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Years Work in English Study reviews Stritmatter and Kositsky Tempest book

Somewhat to our surprise, On the Date, Sources, and Design has been rather favorably reviewed in the most recent issue of OUP’s Years Work in English Studies by Sheilagh Ilona O’Brien, a PhD candidate in  School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics at the University of Queensland and contributing reviewer to the Oxford journal.

 

O’Brien alludes to the “stinging attack on the assumptions underlying Vaughan’s and Reedy’s works”, emphasizing that “Kositsky and Stritmatter point to the lack of evidence for any version of Strachey’s account prior to Shakespeare writing The Tempest, and the very problematic assumption that the letter, if it did exist, was available to Shakespeare in manuscript form” and concluding hopefully that “the questions raised about the ‘orthodox’ approach are significant, and suggest a number of problems for previous examinations of The Tempest, which were grounded in the idea that Strachey was one of Shakespeare’s sources. No doubt Kositsky and Stritmatter’s informative and well-written work will spark renewed debate and discussion of this topic.”It is gratifying to see that the influence of the book continues to percolate throughout academia, generating positive reviews like this one:

Moving beyond discussions of the influence of medieval romance or style on Shakespeare’s late plays, The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale dominate the remaining works to be reviewed. Lynne Kositsky and Roger A. Stritmatter had already presented a 2007 article in The Review of English Studies on the origins of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and the influence of William Strachey’s True Reportory. They have now expanded upon that work significantly in their book On the Date, Sources and Design of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Kositsky and Stritmatter point to the lack of evidence that Shakespeare was familiar with Strachey’s account, the very different setting in which Shakespeare sets his shipwrecked survivors, and, most significantly, the nature of Strachey’s True Reportory as a ‘highly literary document, which incorporates material from a wide range of historical and literary sources’ (pp. 15–17; see also pp. 141–98).

 The problematic dating of Strachey’s letter, and the question of whether it influenced other publications on the Bermuda shipwreck and The Tempest, or if instead it was composed in its published form some time after the other accounts and the play, is the central theme of chapter 19, ‘The Myth of Strachey’s Influence’ (pp. 194–8). It is here that Kositsky and Stritmatter’s forensic examination of the evidence reaches its height. They argue that ‘Shakespearian traditionalists’ such as Alden Vaughan and Tom Reedy are relying on supposition and assumption when they discuss the intertextual references as evidence without an examination of the historical probability that Strachey might have composed his account later than 1609 (pp. 141–2, 194–5).

 In a stinging attack on the assumptions underlying Vaughan’s and Reedy’s works, Kositsky and Stritmatter point to the lack of evidence for any version of Strachey’s account prior to Shakespeare writing The Tempest, and the very problematic assumption that the letter, if it did exist, was available to Shakespeare in manuscript form. They also cite the extensive evidence for Strachey’s plagiarism from other sources, and the potential for the noted intertextuality between The Tempest and Strachey to actually be in the other direction, with Strachey copying from either the play or a mutual source (pp. 141–4).

While the argument is well made, it suffers, like its opponents, from a lack of definitive evidence. However, the questions raised about the ‘orthodox’ approach are significant, and suggest a number of problems for previous examinations of The Tempest, which were grounded in the idea that Strachey was one of Shakespeare’s sources. No doubt Kositsky and Stritmatter’s informative and well-written work will spark renewed debate and discussion of this topic.

 

One may wonder why O’Brien felt the need to impose a standard of “definitive evidence” on our inquiry.  Few matters in the humanities, especially those involving early modern studies, approach a standard of “definitive” evidence. What our book does show, definitively in our view, is that the old traditions of a 1611 Tempest are no longer viable premises for further inquiry, not only for the reasons summarized in O’Brien’s review, but for many others that she does not include in her summary. By an overwhelming preponderance of the evidence, as presented in our book, the play was originally written for Shrovetide performance in or before 1603.

2 Responses to “Years Work in English Study reviews Stritmatter and Kositsky Tempest book”


  1. Jane Nelson

    My research in progress supports the earlier date and I explore the possibility that The Tempest was written to be performed in Paris at the marriage of Henri IV to Marie de Medici in 1600. In addition to the historic reasons for that possibility which I won’t go into here, the play incorporates stage machinery and effects, singing and dancing in ways that were being used in French theatre and presage modern opera and ballet. I disagree with Looney on the authorship and think it was written by de Vere and may well have been his last hurrah or the farewell to the stage which Stratfordians claim for their Man.


  2. rstritmatter

    Hi Jane,

    Thanks for your comment. Sorry about the slow job getting it posted!

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