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THE TEMPEST is generally considered, if not the very latest, at least one of the latest plays of Shakspere. The player-editors of the first folio would seem to have assigned to it the first place in their collection of the poet's works, because they knew that it had never been printed before and presumed it to be unknown to the reading public.
It is highly probable that the play was written in 1610 or 1611, as has been inferred from the allusion to the still vex'd Bermoothes' (I. 2, 229), which has been generally connected with a tract on the wreck of Sir George Somers' ship in a tempest off the Bermudas, written by Silvester Jourdan (A Discovery of the Bermudas, otherwise called the Isle of Devils, 1610), and which Shakspere seems to have had before him while writing his play. On the other hand, the Tempest cannot possibly be later than 1614, in which year Ben Jonson
alluded to it in the Induction to his Bartholomew Fair, in these words —'If there be never a Servant-monster i' the fair, who can help it he says, nor a nest of antics? He is loth to make nature afraid in his plays, like those that beget tales, tempests, and such like drolleries.'
The English critics of the 18th century did not, however, succeed in discovering the source of the story of our play. In 1817, L. Tieck was the first to point oat (Altdeutsches Theater I. p. XXII) the identity of the plots of Shakspere's Tempest and Jacob Ayrer's play entitled Die schöne Sidea. Ayrer died in 1605, and there can be no doubt that his Sidea was anterior in date to Shakspere's Tempest. The German play will be found in A. Cohn's excellent work “Shakspere in Germany.' Another German scholar, Joh. Meissner, has attempted to show that Shakspere used Ayrer's play as his immediate source, and there is, indeed, a striking resemblance between numerous passages of the two plays, nay sometimes we notice even a certain verbal agreement. See Meissner's Untersuchungen über Shakspere's Sturm, Dessau 1872, and also J. Tittmann's remarks in his edition of the German Poets of the 16th century, vol. III. p. 148-155. Impossible as it is to show that Shakspere was not acquainted with Ayrer's production, it is still equally probable that both plays were derived from one and the same earlier source, and this supposition gains all the more probability when we consider that Ayrer and other German poets of that time were themselves in the habit of employing English sources. The main incidents of the tale, on which the Tempest is founded, may be traced in various legends, and there would even seem to exist a certain historical basis for them: see an essay by J. Caro in E. Kölbing's Englische Studien II. p. 141185. The reader may also be referred to the observations of Freiherr von Friesen, Shakspere-Studien III. 521-523, and to E. Dowden's excellent work on Shakspere's Mind and Art, p. 416-426.