Why Shakespeare’s

The Tempest is among best loved plays of Shakespeare.  And, for several years, it is a play in which I and my collaborator Lynne Kositsky have developed a special  interest.

In all, we have now published five articles on various aspects of Tempest sources, chronology, and literary themes, as follows:

O Brave New World: The Tempest and Peter Martyr’s De Orbe Novo.”  Critical Survey 21:2 (fall 2009), 7-42.

Pale as Death: The Fictionalizing Influence of Erasmus’ ‘Naufragium’ on the Renaissance Travel Narrative.” Festschrift in Honor of Isabel Holden,  fall 2008, Concordia University, 141-151.

The Spanish Maze and the Date of The Tempest.”  The Oxfordian, fall 2007, 1-11.

Shakespeare and the Voyagers Revisited.”  The Review of English Studies, September, 2007 (published online June, 2007), 447-472.

How Shakespeare Got His Tempest:  Another “Just So” Story,” Brief Chronicles I (2009), 205-266, print edition.

A Movable Feast: The Tempest as Shrovetide Revelry, The Shakespeare Yearbook (Volume XVII), 365404.

We have now compiled these  articles, which include a detailed reply to Professor Alden Vaughan, whose Fall 2008 Shakespeare Quarterly article responds (sort of) to our Fall 2007 Review of English Studies article, and some other materials,   into a book manuscript which is currently under review with a major academic publisher in the United States. On this  website, you can track the progress of this project. Once the book is published, this site will publish regular updates, including reviews and promotional literature.

And the articles themselves, as time and permissions permit, will be directly available on the site, along with copious background material, useful to student, scholar, and actor alike.

A sixth article — to our way of thinking the most important of the series —  is forthcoming in 2010 in The Shakespeare Yearbook. This article, “A Movable Feast: The Tempest as Shrovetide Revelry,” was accepted for publication more than three years ago by SY editor Douglas Brooks, but was regrettably delayed due to Brooks long, courageous (and ultimately losing) battle against cancer. Brooks died this past December, and his work as editor of the Shakespeare Yearbook has passed on to surviving hands. It is an understatement to say that the world of Shakespearean studies has lost one of its great hopes in Brooks’ passing. He was not just a fine a scholar and editor, but a visionary one at that.

Our Shakespeare Yearbook article argues that many elements of symbolic design in Shakespeare’s late play connect it to the liturgical event, for which so much early modern drama was composed, of Shrovetide (modern carnival).  This annual celebration,  which encouraged the temporary indulgence of sensual pleasures, concluded the annual winter season of christmastide (which it was customary in the Early modern English court to celebrate with plays and masques), and prepared participants for the penitential season of Lent, during which plays, like eating, marriage, and sex, were curtailed if not prohibited.

We believe that the evidence connecting Tempest to Shrovetide,  presented in our forthcoming article, is persuasive beyond the usual norms of early modern scholarship.  When we started off to investigate the hypothesis of the play’s  Shrovetide genesis, we were merely curious; but the more deeply we examined the motifs and themes of the shrovetide season, and compared the symbolism and themes of Shakespeare’s play to those found in other dramas known to be written for the occasion, the more apparent it became to us that the association of the play with the holiday is beyond reasonable dispute.

Traditional Shakespeare scholars would have realized this long ago, but their vision was obscured by a critical error. It has been an article of faith for decades, if not centuries, that the first recorded Tempest production, on Nov. 1, 1611, was the first actual production, and that the play had been written shortly before this. Several scholars had even tried without success to connect The Tempest to the liturgical holiday of Hallowmass, which was celebrated on Nov. 1.

So powerful was the unexamined assumption that Tempest was written during the summer or fall of 1611, that it never occurred to anyone, until Lynne Kositsky (under the stimulating influence of Richard Malim) speculated out loud about Shrovetide,  that the play might have been written for some other liturgical occasion.  The reason such fine scholars as R. Christopher Hassell or Grace Hall could not deliver on the seemingly plausible hypothesis of a Hallowmass connection was that they were looking in the wrong place.

Please check back to our site to follow the development of this project.

— R. Stritmatter, PhD

Associate Professor

Coppin State University

10 Responses to “Why Shakespeare’s”

  1. […] articles have recently been added to the site. Click on this shakespearestempest page for hotlinks to these […]

  2. Paul Clement

    Have you or anyone else printed a reply to Tom Reedy’s recent article in Review of English Studies entitled “Dating William Strachey’s….”?

  3. rstritmatter

    Hi Paul,

    My apology for being so slow getting back to you on this query. I have just added the the site archive the article which Lynne Kositsky and I published in the print issue of the first edition of Brief Chronicles (, How Shakespeare Got His Tempest: Another “Just So” Story. The article is primarily responding to Alden Vaughan’s hotheaded critique of our work which appeared in the fall 2008 issue of Shakespeare Quarterly. In the course of critiquing Vaughan we addressed the critical points raised in Reedy’s article and showed why he is wrong. Hopefully Lynne will chime in and explain in more detail how the article does this. In the meantime, I encourage you to read it and see what you think.

    Thanks for your interest.


  4. A Few of the Parallels between Vaughan and Reedy:

    Both Reedy and Vaughan attempt to recuperate the traditional theory. While Vaughan does this in part by means of an imaginative, invented, and wholly impossible description of how the True Reportory (TR) manuscript reached Gates’ boat, Reedy does not. But neither does he critique Vaughan’s position, although his paper makes it quite clear that he has read Vaughan’s article.

    Both date incorrectly the chronological order of production of the various Bermuda documents, using different criteria for the different works.

    Both admit that Strachey copied from other earlier sources, but neither recognizes that this could affect both the date of TR and Shakespeare’s ability to take from these other sources much earlier than 1610-11.

    Reedy, like Vaughan, cannot prove that TR was even at the company at the time True Declaration (TD) was written. There were at least ten other possible writers whose work could have been included in TD (according to TD itself) including Percy. Strachey says elsewhere that he was allowed to take freely from Percy’s papers.

    The most famous parallel between TD and TR, regarding Captain Francis West, which we note in our Vaughan paper, took place before Strachey even arrived in Virginia, although Percy and Smith were already there. Neither Vaughan nor Reedy recognizes that the TD version is closer to Eden, as surrounding the main passage it uses names of places from the Americas reported in Eden, whereas Strachey changed these to English place names, as demonstrated in our article on Vaughan. So it’s more likely that Strachey inherited at least part of the source from TD, whose most likely source on Francis was Percy.

    Neither recognizes that if any letter went to London from Strachey, it was more probably the recently discovered “B” version, which was likely part of the foundational text for TR. Both believe that TR had to go back in 1610, and had to have been received by the company before TD was assembled. There is no evidence that it WAS received by the company, and some evidence that it wasn’t.

    They both report that the “TD addition” to the concluding section of TR is in Italics, trying to demonstrate that it must have been added later by another author, although anyone who reads Strachey in Purchas and Purchas in general knows that Purchas set almost all quotes from the original writer in italics, and does so with other quoted material in TR. Vaughan and Reedy both believe that the concluding excerpt had to be added by someone other than Strachey, but Vaughan argues that it was Hakluyt, whereas Reedy, with some evidence, believes it to be Purchas. Neither admit the possibility that it could have been added by Strachey himself. Neither recognizes that if this excerpt was added by an editor, other sections could also have been added, further contaminating the text as it was published in 1625. In fact Purchas was well known for adding to or deleting material from original texts.

    Neither mentions that Captain Newport delivered a secret report to the Virginia Company in London in 1610, when he returned to England with Gates. His report would have been a much better source of dates, conditions on the ship, nautical readings etc, than anything by Strachey, who was not a mariner. In fact there are so many possibilities of others contributing to TD (and Strachey later copying them from TD) that it negates most of Reedy’s paper.

    Vaughan is committed to the manuscript reaching Shakespeare, but Reedy prudently leaves the whole chain of custody theory from the company to Shakespeare extremely vague, saying only in a footnote that it has been discussed for years, and is outside the scope of his short paper. Unfortunately, noticeable lack of commitment to any particular theory of how the ms reached the bard weakens even further the case that TR was used as a source for Shakespeare. In fact, without that coda, it makes one wonder what the purpose was of writing the paper at all.

    Hope this helps. Written mostly from memory. If anyone disagrees, please let me know and I’ll get the texts out to check.

  5. Paul Clement

    Thank you both Roger & Lynne for long replies.
    I have been busy with other things last few months so did not see replies until now.
    I took a college course on “Shakespeare Authorship” about 7 years ago. Got me interested in the “debate”. Now have a 185 page Bibliography (hardly touching the surface, though) that I can email to both of you (if you so desire, as my token of appreciation for responding to my query).

  6. Hi Paul,

    I have to admit that after writing that long response to you I didn’t come back to this page till now. I’d love a biblio if you are still able to send me one. My email address is lynnekositsky@


  7. rstritmatter

    Paul, I know this is a very belated response to your wonderful analysis above, but I couldn’t help for the record — for you if you see it or other potential readers as well, commenting on this:

    Vaughan is committed to the manuscript reaching Shakespeare, but Reedy prudently leaves the whole chain of custody theory from the company to Shakespeare extremely vague, saying only in a footnote that it has been discussed for years, and is outside the scope of his short paper. Unfortunately, noticeable lack of commitment to any particular theory of how the ms reached the bard weakens even further the case that TR was used as a source for Shakespeare. In fact, without that coda, it makes one wonder what the purpose was of writing the paper at all.

    As Lynne and I finished up the book manuscript — now finished — we had a lot to say about Reedy’s reticence in this regard. He’s much smarter than Vaughan, since he knows that all those other links in the argument of Shakespeare’s reliance on the Strachey manuscript are wholly uproven and at best doubtful. However, that also leaves him in a pretty ironic position, for if he did not want the reader *to believe* the Strachey story in toto, then his belabored and ultimately erroneous argument about how the manuscript went back on the July 15, 1610 voyage would be rather pointless.

    No one would care a whit whether it did or not except that everyone — well, almost everyone — assumes that Shakespeare read it and voila, The Tempest. It has to have gone back on the July 15 boat, or the rest is moot. But if the rest is moot anyway — and our book shows conclusively, it seems to me, that it is — then no one would ever bother to argue whether it went back on that voyage or not. One might conclude from this that much of the heat of Reedy’s argument — the mud he slings in his article and elsewhere – is generated by a kind of “false consciousness.” He dare not defend a conclusion he wants his readers to uncritically accept.

  8. Thanks to Roger and Lynne for all their splendid work. I recently found another de Vere connection to The Tempest. The Folger Library now owns the copy of Guicciardini’s History of Italy that once belonged to de Vere. And that book contains a story that has fascinating parallels with The Tempest. Alfonso II was King of Naples in 1494. His son-in-law was the rightful Duke of Milan, but his position was usurped. As the invading King Charles VIII of France headed toward Naples, Alfonso abdicated in favor of his son Ferdinand. He knew he was hated by his people, for his past violence and treachery. And Prospero? That was a professional soldier who opposed Alfonso. After abdicating, Alfonso spent the rest of his life on an island, in “solitariness and study.” Guicciardini’s book also has some descriptions of the New World that are echoed in The Tempest– as well as an account of Alfonso’s nightmares of the ghosts of lords he had killed (like Richard III), and his adviser dreaming of Alfonso’s father three times (like the opening of Hamlet). All in all, Strachey’s account of the shipwreck seems less and less relevant, unless one is desperate to cling to the legendary authorship theory, now entering its death spiral.

  9. Hi Richard,

    So good to hear from you. I was actually aware, vaguely, of the Guiccardini, although the last I had heard about it the Folger was backpeddling its earlier statements to the effect that the volume was Oxford’s. It bears a boar embossed in gold on the covers as I recall, but has only a few faint traces of annotation. I did NOT know, however, that the volume explicitly made mention of Alfonso and his son the rightful Duke of Milan, so that is indeed very useful and something we may wish to pursue (although the book as currently framed does not deal with Oxford at all — something that could change if we got a green light from a publisher, as there is certainly much more to add about him along the lines of your excellent article.

    Thanks for the update. All is well.


  10. rstritmatter

    Hi Richard,

    I just noticed that we hadn’t replied to this. You’re quite right to emphasize the name similarities between the characters in the play and the real actors in Neapolitan history. The names Alphonso and Ferdinando were, as your allusion suggests, hereditary in the ruling family of Naples during the lat 15th century. We should probably look more closely at Guiccardini, but since at least as presently written the book is not “Oxfordian,” we haven’t done anything with the possible connection to de Vere’s own Guiccardini. Do you have page numbers for those episodes?

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