The Tempest, (6)
3.4 Dating The Tempest
The Oxfordian researchers Kositsky and Stritmatter, seeing the problem that a 1610 dating of The Tempest would pose for the Earl of Oxford's authorship candidacy (he died in 1604), have objected to the view that Strachey's letter reached England with Sir Thomas Gates in September 1610 in time to source the play. Their argument is partly based on a letter dated 14 December 1610 from the Virginia Company secretary and prominent Council member Richard Martin to William Strachey in Virginia. Martin requests that:
“you would be pleased by the return of this ship [Hercules] to let me understand from you the nature & quality of the soil, & how it is like to serve you without help from hence, the manners of the people, how the Barbarians are content with your being there, but especially how our own people do brook their obedience how they endure labor, whether willingly or upon constraint, how they live in the exercise of religion, whether out of conscience or for fashion, and generally what ease you have in the government there”.
These points are covered in Strachey's letter and Martin would surely have seen it if it had arrived before December. The argument runs that the fact he is asking these questions means that it had not arrived by this date. The counter to this is that, as we have seen, the TD (registered 8 November 1610 by the Virginia Council) reports that Sir Thomas Gates was sent for by the Council, and Richard Martin would almost certainly have been privy to his report (which I suggest was the TR), would have had an opportunity to interrogate Gates, and had ample opportunity to have all his questions answered, not only by Gates by also by others who had returned. The implication is that Martin's questions to Strachey do not relate to information about the colony during Gates' tenure because he had already acquired this information and, given the uncertainty in Jamestown prior to 15 July 1610, he was instead requesting an update on the state of government there after Gates left Virginia and William Strachey behind.
Kermode [The Tempest, Arden Shakespeare (London, Methuen: 1958), pp.xxxii-xxxiii] and Bullough [Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, Vol. 8, (1975), pp.334-9] have suggested that the TR is not necessarily a source for The Tempest since almost any account of a shipwreck prior to 1610 contains similar material. For example, at the start of The Tempest we have the following:
Boteswaine. Downe with the top-Maste…
(1610-11 The Tempest, 1.1.31)
The TR gives:
“we … had now purposed to have cut down the Maine Mast the more to lighten her”.
However, this could just as well have come from Erasmus’s Naufragium/The Shipwreck (1523):
“When he so said, he commanded al the ropes to be cut, and the Mainemaste to be sawen down close by the boxe”.