Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Tempest was written before 1604

Those not familiar with the quirks of the Shakespeare authorship question may not know how offensive (to some) the above statement is. But thanks to new research published this year, it is verifiably true -- and it demolishes the main substantive objection to Edward de Vere as the man behind The Bard's mask.

The war over the Bard's identity is often waged in a proxy skirmish over the Shakespeare chronology -- because Edward de Vere died in 1604, while traditional scholarship dates the composition of a dozen or more Shakespeare plays between 1604 and 1613. If any Shakespeare play could definitively be dated after 1604, then de Vere is kicked to the curb as a "Shakespeare" candidate.

And while there's very little proof that any Shakespeare play was written after 1604, The Tempest has long been a sticking point.

The Tempest, the standard thinking goes, quotes directly from a book called The True Repertory written sometime after 1609 by an adventurer named William Strachey. We know Strachey wrote his True Repertory after 1609 because in it he describes a shipwreck in the Bermudas that happened during that year.

But the American researcher Roger Stritmatter (Coppin State Univ., Baltimore) and the Canadian author Lynne Kositsky have published six new scholarly articles that establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Strachey in fact plagiarized his shipwreck descriptions from books that were written decades before, in 1516, 1523 and 1555, specifically. The Tempest references those same books, Stritmatter and Kositsky argue, and suddenly Strachey is no longer a source for Shakespeare.

Suddenly, The Tempest falls back in line with the rest of the Shakespeare canon, comfortably situated in the pre-1604 world.

These new Tempest studies are as important as anything since the discovery of Edward de Vere's Geneva Bible in 1991. And while the paperback edition of "Shakespeare" By Another Name summarizes their findings (which arrived too late to make it into the hardback), even the paperback wasn't able to list where these groundbreaking papers can (or will soon) be found.

Now we can.

  • Roger Stritmatter & Lynne Kositsky, "The Spanish Maze and the Date of The Tempest" The Oxfordian 10 (2008) 9-19

  • Stritmatter & Kositsky, "Shakespeare and the Voyagers Revisited," Review of English Studies N.S. 58.236 (Sept. 2007) 447-472

  • Stritmatter & Kositsky, "A Moveable Feast: The Tempest as Shrovetide Revelry" The Shakespeare Yearbook. Forthcoming.

  • Stritmatter & Kositsky, "Eastward Ho! The Vogue of Virginia and the Date of The Tempest" Forthcoming.

  • Stritmatter & Kositsky, "O Brave New World: The Tempest and De Orbe Novo" Questioning Shakespeare, ed. William Leahy. Forthcoming.

  • Stritmatter & Kositsky, "Pale as Death: The Fictionalizing Influence of Erasmus's Naufragium on the Renaissance Travel Narrative" Verite 1:1. Forthcoming

**APRIL 2014 ADDENDUM: The comments to this blog post contain some interesting claims about William Strachey as a person -- and testimonial that he was, perhaps, not a plagiarist. 

Subsequent to the original blog post above, Stritmatter & Kositsky written an excellent book about the Strachey's True Repertory and The Tempest. They have also kindly responded to these comments about Strachey, below:

We show conclusively in the book, without a shadow of a rational doubt, that Strachey was *not* an eyewitness to key passages recounted in the narrative which , and therefore *was* one way or another plagiarizing earlier narratives when he produced it.  The internal evidence of True Repertory's extensive process of revision through the incorporation of other narratives and texts is overwhelming. So all this circumstantial stuff about what a great guy he was and how much responsibility he had been given is totally beside the point. He was a plagiarist. Now, that doesn't in itself prove anything else, but it is one of the most obvious and undeniable conclusions that can be drawn from the book, because we 1) demonstrate that many other scholars attribute plagiarism to him; 2) we proved from internal signs the plagiaristic properties of True Reportory.
Strachey's plagiaristic habits are so well documented as to be beyond doubt. The only problem is that when discussing True Reportory Strachey the plagiarist suddenly becomes Strachey the "eyewitness" in the critical literature.


Thomism said...

These are great. I'm really impressed with the level of scholarship and energy going into the debate.

neufer said...

Of course Strachey's
_True Repertory_ is pure fiction!
The Sea Venture sailed from Plymouth to Bermuda in just 56 days (!) and did so "in the height of 30 degrees of the northerly latitude or thereabouts,"
However, 30 degrees latitude

Unknown said...

Even if we accept as fact that Strachey "plagiarized his shipwreck descriptions from books that were written decades before, in 1516, 1523 and 1555, specifically," and that The Tempest references those same books, that does not rule out, as a logical necessity, the possibility that Strachey was a source for Shakespeare. In addition, these allegations would not mean that the play had to have been written prior to 1604.

Thomism said...

I think you're missing the point. The Shaksper crowd uses Strachey's work to show that de Vere could not have been the author. They're the ones who think there's some sort of "logical necessity," as you put it, either way.

Unknown said...

I'm not missing the point at all. The header for this item says that "The Tempest WAS written before 1604." I was merely pointing out that, even with the evidence of other potential sources, such a statement is not factually correct.

Thomism said...

You are, in fact, missing the point. The argument that the Tempest was written before 1604 is supported by other evidence, not solely because Strachey is not the source of the play. Your reference to "logical necessity" in this discussion is the problem. Logical necessity has surprisingly little to do with how things are proven. Rather, one amasses evidence.

Unknown said...

No, I’m still not missing the point. The post in question, entitled “The Tempest was written before 1604,” reads as follows:

“Strachey in fact plagiarized his shipwreck descriptions from books that were written decades before, in 1516, 1523 and 1555, specifically. The Tempest references those same books, Stritmatter and Kositsky argue, and suddenly Strachey is no longer a source for Shakespeare. Suddenly, The Tempest falls back in line with the rest of the Shakespeare canon, comfortably situated in the pre-1604 world.”

As I stated, this evidence (the possibility that Strachey was not Shakespeare’s source), standing alone, does not in any way tend to prove that the play was written before 1604, something that you appear to recognize by now referring to “other evidence” that you contend supports that contention. The claim that Strachey is not necessarily the source for The Tempest does not establish that the play was written before 1604.

Thomism said...

You must have thought the author of this post would lay the whole argument out for you. Nope. It would take more space than a short blog post. You should consider reading Shakespeare By Another Name by Mark Anderson. That book treats the Tempest issue in more depth, and I would suggest starting there.

At any rate, one of the main points against the de Vere theory has been that the Tempest relied on a source written after de Vere died. The present post is intended to provide articles that show, once and for all, that it is not necessary to assert that the Tempest relied on that later source. This effectively dismantles the contention that the Tempest had to have been written after de Vere died.

Hope that helps.

Unknown said...

I am currently reading Mr. Anderson’s book. While I do not expect posts such as this to lay out the whole argument, I also don’t expect them to be misleading, which, in fact, this post is. The evidence that Strachey plagiarized earlier sources raises the possibility that his account was not Shakespeare’s source, but it does not eliminate the possibility that it was the source. Contrary to what is claimed in the post, this evidence merely raises more questions and does not prove the case one way or the other. The post at issue removes the question marks and replaces them with exclamation points. By doing so it indulges in the same methods that are alleged against the Stratfordians.

psi said...

Dominic writes:

As I stated, this evidence (the possibility that Strachey was not Shakespeare’s source), standing alone, does not in any way tend to prove that the play was written before 1604, something that you appear to recognize by now referring to “other evidence” that you contend supports that contention.

Although you are logically correct, Dominic, you are still missing the point. While a demonstration that Shakespeare did not need Strachey, or even that his alleged borrowings from Strachey are actually borrowings from a much earlier and richer source (from which, for instance, we know for a fact that he derived the rare word "Setebos"), does not ipso facto prove an earlier date for the Tempest, it does completely destroy the traditional case that the Tempest must, by necessity, be dated to 1611. That follows from the simple fact that the author's alleged reliance on the Strachey manuscript is *the only* secure basis for such a late date. There is no other substantive basis for it.

You are correct that it remains to be demonstrated the play actually *is* much earlier than 1611, as was recently argued by Penny McCarthy in the 2005 *Shakespeare Yearbook* and will be argued in much greater detail by Stritmatter and Kositsky in a forthcoming article.

However, my advice to you is to keep an open mind. There's little to be gained by pissing in the wind, no matter how many authorities you have behind your back urging your forward.

Unknown said...

I'm still not missing the point. I understand full well that if Strachey is removed as the source then it no longer qualifies as evidence for the Stratfordian insistence that The Tempest must be dated post-1611. On the other hand, removing Strachey as the source does not support an assertion that the play WAS necessaily written before 1604 (as the post in question indicated), or prove that it wasn't written in 1611.

I intend to keep an open mind. In doing so, I see no reason not to hold all parties to the same standard of intellectual rigor, and to point out what are obvious lapses in logic (such as stating that the possibility that the author used sources other than Strachey means that Tempest WAS written before 1604). I don't consider that to be pissing into the wind. Do you believe that it depends on who is standing downwind?

Mark said...

Thank you, dominic, for your careful and cautious words. A healthy dose of skepticism is certainly warranted, and I appreciate your point of view.

It is also true that the shorthand of blog posts doesn't always allow for the sometimes lengthy considerations of evidence that this issue calls for.

Since the comments space is effectively infinite, though, I'll include here the addendum to the paperback edition of Shakespeare By Another Name that spells out in a little more detail why it is now suspected that The Tempest does indeed date to circa 1604.

Addendum for the paperback edition: Now comes new evidence unearthed by the American-Canadian research team of Roger Stritmatter and Lynne Kositsky that demolishes the case, adduced above, for dating The Tempest circa 1611. The structure of their argument is three-tiered.

1) Strachey's manuscript was unavailable until after orthodox scholars say The Tempest was written. It is conventionally assumed that the play was written soon before its first recorded performance, at Whitehall palace on November 1, 1611. But Strachey only returned from the New World on a ship that landed in England in late October or early November of 1611. His manuscript, it now appears, did not precede him. Another Strachey book from 1612 (Laws, Moral and Martial) refers to a work he hasn't yet completed about the Bermudas. If this is not the manuscript in question, then Strachey describes a phantom. Moreover, Strachey's 24,000 word manuscript refers to more than a dozen external sources — rare books that Strachey would almost certainly have needed to wait until his return to London to access. (His papers probably sank with the shipwreck that he describes, while the Jamestown colony was in a state of utter ruin at the time, hardly a worthy resource for his bibliographical needs.) These facts effectively point to the conclusion that Strachey wrote his New World musings sometime after his return to England, rendering it chronologically impossible that Strachey's manuscript Bermuda pamphlet — what was previously thought to be the one undeniable post-1604 source in Shakespeare — could have had any influence on The Tempest.

2) The extensive nautical and New World imagery in The Tempest — what orthodox scholars believe originates in Strachey — actually comes from a 1523 dialogue written by the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus ("Naufragium") and a 1555 book by the English author Richard Eden (The Decades of the New World). Stritmatter and Kositsky demonstrate that Strachey, too, borrowed heavily from Erasmus and Eden. So it's understandable how scholars have long recognized parallels between Strachey and The Tempest. But such alleged parallels do not reveal Shake-speare's debt to Strachey; rather, they reveal both authors' debts to their early-16th century forebears.
Eden's book and perhaps personal papers as well would have been accessible to de Vere from an early age, as Eden had previously been a pupil and protégé of de Vere's tutor Sir Thomas Smith and a private secretary to de Vere's father-in-law Lord Burghley.

3) Contemporary references to The Tempest date it circa 1604. Several plays from the period exhibit strong verbal or thematic similarities to The Tempest, including the Jacobean comedy Eastward Ho! (1605), the Scots play Darius (by William Alexander, 1603) and Die Schöne Sidea by the German playwright Jakob Ayrer. Some may suggest that The Tempest is just borrowing from these plays, but the direction of influence is particularly pronounced in the final case. Ayrer often drew inspiration from the English comedies imported to his country by traveling bands of British actors, and he wrote carnival entertainments (what the Germans called Fastnachtsspiele) that lifted plots, characters and dialogue from Shake-speare. But the Bard nowhere reveals stylistic or artistic debts to Ayrer. In all likelihood, then, Ayrer was the borrower and Shake-speare the borrowed-from: From this piece of evidence alone, The Tempest would thus date to sometime before March 1605, when Ayrer died.

Mark said...

P.S. For those looking for like more details on Ayrer, there was some great German scholarship from the 19th century that revealed the many similarities between Ayrer's *Sidea* and The Tempest. The Variorum edition of The Tempest treats Ayrer as a "source," but again, there's no evidence that the Bard ever borrowed from German dramas that were slavish imitations of English stagecraft. By any reasonable accounting, *Sidea* was like other faux-Shakespeare works from Ayrer's pen. *Sidea* was borrowing/stealing from The Tempest.

Ayrer's March 1605 death is the death-blow to the "1611 Tempest" school. Ironically enough. Because the same snarky language long used against Oxfordians re The Tempest (e.g. Jonathan Bate: "How de Vere managed to write these plays from beyond the grave is a profound mystery indeed") can now be turned on its head.

Unless Ayrer had some magical elixir that might otherwise be found in the props list for an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, *The Tempest* belongs back in the Elizabethan and immediately post-Elizabethan world of 1604 and before.

Mark said...

And one MORE thing! (Sigh...)

OK, here's one last example of the kinds of contortionary tricks orthodox scholars have to go through to explain Ayrer. They must posit some mystical "Ur-Tempest" which influenced Ayrer that somehow also landed on Shakespeare's desk but has otherwise been lost to time.

That or *The Tempest* was Ayrer's source.

Perhaps Occam's Razor might be summoned to make the final cut?

Doc Stritmatter said...

Geeze, Mark, you skeptics will never give up, will you?

Anyone knows that the Ur-Shakespeares were a prodigous clan of early revisionists. They wrote an Ur-Hamlet, various Ur-Henry Vs, and really Ur-this and Ur-that as fancy struck. What's an Ur-Tempest or not going to matter? Besides, Ayrer stole all his stuff. Time to give up and leave the speculations to the big boys from the Ivy league.

Ramel said...

You have to know something about the lineage of both "William's" to understand the Story of The Tempest. Shakespeare as well. Mermaid Tavern, Pallas Athena, Knights of the Helmet. Middle Temple...the list is long.

Richard Malim said...

Stritmatter and Kositzky were good enough to consider and pronounce in favour of my thesis that the Tempest was performed at Court under its original title the Spanish Maze as practically the last play (except for a second performance of Merchant of Venice) for the Christmas Revels of 1604-5 - virtually a Shakespeare-fest with 7 other plays being performed, I suggest, in honour of their recently deceased author.

Anonymous said...

...Strachey was the secretary of Sir Thomas Gates,first governor of Virginia...his job was to write down everything that happened on the voyage to Jamestown.He was also involved with Shakespeares theatre as well as Shakespeare being a shareholder in the Viginia Tobacco Company whom Strachey worked for.Strachey also wrote letters to his 'Lady Friend'back in London describing in detail the has been said that Shakespeare was 'courting' said lady whilst Strachey was 'abroad'...thus gleaning info from said 1609...why would Strachey plagiarize when he had the greatest story happen to him and his shipmates?He was already from a wealthy,respected family...whom enjoyed peerage up until the 1900's...this all ive been told by my family,Strachey was my great,great,great(ad nauseum)grandfather.i wear a replica family signet ring found in a fire pit at Jamestown,graciously given by the museum to my father...the original being in the museum there...just some more perspective wood to add to the fire.

Mark said...

Ronaldo, thank you for your comment. Please see April 2014 addendum to this post, above.