Copyright 1951 by Gwynneth Bowen
First published in 1951 by A Brown and Sons.
The following paper was read, under the title:
The Date and Authorship of The Tempest
at a meeting of the Shakespeare Fellowship on February 3rd, 1951.
[Note: This content has been significantly updated by Roger Stritmatter and Lynn Kositskey’s book On the Date, Sources and Design of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.]
In his chapter on Plays and Playwrights in The Elizabethan Stage, Sir Edmund Chambers gives the following brief account of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (1550-1604):
Meres (1598) includes the earl in his list of “the best for Comedy amongst us,” but although Oxford had theatrical servants at intervals from 1580 to 1602, little is known of their plays, and none can be assigned to him, although the anonymous The Weakest Goeth to the Wall (1600) calls for an author. J. T. Looney, “Shakespeare” Identified (1920), gives him Shakespeare’s plays, many of which were written after his death.
And that seems to settle the matter—assuming that the orthodox dates are even approximately right.
I have chosen to speak on The Tempest to-day because it is, by common consent, the last, or almost the last of the plays, and because most Oxfordians—beginning with Looney—finding themselves unable to refute the arguments for the accepted date of 1611, have taken the inevitable, but in my opinion disastrous course of excluding it from the canon.
Some people like The Tempest and some do not. Personally I do, but, in any case, for Oxfordians to dismiss it as un-Shakespearian on no other authority than their own critical judgement—however sound—is to lay themselves open to the charge of wishful thinking. On the other hand, if this last play of Shakespeare’s can be brought within the scope of Oxford’s career, there is good reason to suppose that the others can too. Before I pass on to a detailed discussion of The Tempest, however, I want to say a few words about the way in which the so-called Shakespeare chronology has been built up, and to examine the premises of Chambers’ confident assertion that many of the plays were written after Oxford’s death.
As a matter of fact, there is no such thing as an agreed chronology. Within limits scholars have always differed considerably, and when one stops to ask oneself by what these limits are set, the answer seems to be—by the tacit assumption that the plays were written by a man who was born in 1564 and died in 1616.
To say that Oxford could not have written them simply because he died too soon is, therefore, to beg the question, and Oxfordians have as good a right as the orthodox to try to fit the plays into their own prescribed time limits. Both sides must be judged by results, and the results will be mutually exclusive—for if a man may die too soon, he may also be born too late. The correct dating of the plays thus becomes a crucial test of authorship.
But let us see what Chambers, himself, has to say about the Problem of Chronology in his book on William Shakespeare:
Terminal dates before which production must have occurred can be established for a good many plays. The commonest sources are entries in the Stationers’ Register, or the title-pages of printed editions . .. Twice the Register specifically notices a court performance during the preceding Christmas. The lists of performances for 1604-5 and 1611-12 give some help. So does the Diary of Philip Henslowe. A few performances at the Inns of Court or in public theatres are independently recorded in contemporary documents. And there are a few literary notices, some of which are not capable of very exact dating . . . Only one play carries its own evidence. This is Henry V, where a chorus indicates not only a terminal date, but also an initial date, after which the production can be placed.
Chambers is presumably thinking of the famous lines:
Were now the general of our gracious empress (As, in good time, he may) from Ireland coming, Bringing rebellion broached on his sword…
which are supposed to refer to the expected return of Essex in 1599, but, as Dr. Cairncross has very aptly remarked, there were generals in Ireland before Essex.
Chambers goes on:
As a rule the initial dates are much less certain than the terminal ones. Henslowe’s ne’s are fixed, but it is only the earliest of Shakespeare’s plays with which Henslowe can have been concerned.
Philip Henslowe, in recording the plays produced at his theatres, marked some of them ne, probably an abbreviation of new, but it is now recognised that many of the plays thus marked were not, strictly speaking, new, though they may have been newly revised, or newly acquired by him. To return to Chambers: “An account of the Globe fire shows that Henry VIII was then a new play.”
The fire at the Globe theatre broke out during a performance of the play on June 29th, 1613, but this need not worry us unduly as few people nowadays would maintain that Henry VIII was a wholly Shakespearean play. For the rest, says Chambers,
we can only rely upon the dates at which sources became available, in most cases too remote to be helpful and upon allusions in the plays themselves to datable historical events. These require handling with great caution. Few are so definite as to be primary evidence others at the most come in as confirmatory, after a provisional date has been arrived at on safer grounds.
This is as much as to say that these topical allusions may serve to narrow the margin so long as you can be sure that you have got hold of the right page. Many of the allusions are to recurrent phenomena such as eclipses, and thus an apparent allusion to an event in, say 1595, might be widely accepted, whereas no one but an Oxfordian would even think of looking for a parallel as early as 1585. Chambers concludes, however, that Shakespeare does not seem to have been greatly given to topical allusions.
He then goes on to a consideration of internal evidence, such as style, but this need not concern us here, as it has nothing whatever to do with actual dates but only with the order of composition, which might even be retained intact at an earlier period. Chambers, himself, is by no means dogmatic about the results:
There is much of conjecture (he says) even as regards the order, and still more as regards the ascriptions to particular years. These are partly arranged to provide a fairly even flow of production when plague and other inhibitions did not interrupt it . . . I assume some slackening towards the end of Shakespeare’s career.
The career of the actor from Stratford—or what is known of it—is thus acknowledged to be one of the chief criteria for assigning dates to the plays, which, once assigned, rule out the authorship of the Earl of Oxford! Obviously they would.
The weakest link in the chain is the almost total absence of any means (other than the age of the supposed author) of determining what Chambers calls the initial dates—the date before which any particular play could not have been written. For this we must delve deeper than mere topical allusions, which, after all, are generally of such a superficial nature that they might have been inserted at the revival of an old play. We must penetrate, if we can, to the very stuff out of which the plays are made—the raw material of plot and character. For, whatever Shakespeare may have said about the lunatic, the lover and the poet, an artist does not create a play (or whatever else he may be creating) out of “airy nothing.”
To some extent we are all artists—when we dream. We use the materials of waking life, but the order is broken down. The difference is that, whereas most dreams are chaotic, the artist imposes a new, and in some ways more satisfying order of his own. Shakespeare’s mind—by which I mean the author’s—might be likened to a kaleidoscope which is always being furnished with new bits and pieces from outside, but the old bits and pieces, though they may be covered up for a while, are never taken out, and keep reappearing in new patterns.
For the purpose of dating the plays it is, of course, the fresh matter with which we are concerned, but it is as well to bear in mind the fact that some of the contents will be old. If, however, we can discover enough raw material relating to any particular play, and culminating at a single point in time—and then no more—it is reasonable to assume that that point was, for the author, the present. This is what I have tried to do in the case of The Tempest. The orthodox date, on the other hand, is based on the relevance of the play to a single episode.
The Tempest was not published until it made its appearance as the first play of the First Folio in 1623, but a play of that name was performed at Court, by the King’s Players, on November 1st, 1611. There is no reason to suppose that it was not the same play, but neither is there any reason to suppose that this was necessarily the first production.
However, the theory (first suggested by Malone towards the end of the eighteenth century) is that the play owes a good deal to a book called A Discovery of the Barmudas, by Sylvester Jourdan, which was published in 1610 and describes the adventures of certain voyagers who were wrecked in the Bermudas in the preceding year. On the evidence of this and other books about the same voyage the orthodox date is founded. Many people have even got the impression that Prospero’s island actually was Bermuda, but, as a matter of fact, that is the one place in the world where it could not be—even apart from the fact that the King’s ship, when wrecked, was on its way back from Tunis to Naples. The Bermudas are only referred to once in the play, and that is when Ariel says
Safely in harbour
Is the King’s ship, in the deep nook where once
Thou call’st me up at midnight to fetch dew
From the still-vexed Bermoothes, there she’s hid.
Not in the Bermoothes, but wherever Ariel happened to be when he was sent to the Bermoothes.
My whole case rests upon the fact that history does sometimes, and to some extent, repeat itself, and when it repeats itself the old is invested with new interest. The Tempest may well have been revived in 1611 just because it was once more topical, and the reference to the Bermoothes may have been interpolated at that time but, in any case, Bermuda was discovered, in our sense of the word, long before the voyage of 1609.
Though no one seems to have taken much notice of the fact, Malone’s arguments were called in question, if not refuted, by the nineteenth-century German critic, Karl Elze, who asserts that the play was written in 1604—the very year of Oxford’s death. He counters Malone’s topical allusions with others, pointing out that storms at sea are apt to show a family likeness and that it is only the coincidence of a most extraordinary occurrence or a most extraordinary mode of expression, that can justify the supposition that one narrator borrowed from another. Now there exist no such coincidences between Jourdan and the “Tempest, and Malone’s arguments have nothing cogent in them” (italics mine). (1)
According to Chambers, however, Shakespeare borrowed chiefly from another account of the voyage, written by William Strachey probably about the same time as Jourdan’s, though it was not published till 1625, when it appeared in Purchas’ Pilgrims under the heading “A True Repertory of the Wracke and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates Knight.”
Chambers speaks of “numerous verbal parallels,” but does not give examples, and I can only say that I, personally, have failed to notice anything that could not be explained by the similarity of subject matter and the common language of the time. Perhaps the most striking coincidence is that the name Gonzalo, or its Latin equivalent, is brought in—Ferdinand too, but that is less surprising. But how and why does Gonzalo come into the picture? Not, as might be expected, because he was one of the company then stranded on the island, but because Strachey quotes from a certain Gonzalus Ferdinandus Oviedus, an Italian who had sailed close to the islands about a hundred years earlier, and described them in a book, an English translation of which was available in Eden’s History of Travayle (1577), which is one of Shakespeare’s recognised sources and also contains the name of Setebos.
Gonzalo’s name, however, is also to be found, in close association with Alonso, Ferdinand and Antonio, in Raleigh’s Discovery of…Guiana (1596). Antonio Berreo was Raleigh’s Spanish rival in the quest for El Dorado, and Ferdinand was his son. A letter of Alonso’s was captured by Raleigh, in which he speaks of his intended journey from the Canaries to Carthagenia—the Carthage of the New World.
Raleigh also mentions the Bermudas—”A hellish sea for thunder, lightning and storms….This very year, there were seventeen sail of Spanish ships lost in the channel of Bahama, and the great Philip like to have sunk at the Bermudas was put back to Saint Juan de Puerto Rico.”
Karl Elze places The Tempest between the tragedy of Darius, by the Earl of Sterling (published in Edinburgh, 1603, and London, 1604) and Ben Jonson’s Volpone (1605).
Darius contains the following passage, on which no comment is necessary
Let greatness of her glassy scepters vaunt,
Not scepters, no but reeds, soon bruised, soon broken;
And let this worldly pomp our wits enchant,
All fades and scarcely leaves behind a token.
Those golden palaces, those gorgeous halls,
With furniture superfluously fair,
Those stately courts, those sky-encountering walls,
Evanish all like vapours in the air.
In Volpone, Lady Politic Would-be speaks of English writers stealing’ from Montaigne. Whether Elze is justified in assuming that this must be a hit at The Tempest, I leave for others to decide, but that is his opinion. Florio’s translation of Montaigne, from which Shakespeare certainly borrowed (to put it more politely) was published in 1603.
Elze does not leave his argument unsupported but I have no space for more. Having satisfied himself as to the correct date of The Tempest, he adds:
if then, all external arguments and indications are in favour of the year 1604, it only remains for us to come to an understanding with those critics who see in this play the poet’s farewell to poetry. This opinion—apart from the high percentage of double endings—is certainly based more upon feeling than upon a well-founded argumentation, and the poet so astonishingly objective need by no means have thought of himself in delineating the character of Prospero. We have, however, no reason to dispute this conception, as it can be made to agree excellently well with our own hypothesis. In a word we believe that such a leave-taking from poetry on Shakespeare’s part might very well have taken place in the year 1604; nay, much more probably than in the year 1611. It cannot be sufficiently urged that Shakespeare, like all great geniuses, began his career very early, and ran through it with great rapidity.
It is a remarkable coincidence that this nineteenth century scholar and critic should be at such pains to prove that Shakespeare’s last play was written in the year of Oxford’s death, and it is hardly surprising that his suggestion has been almost completely ignored. His efforts to make it fit the Procrustes’ Bed of a tradition he never dreamt of questioning are not very convincing. Shakespeare’s retirement five years before his death, at the early age of forty-seven, had been difficult enough to explain, but that he should have retired at forty, his amazing achievement already behind him, was nothing short of incredible.
Elze’s hypothesis, as regards the actual date of the play, is, however, borne out by another piece of external evidence. To quote Chambers once more:
The notion of an early date for Tempest in some form has been encouraged by its analogies to the play of Die Schone Sidea, which forms part of the Opus Theatricum of Jacob Ayrer of Nuremberg, who died in 1605. Here, too, are a prince and magician, with a familiar spirit, a fair daughter, and an enemy’s son, whose sword is held in thrall by the magician’s art, who must bear logs for the lady, and who wins release through her love. Use of a common source is a more plausible explanation than borrowing on either hand. But it has not been found. A play of Celinde and Sedea was given in 1604 and 1613 by English actors in Germany, but Ayrer has no Celinde.
To this may be added Dr. Harrison’s comment in his introduction to the Penguin edition of The Tempest:
If there is a connection between this play and The Tempest, it is probable that both drew from some common original in an older English play, for several of Ayrer’s plays were adapted from plays taken over to Germany by English players. (Italics mine).
For Harrison, as for Chambers, it is unthinkable that The Tempest should be the original, and, of course, it may not have come down to us in exactly the original form. The main point for the moment is that by 1604 there existed, in all probability, an English play which strongly resembled The Tempest.
We might go further and say that it was almost certainly performed in England during, or before, the summer of that year—for English players in Germany received a recommendation from the Elector of Brandenburg on August 10th, and it is unlikely that they went backwards and forwards at very frequent intervals to replenish their stock of plays. And now let us follow up these clues in our search for raw material.
First we must look a little beyond the boundary of Oxford’s life to a December day in this same year, 1604, when his youngest daughter, Susan Vere, was married to Philip Herbert (afterwards Earl of Montgomery), the younger of the Incomparable Pair of Brethren’ to whom the First Folio is dedicated.
It was a court wedding and a masque was given in honour of the young couple. It has not survived (unless, indeed, part of it is incorporated in The Tempest) but we know from descriptions that the subject was Juno and Hymenaeus. Oxford died on June 24th, but I believe that he wrote The Tempest with this daughter’s marriage in mind. The betrothal did not take place till October, but it may even have been delayed by the death of the lady’s father, especially as her surviving relatives seem to have disapproved. At all events, on October 16th, the Earl of Pembroke, brother of the bridegroom wrote to the Earl of Shrewsbury:
The matter in brief is that, after long love, and many changes, my brother on Fryday last was privately contracted to my Lady Susan, without the knowledge of any of his or her friends. On Saturday she acquainted her uncle with it, and he me: My Lord of Cranborne seemed to be much troubled at it at first, but yesterday the King taking the whole matter on himself, made peace of all sides. It is so pleasing a thing to me that I could not but strive to give your Lordship the first notice of it myself. (2)
If The Tempest was written to commemorate the lovematch between the writer’s daughter and Philip Herbert, its position as the first play in the Folio requires no further explanation. But the marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda was also the symbol of a wider union—that of Naples and Milan. It was in 1603 that James VI of Scotland became James I of England, and the union of the two countries ensued.
Now the court was at Wilton, the home of the Pembrokes, from October 24th to December 12th, 1603. A play was given on December 2nd and there may have been others. William Cory, who visited Wilton. House in 1865, made the following note in his journal:
The house (Lady Herbert said) is full of interest… we have a letter, never printed, from Lady Pembroke to her son, telling him to bring James I from Salisbury to see As You Like It, “we have the man Shakespeare with us.” She wanted to cajole the King in Raleigh’s behalf—he came. (3)
The letter, unfortunately, is lost, but the story has an authentic ring, though I think the play in question may have been The Tempest and not As You Like It. This is not such irresponsible wishful thinking as it might seem. It is just the kind of slip anyone might make when repeating something from memory, and Cory is simply recording what Lady Herbert told him: he does not say that he saw the letter.
If, however, we may trust the evidence (apart from the name of the play), we know four things which happen to fit exactly into the same context : that Lady Pembroke wanted the King to see a play; that she wanted to cajole him about Raleigh; that he came ; and that ‘the man Shakespeare’ was there. Shakespeare, the player was, presumably there on December 2nd with the rest of the company, and circumstances make it highly probable that Lord Oxford and his daughter were there too, for he had recently returned to Court and she was (or soon became) a maid of honour.
What if James was to be cajoled, partly at least, by means of the play?
“The play’s the thing,
By which I’ll catch the conscience of the King.”
Hamlet tried it, and Shakespeare may have done so more than once. Of all his plays there are two that make a direct appeal to the quality of mercy, and one is The Tempest. Again, of all his plays, The Tempest is particularly appropriate to Raleigh, the setting and the atmosphere are peculiarly his.
Raleigh was arrested in July, 1603, with Lord Cobham, George Brooke and Lord Grey, for his alleged part in a conspiracy against the King. Shortly afterwards Sir Griffin Markham and two priests were taken on the same charge. The trials took place in November, and Brooke and the priests were executed, the rest being all sentenced to death.
On December 9th—exactly a week after the recorded play at Wilton—a strange tragi-comedy was enacted. Markham, Grey and Cobham were brought one by one to the Scaffold, and prepared themselves to die, taking leave of their friends, praying aloud, and making farewell speeches. In each case the execution was deferred on some pretext. The first two were sent back to prison but not allowed to meet, until presently they were brought out again to confront each other and the third, each of the three thinking the others were dead. The Sheriff then made a short speech, pointing out the heinousness of their offences, justice of their trials, etc., and ended by saying : “See the mercy of your Prince, who of himself hath sent hither to countermand, and given you your lives!”
Raleigh, himself, was spared the farce of this last minute reprieve but, in his case too, the death sentence was remitted—his long imprisonment and subsequent execution do not concern us here. It may be that Lady Pembroke’s scheme was a success! I am well aware that I have crossed the frontier into the realm of pure conjecture, but there was still time for Oxford to have written the play after the event and, whichever has precedence, there is an extraordinary likeness between the historical scene and the denouement of The Tempest, where the conspirators against the King’s life are forgiven by Prospero (though the King, himself remains ignorant of the plot) and the supposedly dead are reunited.
The hypothetical connection with Raleigh helps to explain the setting but, in any case, explorations and discoveries were very much in the news in 1603. In the autumn of that year two expeditions returned from Virginia. and one from the East Indies (the first voyage of the famous East India Company) and, for those who require particular instances of monsters and strange shapes: on one of the Virginian voyages a tortoise was found so big that four men could not haul it into a boat; and on the East Indian voyage native priests were seen, dressed in skin-tight clothes and “upon their heads a pair of horns turning backward, with their faces painted green, black and yellow, and their horns also painted with the same colour, and behind them a tail hanging down, very much like the manner, as in some painted cloths, we paint the devil in our country.” (4)
It is on record, too, that baboons were exhibited at Norwich in 1605 and, according to Chambers, they were probably to be seen in London as early as 1603. What could be more likely than that they were brought back from this voyage? They seem to have caused a great sensation, and in Volpone Peregrine is made to say:
I have heard, Sir,
That your baboons were spies, and that they were
A kind of subtle nation near China.
These creatures would surely be more akin to Caliban than any mere West—Indian savage! As for men with heads in their breasts—Raleigh had heard of them in Guiana, and though he made no claim to have seen them himself, professed, like Antonio, a belief in such traveller’s tales.
The East Indian expedition set out in April, 1601, sailed round the coast of Africa, and on to Sumatra and Java. On the return journey they encountered terrific storms off Madagascar and the Cape of Good Hope and the flag-ship lost her rudder, but was fitted up with some sort of makeshift while still at sea. With this they reached the island of St. Helena, where they found good water and wild goats. Here they remained for about a month and repaired their ship. They landed in England in September, 1603.
I will now ask you provisionally to accept the date of 1603 for the action reflected in the play, and to compare Prospero’s tale to Miranda with certain events in the life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.
Prospero is not only the artist-magician, omnipotent in his own island, pulling the strings of his puppets and manipulating even the elements to his purpose. In all this he can be identified with the author of the plays, as such—but he is also the dispossessed Duke of Milan. In Act I, scene 2, he tells Miranda the circumstances that preceded their arrival on the island. His story may be rather undramatic and boring, but it yields some interesting facts and figures.
Canst thou remember
A time before we came unto this cell?
I do not think thou canst, for then thou wast not out
Three years old.
This might mean either you were not quite “three” or you were not quite “four.” In point of fact, Susan Vere was four years old on May 26th, 1591. Prospero proceeds
Twelve year since, Miranda, twelve year since,
Thy father was duke of Milan and A prince of power.
That is to say, again, in 1591.
At Michaelmas, 1591, Castle Headingham, Oxford’s ancestral home in Essex, passed by fine to his father-in-law, Lord Burghley, and his three daughters—Elizabeth, Brigit and Susan. His first wife, Anne Cecil, had died three years before and he had just married, or was about to marry, for the second time. This, no doubt, caused a family crisis which resulted in the transference of Headingham. Neither Vere nor Burghley seems to have spent much time there but, for all that, the former may have resented his banishment’ or, like King Lear, regretted a voluntary abdication when faced with its unforeseen consequences; besides, it was a source of revenue. In 1591 he was left with a portion of the estate, but in 1593, when a son was born to his second wife, this too came into the possession of his daughters and their grandfather. (5)
In 1591 Vere and his new wife went to live at Stoke Newington, and it is possible that Susan went with them, though I have no evidence for this. In 1596 he moved to King’s Place (now Brooke House) in the neighbouring parish of Hackney, but the important point is that from 1591 onwards until the accession of James I, he was living at a distance from the city, but within easy reach of the theatres of Shoreditch, and that, whether from choice or necessity, he had completely retired from the Court—and public life.
That Burghley thought him incapable of “temporal royalties” is fairly obvious (and he was probably right), but whether he took advantage of the fact as Antonio does in The Tempest, history does not relate—and we can hardly expect an affirmative answer from Burghley’s own correspondence though, during the Earl’s minority, be did have occasion to deny rumours of dishonesty in the administration of his affairs.
When Burghley died in 1598, the guardianship of Oxford’s daughters passed to their uncle, Robert Cecil (the Lord Cranborne of Pembroke’s letter), who seems to have been on quite good terms with their father. At the end of April, 1603, just a month after the death of Elizabeth, Oxford wrote to his brother-in-law:
In this common shipwreck mine is above all the rest, who least regarded though often comforted of her followers she hath left to try my fortune among the alterations of time and chance, either without sail whereby to take advantage of any prosperous gale or without anchor to ride till the storm be overpast.
In another letter he writes:
My very good Lord, I understand by Master Attorney that he hath reported the state of my title to the Keepership of the Forest of Waltham and of the House and Park of Havering, whereby it appears to his Majesty what right and acquit is therein. Till the the 12th of Henry VIII mine ancestors have possessed the same, almost since the time of William Conqueror … The King took it for term of life from my grandfather; since which time, what by the alterations of Princes and Wardships, I have been kept from my rightful possession; yet from time to time both my father and myself have, as opportunities fell out, not neglected our claim. Twice in my time it had passage by law and judgement was to have been passed on my side; whereof her Majesty the late Queen, being advertised with assured promises and words of a Prince to restore it herself unto me, caused me to let fall the suit. But so it was she not so ready to perform her word, as I was too ready to believe it . . . So that by this and the former means I have been thus long dispossessed. But I hope truth is subject to no prescription for truth is truth though never so old, and time cannot make that false which once was true. (6)
The Crown, too, then, was responsible for Oxford’s “dispossession,” at least as far as Havering and the Forest of Waltham (or Essex) were concerned, but it seems that Elizabeth also had a hand in the Headingham transaction. In July, 1587, Oxford, for some unknown reason, had presented the Castle to the Queen; in November it was restored to him on condition that it passed “to his heirs by the Lady Anne now his wife lawfully begotten.” The whole thing looks like a put up job, but the motives remain a mystery. Oxford, always in debt, may have given Headingham to the Queen in order to save it from his creditors, and the condition attached to its restoration would not at the time have seemed a hard one.
On July 18th, 1603, James I granted Oxford’s suit with regard to Havering House and the Forest of Essex. He returned to Court and was made a Privy Councillor—an honour to which he never attained under Elizabeth. Prosperity had returned to him at last.
On March 15th, 1604, James made his triumphal progress through the city of London, which had been postponed owing to the plague, and the Earl of Oxford in his hereditary office of Lord Great Chamberlain, took his place with the Earl Marshall and the Lord Great Constable immediately in front of the King. Along the route of the procession were seven gates which had been specially erected for the occasion. At the first there was a model of all the chief buildings in the city, and the sixth consisted of a tower ninety feet high and fifty in breadth, supporting a mechanically moving globe of the world.
We have reached a date little more than three months before Oxford’s death, and we may imagine him playing his part in the pageant, with the lines from Darius fresh in his memory, and being visited by the melancholy thoughts that pageants sometimes inspire in the midst of gaiety and rejoicing; contemplating the toy buildings so soon to be swept away, and the toy globe revolving mechanically on its axis; meditating on the end of history and the dissolution of the material world—so solid, so impressive, and so perishable!
He was fifty-four, not old according to modern standards, but life was shorter in those days, and he may very well have known that his was drawing to its close—in his letters at this time he speaks more than once of his” infirmity.” In any case he was old enough to look back rather than forwards. For the young there might be a brave new world’ ahead, but he himself belonged to the old world, the world whose passing was symbolised in this march through the streets of London—the world of Elizabeth, with all its anxieties and with all its glory. The turn of the century had brought in its train the end of an epoch—”We are such stuff As dreams are made on; and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.”
So, too, on this assumption, is the work of “Shakespeare.” If the best known speech in The Tempest formed a part of it from the first, then it seems that the play cannot have been finished before March, 1604, and all my speculations about a performance at Wilton fall to the ground, but they are not essential to the theory as a whole.
It is however, quite possible that the speech was a postscript, or that it was found among Oxford’s papers and inserted in the play after his death. At all events, I believe it to be Shakespeare’s, though the authorship of the masque, to which it forms a kind of epilogue, is very doubtful.
Of one thing I am convinced: that the author of The Tempest was, and knew that he was, a dying man. Read again Prospero’s last two speeches and the epilogue of the play itself—with this thought in mind—that The Tempest is not only a farewell to poetry and the stage, it is also a Nunc Dimittis.
1. Essays on Shakespeare—translated by L. Dora Schmitz, 1874.
2. E. Lodge, Illustrations of British History, Vol. III, p. 100.
3. Chambers, William Shakespeare II, 329.
4. Purchas Pilgrims. An account of the voyage is given in G. B. Harrison’s Jacobean Journal.
5. Henslowe entered in his Diary, April 6th, 1594, a play called King Leare.
The Stationers’ Register, May 14th, 1594, has the following entry: The moste famous Chronicle historye of Leire, King of England, and his Three Daughters.
These entries are generally supposed to apply to an extant play Leir, published in 1605, and believed to be Shakespeare’s source. Dr. Cairncross, The Problem of Hamlet (1936) maintains that the debt was the other way round. Dr. Cairncross is not an Oxfordian.
6. B. M. Ward, The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford (1928).
The Writings of Gwynneth Bowen 2