The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0756 Tuesday, 22 April 2003
Date: Tuesday, 22 Apr 2003 08:54:37 EDT
Subject: Re: The Strachey Letter
The Oxford World's Classics new edition William Shakespeare THE TEMPEST
has a wonderful introduction by Stephen Orgel. It has many wise comments
to make on the play and at page 62 he writes, "The play is almost
certainly indebted to a letter of William Strachey describing the voyage
of Sir William Somers to Virginia in the summer of 1609, during which
his ship was driven off course and shipwrecked in Bermuda. Strachey's
letter is dated from Virginia 15 July 1610, and would have reached
England at the earliest in the beginning of September-----These accounts
may also have been in Shakespeare's mind: at any event the recent events
they describe certainly were. Chambers believes Shakespeare 'doubtless
used' them: William Shakespeare i. 492". Appendix B of this Oxford
Edition contains THE STRACHEY LETTER . We all must be aware of the fact,
that the letter itself was never published and that this material was
taken from Purchas his Pilgrimes (1625) published after the Tempest had
made its first appearance, in first place, in the First Folio. My
recollection is that sometime in the 1920's SQ had an article by a well
known Princeton scholar that demonstrated the clear connection between
lines in the Tempest and lines in the Strachey letter. No one can deny
that convincing evidence.
However, those that would claim that Shakespeare was a common plagiarist
have recently received a good thrashing, as well they should, by that
careful scholar Brian Vickers.
Was William Strachey a competent poet or writer capable of the wonderful
descriptions that appear in the letter? Wasn't Strachey a convicted
swindler, a liar, a traitor, a bankrupt and a man who plagiarized from
all the leading explorers in the New World i.e. Raleigh and Smith?
Wasn't he the man that the Stationer's Company forced to return his
profits on his early sight seeing book on France to the original writer?
Was he not the man that reopened the Children's Theater after it was
closed by the Crown and its true owner had fled to the continent? ( Is
this the man who wrote the terrible versification of the satire known as
THE ELEGY BY W.S.?) Is this the man we are to believe that Shakespeare
used as a mentor!
It seems more than likely that Strachey was the plagiarizer and the
thief. Is it not true that his letter was used by him to BLACKMAIL the
shareholders of The Virginia Company? I suggest that the Strachey letter
be run through a computer program to determine if it truly has his DNA
or that of Shakespeare's? The hard part will be trying to find anything
that is truly Strachey's and not stolen literary property!
The likely scenario is that Jonson was editing the First Folio and gave
his business partner William Strachey some material to use to help him
stave off his creditors and his pending incarceration in Debtor's
Prison! There is no doubt that the First Folio contains material from
the Jacobean period, added after earlier staging, that may refer to
topical events like the Bermuda shipwreck. There is nothing new about my
view. This was the view of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain and Herman
Melville all men who understood a little bit about writing and literary
criticism. Sam Schoenbaum described them as the "Groupists".
Elliott H. Stone
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