« PreviousContinue »
I. HISTORY OF THE PLAY. The Tempest occupies the first nineteen pages of the Folio of 1623, and no earlier edition of the play has been discovered. It is not unlikely, as White has suggested, that "it was made the leading play, as being one of the latest and most admired works of its author.” Mr. Joseph Hunter* has attempted to show that it was written as early as 1596 ; but the commentators generally agree that the date cannot be put earlier than 1603, and that it was probably as late as 1611.
* New Illustrations of Shakespeare (1845), vol. i. pp. 122–157.
The speech of Gonzalo (ii. 1), “I'th' commonwealth I would by contraries,” etc.,* is manifestly copied from a passage in Florio's translation of Montaigne, which appeared in 1603. We must therefore believe that the play was written after that time, unless we adopt the hypothesis that Shakespeare had seen Florio's work in manuscript. The Accounts of the Revels at Court state that The Tempest was performed before King James, Nov. ist, 1611 ; but the entry, which is as follows, is now known to be a forgery:
Hallomas nyght was presented
att Whithall before ye Kinges
Matie a play called the Tempest. “To this positive external testimony,”ť says White, “ are to be added some external probabilities. First, in the occurrence of a passage in the Introduction to Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair, written between 1612 and 1614, which has a hit, not necessarily ill-humored, at those who have'a Servantmonster' in their dramatis persona, and 'beget Tales, Tempests, and such like Drolleries,' where the allusion to The Tempest is too plain to be mistaken—an allusion which would be made only when the impression of that play was fresh in the public mind. Next, in the publication by Sil[vester] Jourdan of a quarto pamphlet entitled 'A Discovery of the Barmvdas, otherwise called the Ile of Divels : by Sir Thomas Gates, Sir George Sommers, and Captayne Newport, with diuers others. London, 1610.' This pamphlet tells of the tempest which scattered the fleet commanded by Somers and Gates, and the happy discovery, by some of the shipwrecked, of land which proved to be the Bermudas. It alludes to the general belief that these islands 'were never inhabited by any Christian or Heathen people,' being 'reputed a most prodigious and enchanted place,' adding that, nevertheless, those who were cast away upon them, and lived there nine months, found the air temperate and the country'abundantly fruitful of all fit nec* See note, p. 124.
† This was written before the forgery was detected.
essaries for the sustentation and preservation of man's life.' Prospero's command to Ariel “to fetch dew from the stillvex'd Bermoothes' makes it certain that the Bermudas are not the scene of The Tempest, though, strangely enough, it has produced the contrary impression on many minds; but this reference to these islands, and allusion to their storm-vexed coast, connects itself naturally with the publication of Jourdan's narrative. It is highly probable, therefore, that The Tempest was written about 1611.
“The thoughtful reader will, however, find in the compact simplicity of its structure, and in the chastened grandeur of its diction and the lofty severity of its tone of thought, tempered although the one is with Shakespeare's own enchanting sweetness, and the other with that most human tenderness which is the peculiar trait of his mind, sufficient evidence that this play is the fruit of his genius in its full maturity.”
II. THE SOURCES OF THE PLOT.
Shakespeare usually founded his plays upon some wellknown history or romance, and the plot of The Tempest, though the critics have not succeeded in tracing it to its source, was doubtless borrowed from some old Italian or Spanish novel. Collins, the poet, told Thomas Warton that he had seen such a novel, with the title of Aurelio and Isabella, and that it was “printed in Italian, Spanish, French, and English, in 1588;" and Boswell says that a friend of his assured him that, some years before, he had “ actually perused an Italian novel which answered to Collins's description." But Collins was insane when he made the statement, and Boswell's friend may have been mistaken ; at any rate, the romance has not yet been found. There is an early German play (published in 1618) called Die Schöne Sidea, by Jacob Ayrer, a notary of Nuremberg, the plot of which is somewhat like that of The Tempest, and this has led several critics to suppose that the two were drawn from the same source ; but
the resemblance is hardly close enough to justify the conclusion. If there is any connection between the plays, it is possible that Ayrer had seen The Tempest, or a translation of it. Although, according to Eschenburg, no reference to Shakespeare has been found in German literature farther back than 1682, it is certain that English plays re translated into German as early as 1600.
“As to the actual scene of The Tempest, that is in the realms of fancy. Mr. Hunter has contended that Lampedusa, “an island in the Mediterranean, lying not far out of a ship's course passing from Tunis to Naples,' and which is uninhabited, and supposed by sailors to be enchanted, was Prospero's place of exile. It may have been ; though if it were, we would a little rather not believe so.
When the great magician at whose beck it rose from the waters broke his staff, the island sunk, and carried Caliban down with it."*
III. CRITICAL COMMENTS ON THE PLAY.
[From Coleridge's Notes on Shakespeare.t] The Tempest is a specimen of the purely romantic drama, in which the interest is not historical, or dependent upon fidelity of portraiture, or the natural connection of events; but is a birth of the imagination, and rests only on the coaptation and union of the elements granted to, or assumed by, the poet. It is a species of drama which owes no allegiance to time or space, and in which, therefore, errors of chronology and geography—no mortal sins in any speciesare venial faults, and count for nothing. It addresses itself entirely to the imaginative faculty; and although the illusion may be assisted by the effect on the senses of the complicated scenery and decorations of modern times, yet this sort of assistance is dangerous. For the principal and only genuine excitement ought to come from within—from the moved and sympathetic imagination; whereas, where so much is address
* White. † Coleridge's Works (Harper's ed.), vol. iv. pp. 74 foll.