Page images



on one of the Bermudas. These islands were then thought to be “a most prodigious and enchanted place, affording nothing but gusts, storms, and foul weather"; on which account they had acquired a bad name, an enchanted pile of rocks, and a desert inhabitation of devils.”

In 1610 appeared a pamphlet entitled A Discovery of the Bermudas, otherwise called the Isle of Devils, giving an account of the storm and shipwreck. The sailors had worked themselves into complete exhaustion, had given over in despair, and taken leave of each other, when the ship was found to be jammed in between two rocks, so that all came safe to land. They found the island uninhabited, the air mild and wholesome, the land exceedingly fruitful; all the fairies of the rocks were but flocks of birds, and all the devils that haunted the woods were but herds of swine.” Staying there some nine months, they had a very delightful time of it, refitted their ship, and then put to sea again, with an ample supply of provisions, and their minds richly freighted with the beauties and wonders of the place.

There can be no rational doubt that from this narrative Shakespeare took various hints for the matter of his drama. Thus much is plainly indicated by his mention of “the stillvex'd Bermoothes," as the Bermudas were then called, and also by the qualities of air and soil ascribed to his happy island. So that 1610 is as early a date as can well be assigned for the composition. The supernatural in the play was no doubt the Poet's own creation ; but it would have been in accordance with his usual method to avail himself of whatever interest might spring from the popular notions touching the Bermudas. In his marvellous creations the people would see nothing but the distant marvels with which their fancies were prepossessed.

Concurrent with all this is the internal evidence of the play itself. The style, language, and general cast of thought, the union of richness and severity, the grave, austere beauty of character which pervades it, and the organic compactness of the whole structure, all go to mark it as an issue of the Poet's ripest years. Coleridge regarded it as "certainly one of Shakespeare's latest works, judging from the language only." Campbell the poet considers it his very latest. “The Tempest,” says he,“ has a sort of sacredness as the last work of a mighty workman. Shakespeare, as if conscious that it would be his last, and as if inspired to typify himself, has made his hero a natural, a dignified, and benevolent magician, who could conjure up spirits from the vasty deep,' and command supernatural agency by the most seeminglynatural and simple means. Shakespeare himself is Prospero, or rather the superior genius who commands both Prospero and Ariel. But the time was approaching when the potent sorcerer was to break his staff, and bury it fathoms in the ocean 'deeper than did ever plummet sound.' That staff has never been and will never be recovered.”

But I suspect there is more of poetry than of truth in this ; at least I can find no warrant for it: on the contrary, we have fair ground for believing that at least Coriolanus, King Henry the Eighth, and perhaps The Winter's Tale were written after The Tempest. Verplanck, rather than give up the notion so well put by Campbell, suggests that the Poet may have revised The Tempest after all his other plays were written, and inserted the passage where Prospero abjures his “rough magic,” and buries his staff, and drowns his book. But I can hardly think that Shakespeare had any reference to himself in that passage : for, besides that he did not use to put his own feelings and purposes into the mouth of his characters, the doing so in this case would infer such a degree of self-exultation as, it seems to me, his native and habitual modesty would scarce permit.

Source of the Plot.

Shakespeare was so unconscious of his great inventive faculty, so unambitious of originality in his plots and materials, and so apt to found his plays upon some popular chronicle or tale or romance, that he is generally, perhaps justly, presumed to have done so in this instance. Yet no play or novel has been identified as having furnished, in any sort, the basis of The Tempest, or any materials towards the composition. Commentators have been very diligent and inquisitive in the search; still, for aught appears thus far, the probability is, that, in this case, the plot had its origin in the Poet's mind. Collins the poet, indeed, told Thomas Warton that he had met with a novel called Aurelio and Isabella, dated 1588, and printed in Italian, Spanish, French, and English, upon which he thought The Tempest to have been founded : but poor Collins was at the time suffering under his mental disorder; and, as regards the particular novel he mentioned, his memory must have been at fault ; for the story of Aurelio and Isabella has nothing in common with

the play.

In the year 1841, however, Mr. Thoms called attention, in The New Monthly Magazine, to some remarkable coincidences between The Tempest and a German dramatic piece entitled The Beautiful Sidea, composed by Jacob Ayrer, who was a notary of Nuremberg, and contemporary with Shakespeare. In this piece, Prince Ludolph and Prince Leudegast answer to Prospero and Alonso. Ludolph is a magician, has an only daughter, Sidea, and an attendant spirit, Runcifal, who has some points of resemblance to Ariel. Soon after the opening of the piece, Ludolph, having been vanquished by his rival, and with his daughter driven into a forest, rebukes her for complaining of their change of fortune ; and then summons his spirit Runcifal, in order to learn from him their future destiny, and their prospects of revenge. Runcifal, who, like Ariel, is somewhat “moody,” announces to Ludolph that the son of his enemy will shortly become his prisoner. After a comic episode, Prince Leudegast, with his son Engelbrecht and the counsellors, is seen hunting in the same forest, when Engelbrecht and his companion Famulus, having separated from their associates, are suddenly encountered by Ludolph and his daughter. He commands them to yield themselves prisoners; they refuse, and attempt to draw their swords, when he renders them powerless by a touch of his magical wand, and gives Engelbrecht over to Sidea, to carry logs of wood for her, and to obey her in all things. Later in the piece, Sidea, moved with pity for the prince's labour in carrying logs, declares that she would "feel great joy, if he would prove faithful to me, and take me in wedlock"; an event which is at last happily brought to pass, and leads to a reconciliation of their parents.

Here the resemblances are evidently much too close to have been accidental: either the German must have borrowed from Shakespeare, or Shakespeare from the German, or both of them from some common source. Tieck gave it as his opinion that the German was derived from an English original now lost, to which Shakespeare was also indebted for the incidents of The Tempest. There the matter has to rest for the present. There is, besides, an old ballad called The Inchanted Island, which was once thought to have contributed something towards the play: but it is now generally held to be more modern than the play, and probably founded upon it; the names and some of the incidents being varied, as if on purpose to disguise its connection with a work that was popular on the stage.

Locality of the Scene. There has been considerable discussion as to

scene of The Tempest. A wide range of critics from Mr Chalmers to Mrs. Jameson have taken for granted that the Poet fixed his scene in the Bermudas. For this they have alleged no authority but his mention of “the still-vex'd Bermoothes." Ariel's trip from the deep nook to fetch dew from the stillvex'd Bermoothes" does indeed show that the Bermudas were in the Poet's mind; but then it also shows that his scene was not there ; for it had been no feat at all worth mentioning for Ariel to fetch dew from one part of the Bermudas to another. An aerial voyage of some two or three thousand miles was the least that so nimble' a messenger could be expected to make any account of. Besides, in less than an hour after the wrecking of the King's ship, the rest of the fleet are said to be upon the Mediterranean, “ bound sadly home for Naples.” On the other hand, the Rev. Mr. Hunter is very positive that, if we read the play with a map before us, we shall bring up at the island of Lampedusa, which “lies midway between Malta and the African coast.” He makes out a pretty fair case, nevertheless I must be excused; not so much that I positively reject his theory as that I simply do not care whether it be true or not. if we must have any supposal about it, the most reasonable as well as the most poetical one seems to be, that the Poet, writing without a map, placed his scene upon an island of the mind; and that it suited his purpose to transfer to his


« PreviousContinue »