'The Tempest' was probably the latest drama that Shakespeare completed. In the summer of 1609 a fleet bound for Virginia, under the command of Sir George Somers, was overtaken by a storm off the West Indies, and the admiral's ship, the 'Sea-Venture, ' was driven on the coast of the hitherto unknown Bermuda Isles. There they remained ten months, pleasurably impressed by the mild beauty of the climate, but sorely tried by the hogs which overran the island and by mysterious noises which led them to imagine that spirits and devils had made the island their home. Somers and his men were given up for lost, but they escaped from Bermuda in two boats of cedar to Virginia in May 1610, and the news of their adventures and of their safety was carried to England by some of the seamen in September 1610. The sailors' arrival created vast public excitement in London. At least five accounts were soon published of the shipwreck and of the mysterious island, previously uninhabited by man, which had proved the salvation of the expedition. 'A Discovery of the Bermudas, otherwise called the Ile of Divels, ' written by Sylvester Jourdain or Jourdan, one of the survivors, appeared as early as October. A second pamphlet describing the disaster was issued by the Council of the Virginia Company in December, and a third by one of the leaders of the expedition, Sir Thomas Gates. Shakespeare, who mentions the 'still vexed Bermoothes' (I. i. 229), incorporated in 'The Tempest' many hints from Jourdain, Gates, and the other pamphleteers. The references to the gentle climate of the island on which Prospero is cast away, and to the spirits and devils that infested it, seem to render its identification with the newly discovered Bermudas unquestionable. But Shakespeare incorporated the result of study of other books of travel. The name of the god Setebos whom Caliban worships is drawn from Eden's translation of Magellan's 'Voyage to the South Pole' (in the 'Historie of Travell, ' 1577), where the giants of Patagonia are described as worshipping a 'great devil they call Setebos.' No source for the complete plot has been discovered, but the German writer, Jacob Ayrer, who died in 1605, dramatised a somewhat similar story in 'Die schone Sidea, ' where the adventures of Prospero, Ferdinand, Ariel, and Miranda are roughly anticipated. English actors were performing at Nuremberg, where Ayrer lived, in 1604 and 1606, and may have brought reports of the piece to Shakespeare. Or perhaps both English and German plays had a common origin in some novel that has not yet been traced. Gonzalo's description of an ideal commonwealth (II. i. 147 seq.) is derived from Florio's translation of Montaigne's essays (1603), while into Prospero's great speech renouncing his practice of magical art (V. i. 33-57) Shakespeare wrought reminiscences of Golding's translation of Medea's invocation in Ovid's 'Metamorphoses' (vii. 197-206). Golding's rendering of Ovid had been one of Shakespeare's best-loved books in youth. A highly ingenious theory, first suggested by Tieck, represents 'The Tempest' (which, excepting the 'The Comedy of Errors, ' is the shortest of Shakespeare's plays) as a masque written to celebrate the marriage of Princess Elizabeth (like Miranda, an island-princess) with the Elector Frederick. This marriage took place on February 14, 1612-13, and 'The Tempest' formed one of a series of nineteen plays which were performed at the nuptial festivities in May 1613. But none of the other plays produced seem to have been new; they were all apparently chosen because they were established favourites at Court and on the public stage, and neither in subject-matter nor language bore obviously specific relation to the joyous occasion. But 1613 is, in fact, on more substantial ground far too late a date to which to assign the composition of 'The Tempest.'
About the Author
On or about Saturday 22d April 1564, William Shakespeare, son of John Shakespeare, glover and dealer in wool, and his wife Mary, nee Arden, was born in Henley Street, Stratford-on-Avon, and was baptized on the 26th. Nothing whatever is known of his early life, and the few meagre details ascertained as to the condition of his family will be found in a subsequent division of this work. Tradition and imagination have supplied untrustworthy materials, with which his biographers have endeavoured to fill up the gap in our information; but it is not until 28th November 1582 that we find any further reliable fact established concerning him. On that day his marriage bond is dated, he being in his nineteenth year, and his bride, Anne Hathaway, in her twenty-sixth. Their first child, Susanna, was baptized 26th May 1583. To account for this young lady's premature arrival a pre-contract is assumed, but not proved, by recent writers. On 2d February 1585 their twin children, Hamnet and Judith, were baptized; and in 1587, in the spring, Shakespeare gave his assent to a proposed settlement of a mortgage on his mother's Asbies estate. For ten years after there is no vestige of any communication with his family. It is at this point that his public life begins. In 1587 Leicester's players visited Stratford for the first time. The company, under the same name, that had performed there in 1576 had as well as Warwick's been dissolved in 1583, in order that the Queen's men might be selected from them. In 1586, during the prevalence of the plague in London, this more recent company had been travelling on the Continent, and on their return to England made a provincial tour. Shakespeare probably joined them during or immediately after their visit to Stratford, and during their travels received his earliest instruction in comic acting from Kempe and Pope, who soon after became noted performers; Bryan also belonged to the company at this date. They probably acted mere interludes, not regular five-act plays. On 4th September 1588 the Earl of Leicester died; and his players soon after found a new patron in Lord Strange. They then settled in London, and acted at the Cross Keys in Bishopsgate Street. The head of the company, in its altered constitution, was "Famous Ned Allen," who on 3d January 1588-9 bought up for 37, 10s. Richard Jones' share of "playing apparels, play-books, instruments, &c.," in order to set up his new company.