Journal of Drama Studies article Contests Strachey’s Influence


Looking for the New World sources of Shakespeare's Tempest? Try Eden first.

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until 1612, Clarke develops another criticism of the theory of “TR”‘s influence — one that we also explore in our unpublished manuscript — that the canons of secrecy imposed by the Virginia company make it unlikely that documents such as Strachey’s manuscript would ever have made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.

16 Responses to “Journal of Drama Studies article Contests Strachey’s Influence”

  1. There are many problems with Mr Clarke’s article. it seems to have no real focus, and Mr. Clarke doesn’t appear to have done much reading on the subject of sea-going narratives of the period, preferring to take snippets from other scholars such as Brown, who appears to be his main source, and neglecting, to take just one example, the huge impact of both Eden and Hakluyt on British exploration of the New World and the narratives of the time. As a result, many mistakes have been made, including the fact that the birds on the rocks taken by men originate not in the Bermuda Narratives but in Eden, in a translation of Oviedo’s History of the West Indies:

    The number of these alcatrazzi is such, that the Christian men are accustomed to sent to certain lands and rocks in which are near about Panama, with their boats or barks to take these alcatrazzi while they are yet young and cannot fly and kill as many of them with staves as they will (191v)

    There’s more to the description if anyone cares to look it up.

    Another odd mistake, which would not be made by anyone who had read the applicable sources: Namontack was not by any means a “chieftain:”

    He turns up in Smith, as someone who is to be taken to England. In a spring 1608 dispatch to Spain, the Spanish ambassador Don Pedro De Zuniga wrote about a young Indian, Namontack, said to be a son of the chief, but more likely his servant, exchanged by Powhatan for an English youth named Thomas Savage. Namontack was put aboard Newport’s ship in early 1608 and taken to England, from whence he later returned. There are many other reports of Namontack, both by Smith and others; he may even have been on the Sea Venture in 1609, and could have been involved in the very nasty murder of one native by another.

    These are merely two examples of the many problems in Mr. Clarke’s article, which I find both confused and confusing. Will be pleased to write more in another post. This one’s getting crowded!

  2. Another problem with Mr. Clarke’s reportage: He says “In a letter dated 7 July 1610 De la Warr writes, “I administeres an oath of faith, assistance and secrecy, their names were these…William Strachey Esq, Secretary [and recorder].” Unfortunately Mr Clarke goes to Brown, as usual, rather than going to the original, which reads:

    “I did constitute and give places of office and charge to diverse captains and gentlemen, and elected unto me a council, unto whom I administered an oath of faith, assistance, and secrecy. Their names were these:- Sir Thomas Gates…Sir George Summers…Captain George Percy, Sir Ferdinando Wenman, Captain Christopher Newport, William Strachey, esq, secretary” (The Historie of Travaile into Virginia Britannia (xxix), and at least five other names. All the above would have been competent to send reports back to the Council in England and are very important when evaluating the Strachey theory, as we’ve shown elsewhere in our articles.

    This is a most unfortunate error on Mr. Clarke’s part.

  3. rstritmatter

    Wow. No kidding. Talk about making a quote say something it really doesn’t say, with creative use of ellipses. That’s an extraordinary gaffe.

  4. rstritmatter

    There was a Native Chieftain with a similar name, right? So that’s a spelling error that results in huge confusion between the boy and the Chieftain. Please continue, as time permits.

  5. I don’t know of a Chief with a similar name. I do know that Namontack can be spelled in several different ways and was, depending on who was writing about him. Do you have a source for the similar sounding name of a chief?

    But in any case, Clarke is referring to the Namontack that returned to England in 1608, as shown in the footnote. Once again, his source was Brown, so either one or both of them were incorrect. The Brown can be found online somewhere, iirc–it’s been quite a while since I read the book–but I’ll look for it when I have time.

  6. rstritmatter

    Well, we say that Namontack was the son of a chief. When we were exchanging thoughts earlier I came upon a similar name in a source that was identified as a chieftain, but I can’t remember the exact spelling or find the source now.

  7. Clarke does mention Oviedo in Eden in footnote 12, although so far I’ve not found Eden in the bibliography, but is clearly mistaken when he says Oviedo “refers to fowls called seamews and cormorants but gives no further details.” Again, it seems as though he hasn’t read Eden (1555), Decades pf the Newe Worlde in which the translation of The Hystorie of the Weste Indies is included. I think Barry is puzzled by the Herculean task of reading the sources.

    As well as the birds on the rocks, which I mentioned above, Oviedo talks of the seamews and cormorants in some detail. The text at this point was difficult to read, for as well as being in 16th Century italic, some of it is faded, and some not grammatical. But I’ve done my best to turn the spelling at least into modern English:

    While I remained here [in Bermuda] I saw a strife (?) and combat between these flying fishes and the fishes named gilt-heads and the fowls called seamews and cormorants, which surely seemed unto me a thing of as great pleasure and solace as could be devised, while the gilt-heads swam on the brim of the water and sometimes lifted their shoulders above the same to raise the swimming fishes out of the water to drive them to flight, and follow them swimming to the place where they fall to take and eat them suddenly. Again on the other side the seamews and cormorants take many of these flying fishes: so that by these means they are neither safe in the air nor in the water…But to return to the history: these birds and fowls which I saw, were of the island of Bermuda near unto the which I saw these flying fishes. For they could be of no other land, for as much as they are not accustomed to wander far from the coasts where they are bred. (Eden 203v-204)

  8. rstritmatter

    Well, I guess he gets brownie points for trying….but, yes, always a good idea to read not only the most current literature you can find, but original sources, and not simply borrow things second or third hand. The trouble with doing that is…well, it eventually it shows….:)

  9. Re “son of a chief”:

    The source says he was a son of Powhatan but more likely his servant. It’s improbable that the son of the chief would be allowed to go to England with the British, especially as it seems he was more of a captive than an honored guest, with Thomas Savage kept by the chief as security for Namontack’s return. Here’s Smith’s actual version of what happened:

    With many pretty Discourses to renew their old acquaintance, this great King [Powhatan] and our Captain spent the time, till the ebb left our Barge aground. Then renewing their feasts with feats, dancing and singing, and such like mirth, we quartered that night with Powhatan. The next day Newport came ashore and received as much content as those people could give him: a boy named Thomas Savage was then given unto Powhatan, whom Newport called his son; for whom Powhatan gave him Namontack his trusty servant, and one of a shrewd, subtle capacity. Three or four days more we spent in feasting, dancing, and trading, wherein Powhatan carried himself so proudly, yet discreetly (in his Savage manner) as made us all admire his natural gifts, considering his education.135

  10. Clay Buerkle

    Okay, a couple of things that look to go against Eden’s Decades as a source. You compare The Tempest’s “and for the rest o’ th’ fleet….” To Eden’s “by reason whereof, they so wandered owte of…”. One difference is that in Eden’s work there isn’t anything about the crew surviving a shipwreck. And then Lynne quotes from the Decades about the young birds (the alcatrazzi) taken on the rocks. The big problem with this reference is that, if you read the rest of the passage, that these birds, unlike what Caliban was looking for, weren’t edible. (See the Arden Tempest, p. 217, note 166). In the Decades the young Alcatrazzi “are so fatte and wel fedde that they can not bee eaten. And are taken for none other intent but only to make grease for candels to burne in this manner and for this purpose it serueth [service] very well; …” Also, the names of these birds “Alcatrazzi” isn’t nearly the match to Caliban’s “scamel” as the “Seamel” or “sea-mew” in Bermuda that was originally hypothesized. Overall, it doesn’t really look like Eden’s Decades provides a better possible source for Clarke’s examples.

  11. Hi Clay, I only have a few minutes as I’m going to a concert this afternoon.

    Re Eden: there are lots of descriptions of crew surviving a shipwreck. In fact if one compares Strachey with Tempest, one soon finds out that the two descriptions don’t match, anyway. In Tempest only one ship is wrecked. In Strachey, apart from the Sea Venture, two other boats never make it to Jamestown. So the descriptions are just as apt in Eden (and also Hakluyt in Thomson and elsewhere).

    Here are two shipwrecks in Eden:

    There rose soodenly soo fierce a tempeste ?that, of the foure caravels which they had with them, twoo were drowned even before theyre eyes ?but theyr fortune was better. For the caravell which the tempest had caryed as way, was coome to them ageyne. This had in it xviii men: And the other that remained, was saved and repayred. With these two therefore, they tooke theyre vyage directly to Spaine (Eden 42v).

    Petrus Aroas therefore tooke shippynge in the river Betis?But he loosed anker in an evyll houre. For suche a tempeste folowed shortly after his departure, that it rent in pieces two of his shippes, ? all such as escaped, sayled backe ageyne to the coastes of Spayne (77).

    by reason whereof, they so wandered owte of theyr course and were diparsed 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). Interestingly, this comes just before a description of St. Elmo’s fire, which is closer to Shakespeare than Strachey is; however one thing I ought to mention is that we know that Strachey took material from both Eden and Hakluyt, which is why the Tempest occasionally has apparent parallels to Reportory, whereas in fact, they came from the earlier texts. We absolutely know that Shakespeare also used those texts, especially Eden. Strachey goes for some of his shipwreck parallels to Tomson in Hakluyt, which themselves are in part at least derived from Eden.

    There are many more examples of shipwrecks in Eden, but I don’t have time to go look for them right now. The last example that you spoke about in your post was given by me to show that rather than a shipwreck, it exhibits the parallels of language between Shakespeare and Eden, which do not exist in Strachey at all. In fact, though, the same pattern occurs in Antony and Cleopatra.

    Our sever’d navy too Have knit again, and fleet, threatening most sea-like. (Ant and Cleopatra, 3.13) , so it is clear that the parallel couldn’t have come from Strachey.

    And there are literally tens of other examples earlier in the period that show it wasn’t unusual for one ship to be separated from the others and come to grief.

    The seamews are mentioned in Eden, but as you say, the Alcatrazzi are not eaten. They are taken to make candles. But seamews are also mentioned lower down in the chapter. I will take more time to look at this when I come back. In the meantime you might try reading Eden itself, instead of snippets from footnotes in Arden. And you might try reading some of our articles, which show that Eden is a much better source that Strachey, for all sorts of reasons.

    Will continue in another post.

  12. OK, just another quick post.

    1, There’s no certainty that scamels are seamews. I found another meaning, but I’ll have to see if I can find it.

    2. Caliban never actually says the scamels are to be eaten, although it looks that way from the context:

    prithee, let me bring thee where crabs grow;
    And I with my long nails will dig thee pignuts;
    Show thee a jay’s nest and instruct thee how
    To snare the nimble marmoset; I’ll bring thee
    To clustering filberts and sometimes I’ll get thee
    Young scamels from the rock. Wilt thou go with me?

    But more important, Strachey never finds seamews, only birds that resemble them: A kind of web-footed fowl there is, of the bigness of an English green plover or sea mew…” etc.


  13. rstritmatter

    Hi Barry,

    Just to add to what Lynne has said, I would suggest that it is a surprising and misleading procedure to respond to our CS article, which presents numerous corroboratory reasons for concluding that Shakespeare read and made use of Eden in constructing the *Tempest,* by attacking a single element of the case and leaving the rest unmentioned, on the superficial pretense that the many other illustrative examples of Eden’s significance are irrelevant.

    In point of fact, there is no question at all that Shakespeare used Eden, as was known at least as long ago as Furness (1898), who pointed out that it must have been from Eden that Shakespeare drew the rare word “Setebos” — as that is the only published source for the word in England.

    So, arguing against our conclusions on the basis of a pretext such as this one is pointless and can only reflect poorly on your apprehension of the real issues at stake in the discussion, which do not hinge on the example you’ve selected, even if your argument in that case were correct. In other words, our argument was never, contrary to the implication of your post, about finding “a better possible source for Clarke’s examples.” We wrote before Clarke, presenting an abundance of evidence updating that case Furness had made over a century ago for Eden’s relevance as a Tempest source.

    You need to also show why Furness was wrong, and — if you want to appear to be doing something more than *ex post facto* special pleading, you should start by admitting that Clarke made an error in not beginning his argument from our 2009 article. He either didn’t do a very good literature review, or was seeking a short-cut to get into print with arguments that are essentially in the final analysis mostly irrelevant. Maybe if you read our article again you’ll see what I mean.

    Best Regards,


  14. to Clay:The Riverside Shakespeare gives shellfish as a possible alternative meaning of scamel. Almost every source I looked at said that there’s no definitive answer.

    So, to summarize:

    1.Scamels may be shellfish, seamews/seamells, or something else entirely.

    2. Strachey doesn’t speak of sea mews, but birds as big as English seamews or plovers.

    3. Eden speaks of Alcatrazzi on the rocks taken by men, and seamews in the Bermudas. He also speaks of pignuts, marmosets, and poppinjays, as Shakespeare does. I find him the best source.

    I would be pleased if you could give other examples of where Strachey is a better source than earlier texts, or Shakespeare himself in his earlier plays. In fact, looking at Eden once more, I see many parallels with Shakespeare’s Tempest that aren’t even mentioned in either Strachey A or B.

  15. Prospero’s education and sntrog character is testified in three key ways in the story. The first is shown in the reason why he hadn’t noticed that his brother was plotting against him in the beginning. He explains to Miranda, “This neglecting worldly ends, all dedicated To closeness, and the bettering of my mind… in my false brother Awaked an evil nature.” He had given up a lot of his kingdom to his brother because he had immersed himself in study to gain a liberal education. He hadn’t noticed his brother’s evil plans because he in good faith had trusted his brother to watch over his kingdom while he took to private study.The second testament of his dedication to education and the bettering of his soul was the character of his daughter, Miranda. She has such compassion and love in the book. She grew up with only her father and his servants, so Prospero had to have greatly influenced her education and growth of character. Her kindness is a reflection of his character and his values his daughter has learned from over the years. The last and probably the most important of these evidences of Prospero’s education and goodness was his willingness to forgive all those who had wronged him at the end, even his own brother who had betrayed him. What was crucial in this was that he was not only willing to completely forgive and let these men go, but that he thought it was important that he “Begin to chase the ignorant fumes that mantle Their clearer reason”. He wanted them to experience the same freedom that he had experienced through his education and experiences. He desired to give these men who had plotted against his life the gift of a peaceful and happy life through wisdom and understanding. He also gave his daughter this gift when, although he had been against his daughter being with Sebastian, once he knew of the love they felt for each other, he gave his blessing for them to marry. This was such a great book to end on. In this group we have all come to a better understanding of how we can work on educating ourselves throughout our lives. To me this is invaluable because it’s how you come to live the most happy and most free life. This lifelong education is how we can reach our full potential in life. Prospero’s example of sharing this with others, even his enemies, is one that I hope I will follow throughout my life. To me, that shows that he truly understood how valuable education is, so much so that he couldn’t withhold the opportunity from even those who had sought to kill him. This truly is the worth of such a gift.

  16. rstritmatter

    One might even say that these attributes confirm the longstanding view of Prospero as a distinctly “authorial” character, with Miranda (the one “needing to be admired”) as his “art.”

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