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
Coppin State University