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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: March ::
Re: Kermode (Tempest Reference)
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0637  Friday, 16 March 2001

[1]     From:   David Kathman <
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        Date:   Thursday, 15 Mar 2001 19:23:50 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0621 Re: Kermode (Tempest Reference)

[2]     From:   Clifford Stetner <
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        Date:   Thursday, 15 Mar 2001 23:12:52 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0621 Re: Kermode (Tempest Reference)


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Kathman <
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Date:           Thursday, 15 Mar 2001 19:23:50 -0600
Subject: 12.0621 Re: Kermode (Tempest Reference)
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0621 Re: Kermode (Tempest Reference)

David Lindley wrote:

>It was, however, the suggestion by Malone at the beginning of the
>nineteenth century that reports of the wreck of a Virginia-bound ship
>off the Bermudas was a 'source' for the play which has assisted in
>giving impetus to the idea that 'really' it is a play about, or even set
>in, the Americas.  More recently, however, scholars have seen reason to
>doubt whether these were actually sources of the play at all.  (There
>is, apart from anything else, the problem that the Strachey letter was
>not published until 1625, so necessitating the invocation of a
>manuscript to which Shakespeare might have had access.)  Kenneth Muir
>was not convinced, nor, more recently, was Arthur Kinney, among many
>others.
>
>This does not mean that material concerned with colonial exploration -
>from Montaigne's Essay on Cannibals (an undoubted source) through
>Virginia tracts by Rosier et al. were not among the 'discursive
>co-texts' that Shakespeare shaped - alongside other undoubted sources
>like the Aeneid and the Metamorphoses; but it does, I think, make the
>hypothesis, if that's what it is, that Prospero's island is actually
>situated somewhere near the Bermudas unnecessary.   There is, of course,
>a huge literature on the subject - and, as always, what's interesting is
>the investment readers of the play might have in claiming it as in some
>way an 'American' play.

And then:

>Actually, even if there's no incontrovertible evidence in the form of
>verbal borrowings to indicate that Shakespeare had *read* the accounts
>of the wreck of the Sea Venture, it doesn't, of course, mean that he
>hadn't *heard* about it in a general sort of way, and been stimulated by
>it as he put The Tempest together.  But my present position is that I'm
>not convinced that these actual accounts were 'sources' in the way that
>Montaigne, Vergil and Ovid were.  As Barbara Mowat points out in her
>essay in the volume The Tempest and its Travels (ed.  Hulme and Sherman,
>2000) Strachey's account is itself a very literary construction - and
>draws therefore on the widely spread literature of storm depiction from
>the classics onwards.  Where there are what appear to be echoes of
>Strachey in Shakespeare, therefore, it would seem to me a mark of both
>writers drawing on the stock of commonplaces.
>
>I don't deny that by the time the play was performed the fact of the
>wreck of the Sea Venture would give the play an irresistible topicality
>- but, as is not infrequently the case, I think this might be an
>instance of life fortuitously imitating art.  But then, I don't think it
>is primarily a colonial play - so I have an investment, you might say,
>in downplaying the significance of the Bermuda pamphlets.

Actually, the evidence that Shakespeare had closely read the Bermuda
pamphlets of 1609-10 in writing *The Tempest*, particularly William
Strachey's "True Reportory", is far stronger than David Lindley
implies.  There are many verbal parallels, tied in with numerous
structural and plot parallels.  Strachey's letter, in particular,
saturates *The Tempest*, and is a far more important and pervasive
source for the play than the Aeneid or the Metamorphoses.  It is *not*
just a matter of sharing commonplaces.  And contrary to Mr. Lindley's
implication, the fact that this letter was not printed until 1625 is no
bar to Shakespeare's having read it, since there were many close
connections between Shakespeare and both the Virginia Company and
William Strachey himself.  I discuss all this, and provide an extensive
list of the parallels, in my article "Dating the Tempest" on the
Shakespeare Authorship web page at:
http://www.clark.net/tross/ws/tempest.html

The fact that Shakespeare was inspired by the Bermuda pamphlets in
writing *The Tempest*, and demonstrably read Strachey's account closely,
does not mean that he intended the play to take place in Bermuda, and I
would dispute the claim that it means that the play is "really" set
there.  I really don't think Shakespeare's reliance on the Bermuda
accounts necessarily *has to* support a "colonial" reading of the play.
I also don't think that scholarly recognition of Shakespeare's reliance
on these pamphlets comes from any post-colonial critical agenda; it
comes from the same types of evidence used to recognize other sources,
namely a combination of extensive verbal and plot parallels.

Dave Kathman

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[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clifford Stetner <
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Date:           Thursday, 15 Mar 2001 23:12:52 -0500
Subject: 12.0621 Re: Kermode (Tempest Reference)
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0621 Re: Kermode (Tempest Reference)

Having attended both the lecture and the more intimate talk given in the
English dep't lounge afterwards, I have wanted to respond to this
thread, but I am overwhelmed by the volume of posts, so I'm probably
only repeating what's been said.  Kermode's reference to himself as an
old radical probably has to do with his early work in
historicizing/politicizing Spenser.

I agree with Larry Weiss that his use of geographical accuracy to argue
against a colonialist discourse in the Tempest, and by extension, all
post colonialist readings and all historicist readings of Renaissance
lit, is unsupportable.  British colonialism was not confined to the New
World, and Prospero's island need be no more than emblematic for such a
discourse to be present.  For an emblem, an ambiguous location is more
appropriate than a geographical one, so, at least in this case,
geographical inaccuracy supports rather than weakens a post colonialist
reading.

Clifford Stetner
CUNY
http://phoenix.liu.edu/~cstetner/cds.html
 

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