Tempest in a Teacup

The Tempest is a right curious play. Upon re-reading it recently I was, once again, more than slightly irked by its irritating shallowness and hollow pomposity. The elements of that insufferable monstrosity, the masque, just kill the play.

So, one rather wonders - is it by Shakespeare at all?

There are doubts. Mostly they come from rabid Oxfordians. Some of them outright claim that The Tempest does not belong among the Bard's works. They, however, have an agenda as The Tempest pretty much crushes their case of Oxford being the true author of the works. So much for him.

Or does it?

The generally accepted wisdom is that the play was written around 1610-11. That would make it impossible for Oxford to have written it as he died in 1604. Therefore there's no way he could be the real Shakespeare.

But was it written in 1610 or 1611? Or maybe 1612? Really we don't know. Nor do we know when first it was performed. The first performance we know about seems to hail from November 1611. That doesn't make it the first performance ever.

Much hangs on what sources Shakespeare used. It would seem that for the plot he didn't use anything. That would make the play pretty unique in his Canon as he always pinched and improved on already existing stuff. Maybe we just haven't found or correctly identified his sources. All that is beside the point when dating the play. The big question here is: what sources, if any, did he use for the shipwreck and the island?

Did he for instance use, as is often claimed, William Strachey's report on the Bermudan shipwreck in 1609? Bermuda is mentioned in the play. There is precious little evidence that he did use it, and the book though written far earlier wasn't published until 1625. It's always been a given that Shakespeare based both his tempest and his island on the experiences of travellers to the New World. But there is nothing tangible to verify this, apart from that one slight mention of Bermuda or the Bermoothes. Otherwise it's all conjecture and convenient dates. Convenient, that is, for a play written around 1610 and first performed in 1611.

If The Tempest doesn't draw upon the Bermudan wreck or the tales of early Virginian settlers, then all bets are off. We just don't know. But hang on - there's the masque! Surely that dates the play rather well? The masque became all the rage during King James's reign, which would mean that the play couldn't very well have been written earlier than the middle of the decade. But. Were the embarrassing masque bits originally in the play? Perhaps the 1611 performance was a revival of an older play written heavens knows when - with new topical bits added as was the wont in them days? Just think Macbeth and all the new and horrid and silly bits with the witches. They were added later, and not written by old William at all but by that young fop Ben Jonson. Ben Jonson was the big name when it came to masques. Perhaps he's the culprit here as well? The swine.

I have a definite feeling that the masque bits were not written by Shakespeare, as clearly they are quite sub-standard. That is of course only wishful thinking on my part. The masque bits are rubbish - therefore I'd rather somebody else, some lesser creature, had written them. But if they were the new feature in the 1611 version of the play, and Shakespeare was still alive at the time, as he was as he only died in 1616, why that might mean that Shakespeare wasn't Shakespeare at all and someone else was. Someone else was Shakespeare, I mean, instead of Shakespeare (blimey - this is getting all complicated innit?). Someone like that blasted fellow de Vere.

Or were the rubbish bits added in 1613? Same thing applies. Nothing changes.

They can't have been in from the word go? Can they?

Or then, as some Oxfordians claim, The Tempest simply doesn't belong in the Canon.

I dunno. It's all a muddle. We're all at sea here.

"Now would I give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren ground, long heath, brown furze, any thing. The wills above be done! but I would fain die a dry death."

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