Historical Context of The Tempest - Sample Essay
One thing that probably influenced Shakespeare to write the Tempest was the event that happened in May 1609. A fleet of nine ships set out from England, with five hundred colonists on board. Their goal was the newly founded colony of Virginia, where the settlers intended to begin a new life. They hoped for fabulous fortunes because of everything that they had heard about the natural riches of America. But disaster struck. In the great storm, the ship carrying the expedition’s leader, Sir Thomas Gates, became separated from the fleet.
The ship was driven onto the rocks of Bermuda, a place feared by sailors and known at the time as the Devil’s islands. The rest of the fleet sailed on, and reached Virginia, and sent back news to London of the loss. This is almost mentioned in the script by Ariel, when telling Propsero what she has done with the ship. “From the still-vexed Bermoothes, there she’s hid The mariners all under hatches stowed, Who, with a charm joined their suffered labour, I have left asleep. And for the rest o’th’fleet,
Which I dispersed, they have all met again. ” However there is more to the story as a year later astonishing new arrived. The lost colonists had miraculously survived and reached Virginia! Apparently, the ship had run aground close to shore. All the passengers and crew has escaped safely, and were able to salvage most of the supplies from the ship. The discovered that Bermuda was far from being the desolate and barren place of legend. It has fresh water, and a plentiful supply of food in fish, wild pigs, birds and turtles.
The survivors set about building two boats so that they could sail on to Virginia. But human nature soured on the island and mutiny broke out. Malicious rumours spread, and a bid was made to murder the governor and take over the island. When, after great difficulties, they set sail the two mutineers elected to stay behind on Bermuda. It is still thought now that the Bermuda area has a magical essence about it. Many reports of boats, planes and other vehicles disappearing into the Bermuda ‘Triangle’.
Leading people to believe that there is something mystical about Bermuda having power over transport. It is possible that Shakespeare had used this story to base the Tempest on. The terrible storm that befell the colonists is similar to the storm that was conjured up by Prospero to wreck to Royal’s ship. The two mutineers who are similar to Antonio and Sebastion, who are plotting to kill Alonso and the fact that everyone returned safely. Aesthetic, scientific, social and philosophical texts formed an essential part of Shakespeare’s life and often show themselves in his plays.
Whilst it is unknown how dramatists drew from such sources, consciously or subconsciously. Scholars do indicate likely connections between The Tempest’s language, characters, and the political, social and intellectual climates in which Shakespeare lived and worked. Many people consider Caliban to be an example of the colonists infecting the ‘New World’, which could also be drawn on from the ‘real’ Tempest. Shakespeare’s and his audiences’ familiarity with American colonisation and the fact that they were poisoning the native Americans with things such as alcohol.
Caliban is similar to this in the way that Trinculo and Stephano change him by giving him alcohol, in return he offered to be their slave. The plight of Rudolph II, King of Bohemia, parallels Propsero’s story. In 1608 Rudolph’s brother usurped from him the crows of Austria, Hungary and Moravia; and in April 1611 Rudolph also lost the throne of Bohemia. His interest in the occult was widely known; in the 1580’s the English magus John Dee had briefly enlisted his support in a quest for the philosopher’s stone.
Beset by political troubles, Rudolph, much like Prospero and his cave, retreated to his palace library and consoled himself with books. Propsero is also, many say, directly related to Shakespeare. If we look back over which plays were written before the Tempest they included Othello and Macbeth. These plays are dark and depressing which could be seen as the ‘Tempest’ of Shakespeare’s life in the play the Tempest is calmed and Prospero takes his revenge. Eventually he closes with an apology and a goodbye statement. This is Shakespeare saying goodbye to the theatre and the theatre audiences.