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The publisher desires to acknowledge the courtesy of Messrs. Macmillan and Co. in granting permission to use the text of
the Cambridge Shakespeare.
WE possess no knowledge of any one particular source from which The Tempest might have been drawn, but it seems probable that Shakespeare constructed his drama upon some already existing foundation. A childishly old-fashioned play by Jacob Ayrer, Comedia von der schönen Sidea, seems to have been founded upon a variant of the story used by Shakespeare. Ayrer died in 1605, and his work, therefore, cannot have owed anything to that of the great dramatist, which was the last of Shakespeare's plays, written for the Princess Elizabeth's wedding in 1613. The similarity between the two plays is confined to the relations between Prospero and Alonso, and Ferdinand and Miranda. In the German play we have a banished sovereign, his daughter, and a captive prince, who is compelled to atone for his audacity in making love to the daughter by carrying and cutting firewood. He promises his beloved she shall be queen, and attempting to draw his sword upon his father-in-law, is rendered powerless by magic. There is no real resemblance between the dramas. It is, of course, possible that Dowland, or some other English actor, might have introduced the Sidea from Germany, but Shakespeare did not know German, and in any case the play was too
1 Jacob Ayrer: Opera Theatricum. Nurnburg, 1618. L. Tieck: Deutsches Theater, :. p. 323. Albert Cohn: Shakespeare in Germany, ii. pp. 1-75.
poor a one to interest him. Moreover, since we know that Ayrer did occasionally copy English works, we may safely conclude that both dramatists were indebted to some earlier English source. There is nothing specially original about the above incidents. In Greene's Friar Bacon, four men make fruitless efforts to draw swords held in their scabbards by magic, and The Tempest would naturally possess traits in common with other plays representing sorcery upon the stage. In Marlowe's drama, Dr. Faustus, for instance, the hero punishes his would-be murderers by making them wallow in filth (Faustus, Act iv. Sc. 2), just as Prospero drives Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano into the marsh and leaves them there up to their chins in mire (Tempest, Activ.).
It was an early and correct observation that various minor details of The Tempest were taken from different books of travel. Shakespeare found the name of Setebos, and, possibly, the first idea of Caliban himself, in an account of Magellan's voyage to the south pole in Eden's Historye of Travaile in East and West Indies (1577). From Raleigh's Discovery of the large, rich, and bewtiful Empire of Guiana (1596) he took the fable of the men whose heads stood upon their breasts. Raleigh writes that, though this may be an invention, he is inclined to believe it true, because every child in the provinces of Arromai and Canuri maintains that their mouths were in the middle of their breasts. (See Gonzalo's speech in The Tempest, Act iii. Sc. 2.)
It is far more remarkable that the famous and beautiful passage (Act iv.) proclaiming the transitoriness of all earthly things—a passage which seems to be a mournful epitome of the philosophy of Shakespeare's last years of productiveness—may be an easy adaptation of an inferior and quite unknown poet of his day.