quantity and bignesse thereof considered), and merely naturall, as ever man set foote upon.”
The publication set forth by the Council of Virginia, entitled, “ A true Declaration of the Estate of the Colony of Virginia, &c. 1610,” relates the same facts and events in better language, and Shakspeare probably derived his first thought of working these adventures up into a dramatic form from an allusion to the drama in this piece.
“ These Islands of the Bermudas," says this narrative, “ have ever been accounted as an inchaunted pile of rocks, and a desert inhabitation for divells ; but all the fairies of the rocks were but flocks of birdes, and all the divells that haunted the woods were but heards of swine.-What is there in all this Tragicall Comædie that should discourage us?"
The covert allusions to several circumstances in the various narrations of this voyage have been illustrated with great ingenuity by Mr. Malone;
of them will no doubt have already struck the reader; but we must content ourselves with a reference to his more detailed account.
The plot of this play is very simple, independent of the magic; and Mr. Malone has pointed out two sources from whence he thinks Shakspeare derived suggestions for it. The one is a play by Robert Green, entitled “ The Comical History of Alphonsus King of Arragon:" the other is the Sixth Metrical Tale of George Turberville, * formed on the fourth novel of the fourth day of the Decamerone of Boccaccio, to which he is probably indebted for the hint of the marriage of Claribel. The magic of the piece is unquestionably the creation of the great Bard himself, suggested, no doubt, by the popular notions respecting the Bermudas. Mr. Malone confesses that the hints furnished by Green are so slight as not to detract from the merit of Shakspeare, and I have therefore not thought it necessary to follow him in his analysis. The late Dr. Vincent, the highly-respected Dean of Westminster, pointed out a passage in Magellan's Voyage to the South Pole, which is to be found in “Eden's History of Travaile," printed in 1577, that may have furnished the first idea of Calihan ; and as it is curious in itself, I shall venture to transcribe it. “Departy ng from hence,” says Eden, “they sayled to the 49 degre and a halfe under the pole antartike; where being wyntered, they were in forced to remayne there for the space of two monethes, all which tyme they saw no man: except that one day by chance they espyed a man of the stature of a gyant, who came to the haven dauncing and singing, and shortly after seemed to cast dust over his head. The captayne sent one of his men to the shore with the shippe boate, who made the lyke signe of peace. The which thyng the giant seeing, was out of feare, and came with the captayne's servant, to his presence, into a little island. When he sawe the captayne with certayne of his company about him, he was greatly amazed; and made signes, holding up his hande to heaven, signifying thereby that our men came from thence. This giant was so byg that the head of one of our men of a meane stature came but to his waste. He was of good corporation and well made in all partes of his bodie, with a large visage painted with divers colours, but for the most parte yelow. Uppon his cheekes were paynted two hartes, and red circles about his eyes. The heare of his head was coloured whyte, and his apparell was the skynne of a beast sowed together. This beast (as seemed unto us) had a large head, and great eares lyke unto a mule, with the body of a cammell and tayle of a horse. The feet of the gyant were folded in the sayde skynne, after the manner of shooes. He had in his hande a bygge and shorte bowe; the sleyng whereof was made of a sinewe of that beaste. He had also a bundle of long arrowes made of reedes, feathered after the manner of ours, typte with sharpe stones, in the stead of iron heades. The captayne caused him to eate and drinke, and gave him many thinges, and among other a great looking glasse, in the which as soon as he sawe his owne likeness, was sodaynly afrayde, and started backe with suche violence, that he overthrewe two that stood nearest about him. When the captayne had thus gyven him certayne haukes belles, with also a lookyng glasse, a combe, and a payre of beades of glasse, he sent him to lande with foure of his owne men well armed. Shortly after, they sawe another gyant of somewhat greater stature with his bowe and arrowes in his hande. As he drew nearer unto our men hee laide his hande on his head, and pointed up towards heaven, and our men did the lyke. The captayne sent his
* Tragi cal Tales, translated by Turberville, in time of his troubles, out of sundrie Italians, &c. 8vo. 1587.
shippe boate to bring him to a little islande, beyng in the haven. This giant was very tractable and pleasaunt. He soong and daunsed, and in his daunsing left the print of his feete on the ground. After other xv dayes were past, there came foure other giauntes without any weapons, but had hid their bowes and arrowes in certaine bushes. The captayne retayned two of these, which were youngest and best made. He tooke them by a deceite, in this manner ; that giving them knyves, sheares, looking-glasses, belles, beades of chrystall,
and such other trifles, he so fylled their handes, that they could holde no more; then caused two paire of shackels of iron to be putt on their legges, making signes that he would also give them those chaynes, which they liked very well because they were made of bright and shining metall. And whereas they could not carry them bycause theyr hands were full, the other giants would have carryed them, but the captayne would not suffer them. When they felt the shackels fast about theyr legges, they began to doubt; but the captayne did put them in comfort and bade them stand stille. In fine, when they sawe how they were deceived, they roared lyke bulles, and cryed upon theyr great devill Setebos, to help them. They say that when any of them dye, there appeare x or xi devils leaping and daunsing about the bodie of the dead, and seeme to have theyr bodies paynted with divers colours, and that among other there is one seene bigger than the residue, who maketh great mirth with rejoysing. This great devyll they call Setebos, and call the lesse Cheleule. One of these giantes which they tooke, declared by signes that he had seen devylles with two homes above theyr heades, with long heare downe to theyr feete, and that they caste forth fyre at theyr throates both before and behind. The captayne named these people Patagoni. The moste parte of them weare the skynnes of such beastes whereof I have spoken before. They lyve of raw fleshe, and a certaine sweete roote which they call capar.”
Caliban, as was long since observed by Dr. Farmer, is merely the metathesis of Cannibal. Of the Cannibals a long account is given by Eden, ubi supra.
“ The Tempest,” says the judicious Schlegel, “ has little action and progressive movement, the union of Ferdinand and Miranda is fixed at their first meeting, and Prospero merely throws apparent obstacles in their way; the shipwrecked band go leisurely about the island; the attempts of Sebastian and Antonio on the life of the King of Naples, and of Caliban and his drunken companions against Prospero, are nothing but a feint, as we foresee that they will be completely frustrated by the magical skill of the latter : nothing remains therefore but the punishment of the guilty, by dreadful sights which harrow up their consciences, the discovery, and final reconciliation. Yet this want is so admirably concealed by the most varied display of the fascinations of poetry and the exhilaration of mirth ; the details of the execution are so very attractive, that it requires no small degree of attention to perceive that the denouement is, in some measure, already contained in the exposition. The history of the love of Ferdinand and Miranda, developed in a few short scenes, is enchantingly beautiful ; an affecting union of chivalrous magnanimity on the one part, and, on the other, of the virgin openness of a heart which, brought up far from the world on an uninhabited island, has never learned to disguise its innocent movements. The wisdom of the princely hermit Prospero has a magical and mysterious air ; the impression of the black falsehood of the two usurpers is mitigated by the honest gossiping of the old and faithful Gonzalo; Trinculo and Stephano, two good-for-nothing drunkards, find a worthy associate in Caliban; and Ariel hovers sweetly over the whole as the personified genius of the wonderful fable.
« Caliban has become a bye-word, as the strange creation of a poetical imagination. A mixture of the gnome and the savage, half demon, half brute ; in his behavior we perceive at once the traces of his native disposition, and the influence of Prospero's education. The latter could only unfold his understanding, without, in the slightest degree, taming his rooted malignity: it is as if the use of reason and human speech should be communicated to a stupid ape. Caliban is malicious, cowardly, false, and base in his inclinations; and yet he is essentially different from the vulgar knaves of a civilized world, as they are occasionally portrayed by Shakspeare. He is rude, but not vulgar; he never falls into the prosaical and low familiarity of his drunken associates, for he is a poetical being in his way; he always speaks too in verse. * He has picked up every thing dissonant and thorny in language, out of which he has composed his vocabulary, and of the whole variety of nature, the hateful, repulsive, and pettily-deformed have alone been impressed on his imagination. The magical world of spirits, which the staff of Prospero has assembled on the island, casts merely a faint reflection into his mind, as a ray of light which falls into a dark cave, incapable of communicating to it either heat or illumination, merely serves to put in motion the poisonous vapors. The whole delineation of this monster is inconceivably consistent and profound, and, notwithstanding its hatefulness, by no means hurtful to our feelings, as tne honor of human nature is left untouched.
“ In the zephyr-like Ariel the image of air is not to be mistaken ; his name even bears an allusion to it: on the other hand, Caliban signifies the heavy element of earth. Yet they are neither of them allegorical personifications, but beings individually determined. In general we find, in the Midsummer Night's Dream, in the Tempest, in the magical part of Macbeth, and wherever Shakspeare avails himself of the popular belief in the invisible presence of spirits, and the possibility of coming in contact with them, a profound view of the inward life of Nature and her mysterious springs; which, it is true, ought never to be altogether unknown to the genuine poet, as poetry is altogether incompatible with mechanical physics, but which few have possessed in an equal degree with Dante and himself." +
It seems probable that this play was written in 1611; at all events between the years 1609 and 1614. It appears from the MSS. of Vertue, that the Tempest was acted, by John Heminge and the rest of the King's Company, before Prince Charles, the Lady Elizabeth, and the Prince Palatine Elector, in the beginning of the year 1613.
* Schlegel is not quite correct in asserting that Caliban “always speaks in verse.” Mr. Steevens, it is true, endeavored to give a metrical form to some of his speeches, which were evidently intended for prose, and they are, therefore, in the present edition, so printed. Shakspeare, throughout his plays, frequently introduces short prose speeches in the midst of blank verse.
| Lectures on Dramatic Literature, by Aug. Will. Schlegel, translated by John Black, 1815. Vol. ii. p. 178