The Tempest, (5)
3.3 True Reportory Secrecy - cont.
The TR reports Gates finally reaching Jamestown from Bermuda:
“it pleased our governor to make a speech unto the company … if he should not find it possible and easy to supply them with something from the country by the endeavours of his able men, he would make ready and transport them all into their native country … at which there was a …shout of joy”.
As we have learned, on 7 June 1610 the men actually abandoned the colony, and it was only Lord La Warre's approaching supply ships that encouraged them to turn back. Word of this PR disaster almost certainly got back to England and the TD cheerfully asks “Why those that were (eye witnesses) of the former supposed miseries do voluntarily return with joy and comfort?” One wonders if they did.
In The Cultural Life of the American Colonies, Louis Booker Wright states that the TR:
“gives a discouraging picture of Jamestown, but it is significant that it had to wait fifteen years to see print, for the Virginia Company just at that time was subsidizing preachers and others to give glowing descriptions of Virginia and its prospects”.
Suffice it to say that if, in publishing the TD, the Virginia Council were so keen to attribute blame to the settlers, exaggerate the available resources, and reward preachers for spreading their propaganda, then they would have almost certainly kept the TR restricted. Item 27 of the governing Council’s instructions to Sir Thomas Gates before he set out for the colony supports this view:
“You must take especial care what relacions [accounts] come into England and what lettres are written and that all thinges of that nature may be boxed up and sealed and sent to first of [sic] the Council here, …and that at the arrivall and retourne of every shippinge you endeavour to knowe all the particular passages and informacions given on both sides and to advise us accordingly”.
However, aware that the TR sourced The Tempest and being keen to uphold the candidacy of the actor William Shakespeare, The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare maintains that the TR was “circulated in manuscript” without mention of any restriction. Even though there is no evidence that Shakspere of Stratford ever met William Strachey, in the Arden Shakespeare edition of The Tempest, Kermode ventures to speculate that:
“there seems to have been an opportunity for Shakespeare to see the unpublished report, or even to have met Strachey”.
One is left with the impression that some benevolent Council member who had already risked his own investment in the colony, was happy to present a copy of the TR to his non-Council member friend William Shakespeare of the King's Men whose business was unashamedly public. If this had occurred it would have been the Virginia Company's worst nightmare, yet the absurdity of the proposition does not prevent it from being repeatedly and uncritically propagated in “scholarly” books.