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1.-THE DATE OF THE PLAY
§ 1. The date of The Tempest is one of the most vexed problems of Shakespearean criticism, and cannot be fixed with complete certainty. The play was printed for the First Edition, first time, as far as we know, in the collected edition of Shakespeare's works, 1623, known as the First Folio. Thus all conclusions as to its date must be based upon internal evidence or conjectural allusions in contemporary writings.
jectural date, 1596.
§ 2. Hunter, in his Disquisition on the Scene, Origin, Date, &c., of Shakespeare's Tempest (1839), assigned the play to the spring or summer of 1596. He identified it with Love's Labour's Won mentioned by Francis Meres in his list of twelve of Shakespeare's plays (1598), and considered that its references to travellers' tales were inspired by Raleigh's narrative of his Voyage to Guiana (1596). Hunter assumed further that Ben Jonson, in the Prologue to Every Man in his Humour1, was alluding to The Tempest in the following lines:
"He rather prays you will be pleased to see
One such to-day, as other plays should be;
Where neither chorus wafts you o'er the seas
Nor creaking throne comes down the boys to please;
The gentlewoman; nor roll'd bullet heard
1 We know of no performance of Every Man in his Humour before 1598, but Hunter without warrant identified it with The Umers mentioned in Henslowe's Diary, Nov. 25, 1596.
To say, it thunders: nor tempestuous drum
You, that have so grac'd monsters may like men."
In the italicised lines Hunter detected references to (1) the descent of Juno in the Masque in Act iv.; (2) the thunder and lightning in Act i. Sc. 1; (3) the monster Caliban. But the allusions are very doubtful, and, in any case, they give no support to Hunter's theory. For this Prologue does not appear in the quarto edition, 1601, of Every Man in his Humour, and is first found in the folio edition of Ben Jonson's works, 1616. Apart from this, however, and from the evidences treated below, one fact is fatal to Hunter's hypothesis. Gonzalo's sketch of his ideal commonwealth (ii. 1. 141-158) is borrowed almost verbally from Florio's translation of Montaigne, of which no printed edition is known before 1603, and which, from a statement of Florio himself, cannot have been begun till after 1599.
§ 3. This debt of the dramatist to Montaigne forms the starting-point of the German critic Elze's theory, which assigns the play to 1604. Ben Jonson, in his jectural date, Volpone (iii. 2), 1605, alludes to thefts by English authors from the French essayist. As Gonzalo's speech is the principal passage in extant Elizabethan literature taken from Montaigne, Elze concludes that the sarcastic reference is to The Tempest, which he accordingly places in the year between the publication of Florio's version, and the production of Volpone. But the allusion is too vague to be thus pressed, nor does it gain much support from Elze's second argument that Shakespeare was also indebted to Darius, a tragedy by the Earl of Stirling, 1603, which contains (iv. 2) these lines:
"Let greatness of her glascie scepters vaunt;
Not sceptours, no, but reeds, soone bruis'd soone broken:
With fourniture superfluouslie faire:
Those statelie courts, those sky-encountring walles
There is an undoubted similarity between these verses and Prospero's words (iv. 1) beginning "And, like this insubstantial pageant faded", but the parallel may simply have been accidental, as the transitoriness of earthly magnificence is a commonplace of thought, and even if Shakespeare had read Stirling's lines they might easily have found an echo in his verse later than 1604.
§4. The safer way to ascertain the approximate date of The Tempest is to set aside these highly conjectural inferences in favour of indisputable evidence afforded by the metre, style, and spirit of the play. Shakespeare's evidence. metrical practice underwent great changes during his career as playwright. (a) Rhyme diminishes from Love's Labour's Lost, where it occurs in 62 verses in every 100, to The Winter's Tale, where it is entirely absent: in The Tempest there is one rhyming couplet. (6) Double endings tend to increase, though not uniformly; they are fewest in 1 Henry IV., where they are 8 per cent, and most numerous in The Tempest, 35 per cent. (c) Enjambements or run-on lines increase from 8 per cent in The Taming of the Shrew to 46 per cent in Cymbeline: in The Tempest they are 41 per cent. (d) Speech-endings not coincident with verse-endings increase from 1 Henry VI., 1⁄2 per cent, to Winter's Tale, 87 per cent: in The Tempest there are 84 per cent.1 By the first test The Tempest stands last but one among the plays; by the second it stands last; by the third, last but three; by the fourth, last but two. The combined evidence of these tests assigns the play, beyond doubt, to Shakespeare's final period, between about 1608 and 1613.
§5. The evidence of style supports this conclusion. Shakespeare's youthful works thought often lags 2. Style. behind power of expression, and we thus find thin, laboured, and rhetorical passages. In the dramatist's
1 The figures are taken from G. König's Der Vers in Shakspeare's Dramen.
central period, from about 1597 to 1606, thought and expression attain to an exquisite balance, and it is during these » years that Shakespeare produces his most flawless work. But afterwards his wealth of ideas tends to outgrow the capacity of his instrument, and the result is a style elliptical to a fault, and overriding the canons of syntax observed in earlier plays. Of this style in its fullest development The Tempest is throughout an example.
§6. The spirit of the play and the nature of its incidents also assign it to Shakespeare's last years. From 3. Spirit. about 1600 to 1608 he put forth, probably under the stimulus of personal grief, his great series of tragedies. But afterwards his mood underwent a change, accompanied by a change in his choice of materials. Romantic themes henceforth engaged his pen-tales of kindred parted by wrongdoing or misadventure, and reunited after many years. Reconciliation and repentance are the keynotes of this closing group of dramas, and in The Tempest they are struck in the clearest tones.
§7. Thus these converging lines of internal evidence forbid us to place the play earlier than 1608. On the other hand, it was well known by 1614, as is plain from the Induction to Bartholomew Fair, where Ben Jonson uses these words: "If there be never a Servant-monster i' the Fayre who can helpe it, he says; nor a nest of Antiques? He is loth to make Nature afraid in his Playes, like those that beget Tales, Tempests, and such like Drolleries." The italicised phrases refer, beyond reasonable doubt, to The Tempest and The Winter's Tale, which are mentioned in the Vertue MSS. as having been performed with twelve others on the 20th May, 1613, before the Elector Palatine and Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of King James. Dr. Garnett1, trusting to the authority of this MSS., concludes that The Tempest was written for their marriage, which took place 14th February, 1613. dates the play The introduction (in Act iii.) of the bridalmasque, which has so little connection with the main plot, raises that strongest presumption that the piece was
1 Universal Review, April, 1889.