A July 2011 article by Barry R. Clarke, published in the Journal of Drama Studies, contests the idea that the Tempest author had access to Strachey’s “True Reportory” manuscript account of the Sea Venture wreck, but goes on to argue that the 1609 wreck “was [itself] a source event for the Tempest.”
Believing that “Vaughan and Reedy have organised substantial evidence” against the objection of our 2007 RES article that “TR” was not completed until 1612, Clarke develops another criticism of the theory of “TR”‘s influence — one that we also explore in our unpublished manuscript — that the canons of secrecy imposed by the Virginia company make it unlikely that documents such as Strachey’s manuscript would ever have made their way into the dramatist’s hands.
Most of Clarke’s article is devoted to a valuable exploration of why the theory, first proposed by Morton Luce and Charles C. Gayley, of Shakespeare’s access to a secret Bermuda Company pamphlet, is improbable on its face, given the degree of secrecy imposed on information about Bermuda, which was considered a vital asset in England’s “cold war” against Spain for control of the new world.
Instead, Clarke argues for a more diffuse and circumstantial influence of the Bermuda literature and other Jacobean gossip on Shakespeare’s play. For example, he devotes a number of paragraphs to discussing the possibility that the names “Stephano” and “Trinculo” are derived from the name of the Prince of Moldavia, Stephano Janiculo, who visited the Jacobean court in 1607. He notes that Ben Jonson parodied Janiculo’s courtship of Lay Arabella Stuart in in Epiocene (produced 1609, published 1616), and that the same play mentions (in the same lines) “Nomentack,”described by Clarke as “an Indian chief from Virginia.”This certainly proves that Jonson’s play was written after 1607, but it’s relevance to the Tempest is a bit obscure. While the proposed connection between Janiculo and the names of the characters in Shakespeare’s play seems may be possible, its a slender thread on which to hang the argument of a Jacobean Tempest, especially if one has started the discussion by dismissing the otherwise far more credible (but ultimately inconclusive) evidence of proposed verbal parallels with Strachey.
Worse still is Clarke’s failure to register the significance of our 2009 Critical Survey article, which supplements our case for a late completion date of TR by showing that the alleged verbal connections between Tempest and “TR” are an illusion that depends on the reader’s ignorance of Shakespeare’s actual primary source of New World imagery and language — Richard Eden’s 1555 Decades of the New World (or the original Iberian documents on which Eden’s translation is based).
Clarke seems to have missed this work entirely in composing his article.
While we sympathize (it’s easy enough to miss something important in any literature review), it’s painfully clear that this omission effectively invalidates Clarke’s entire argument. His list of “six notable shipwrecks” for comparison with the Tempest doesn’t even include mention of Eden’s numerous and — as we showed in CS — relevant wreck accounts.
Clarke goes on from this omission to identify one central motif from the shipwreck literature that, he believes, ties Tempest indubitably to the events of the Bermuda wreck:
The fleet’s flagship, the Sea Venture, was the only vessel of the nine to be permanently separated from the rest and when it failed to appear in Virginia all hands were assumed lost….[this] combination of circumstances surrounding the shipwreck in The Tempest seems not appear elsewhere in the contemporary travel narratives. (14)
This assertion imitates the mistaken logic of Vaughan, in his Shakespeare Quarterly “rebuttal” of our original RES article. Unfortunately, neither Vaughan nor Clarke is in possession of all the relevant facts.
Such events were rather common, and the argument has been anachronistic since 1874, when Elze (11), pointing out the flaws in Malone’s theory of Jourdain’s influence, noted that both Columbus and Drake experienced a similar division of their fleets.
But the case is stronger than even this general refutation might suppose. Here is the relevant passage from Tempest, compared to its obvious immediate source in Eden:
|and for the rest o’ th’ fleet
(Which I dispers’d), they have all met again,
And are upon the Mediterranean float
Bound sadly home for Naples…
|by reason whereof, they so wandered owte of theyr course and were disparsed in sunder, that they in maner dispayred to meete ageyne. But as God wolde, the seas and tempest being quieted,they came safely to theyr determined course… (217v).|
To summarize, Clarke does a superb job of furthering the argument, with which we agree, that the secrecy surrounding the Bermuda company’s activities supplies a strong additional reason for suspecting the hollowness of the Luce-Gayley-Vaughan argument for Shakespeare’s reliance on “TR.”
Strachey’s document seems to have only been completed in 1612, after the first generally accepted production of the play, and even then it was not a document that would have been circulated for use by common playwrights like the bard.
On the other hand, his argument for the continued viability of any substantive connections between the Tempest and Jacobean topicalities runs aground on the evidence already presented in our 2009 Critical Survey article. We regret that he was apparently unable to consider these arguments before publishing in the Journal of Drama Studies.