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The Tempest was first published in the First Folio (1623), in which the play was divided into acts and
All later editions are based upon that text, with modernized spelling and punctuation. The text is unusually good; few of the difficulties in interpretation are due to a doubtful text.
Date of Composition. - The First Folio opens with The Tempest, perhaps because of its recent popularity. Since many modern editions follow the order of the Folio, many readers have supposed The Tempest to be the earliest of Shakespeare's plays. As a matter of fact, it one of the latest. Its diction, compressed and weighted with meaning, and its syntax, sometimes loose, sometimes involved, are indications of a late date. The verse, too, unrimed, with frequent overflow, frequent run-on lines, frequent midstopt speeches, and numerous light and weak endings, — has the freedom and ease that characterize Shakespeare's latest plays. This freedom sometimes passes into carelessness.
On June 2, 1609, a fleet of nine vessels set sail from Plymouth, carrying settlers and provisions for the new colony in Virginia. This fleet was scattered by a storm on July 25, and on July 28 the Sea Venture, in which were the three leaders, Sir George Somers, Sir Thomas Gates, and Captain Christopher Newport, was cast ashore on one
of the Bermudas (for a time known as the Somers Islands), but without loss of life. There the adventurers lived in comparative comfort for nine or ten months. Two pinnaces were built, in part from materials supplied by the wreck, and on May 10, 1610, the shipwrecked colonists sailed for Virginia, where they rejoined their companions, who, but for the loss of one ship, had arrived there in safety. Much anxiety had been felt in England for Sir George Somers and his companions, who were supposed to be lost. Two pamphlets had appeared in January and February), giving an account of the scattering of the fleet; and in October, 1610, Silvester Jourdan, who had been in the same ship with Sir George Somers, published in London a pamphlet entitled A Discovery of the Bermudas, otherwise called the Isle of Divels, etc. William Strachey, Esquire, also shipwrecked in the Sea Venture, wrote A true reporiory of the wracke, and redemption of Sir THOMAS GATES Knight; upon, and from the Ilands of the Bermudas: etc., dated 15th July, 1610. This was the date on which Sir Thomas Gates returned to England taking also a Despatch (July 7) from Lord De la Warr, governor of Virginia. Strachey's Reportory was first printed in Purchas his Pilgrimes (1625). Shakespeare may have seen the original manuscript,- Mr. Luce asserts (p. 154) that he “must surely have seen it,” — perhaps while it was in the keeping of Hakluyt, who transmitted it to Purchas. Toward the end of 1610 there was published in London A True Declaration of the Estate of the Colonie in Virginia, etc. It may have been written by William Strachey, inasmuch as it is based upon the Despatch from Lord Delaware. “His name is among the signatures
(as secretary), and the document is in his handwriting" (Luce, p. 153). Thus there were three accounts in existence, two of them in print, before the end of 1610. Close correspondences, both in incidents and in the wording of certain speeches, for which see Notes, show that Shakespeare had read these pamphlets and drawn from them hints for the storm and the shipwreck on an island supposed to be enchanted and to be uninhabited save by evil spirits.
Shakespeare's use of these pamphlets fixes the date of the play as not earlier than 1610. A misdating of Strachey's MS. as 1612 instead of 1610, and two pamphlets published by him in 1612, have been taken as evidence that the play was as late as 1612, 1613. According to Vertue's MS., The Tempest was one of fourteen (actually thirteen) plays performed at Court during the festivities that followed the marriage, on February 14, 1613, of the Princess Elizabeth and Frederick, Elector Palatine. None of the other plays acted on the occasion was new; but some editors have held that The Tempest was written for this occasion and have seen in Elizabeth the island princess wooed by a prince from a distant land, in Prospero the learned King James, and in the supposed loss of Ferdinand, a reference to the recent death of Prince Henry.
It is now possible to cite with more confidence than hitherto evidence that dates from 1611, evidence that has more than once been lost and found, accepted and rejected. In 1808 Edmond Malone printed privately eighty copies of An Account of the Incidents from which the Title and part of the Story of Shakespeare's Tempest were derived, etc. In this essay he wrote, “I know that it had 'a being and a name' in the autumn of 1611." His evidence was not forthcoming until the publication in 1842 for the Shakespeare Society of Extracts from the Accounts of the Revels at Court in the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and James I., from the Original Office Books of the Masters and Yeomen. This book was edited by Peter Cunningham, son of the poet, Allan Cunningham, and treasurer of the Society. On page 210 is an entry to the effect that on November 1, I611, “By the Kings Players: Hallomas nyght was presented att Whithall before the Kinges Majestie a play called the Tempest.” The records had been mislaid, and had been found by Peter Cunningham, in 1838, “under the vaults of Somerset House.” They were accepted as genuine until 1868, when they were supposedly proved to have been forged by the editor. Recently, however, the stigma of forgery has been removed from his name, and it is now permissible to cite the record as evidence.1 Even while they were supposed to be forgeries, many scholars believed that they were based upon information that was trustworthy. Thus we are enabled to repeat with confidence the statement of Malone, in 1808, that “the date of the play is fixed and ascertained with uncommon precision, between the end of the year 1610 and the Autumn of 1611; and it may with great probability be ascribed to the Spring of the latter year."
Source of the Plot. - No indubitable source of The Tempest is known, a statement that can be made in regard to only one or two other plays by Shakespeare. Long and careful search for sources has resulted in the discovery of two analogues, one a Spanish tale, the other a German play. In 1885, again in 1902, and more fully in 1907, attention was called to a collection of stories, Winter Nights, by Antonio de Eslava; this collection was published at Pamplona and at Barcelona in 1609, at Brussels in 1610. These somewhat elaborately-wrought tales were translated (with omissions) into German as early as 1666. There follows a brief summary of a recent translation of the fourth of these tales by Gustav Becker (Shakespeare Jahrbuch, XLIII).
Good King Dardano, of Bulgaria, though he had magic power, was dispossessed of his kingdom by Niciphoro, the proud emperor of Greece. Accompanied by his daughter Serafina, King Dardano guided a well-built ship into the middle of the Adriatic Sea. There he struck with his wand the water, which parted and let the ship down to the bottom of the sea, where a marvelous and richly-adorned palace received them. After they have lived for two years in this magic palace, Serafina reminds her father that all created beings feel the promptings of love, and asks him to provide for her a companion of her own rank and age. Meantime the haughty emperor Niciphoro had died, after disinheriting his gentle, older son, Valentiniano, and leaving his power to his younger son, Juliano. In his wanderings in search of help the disinherited prince came to the Adriatic Sea, where he