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A squadron of Tempests

“I freeze and burn, love is bitter and sweet,
my sighs are tempests and my tears are floods,
I am in ecstasy and agony,
I am possessed by memories of her and
I am in exile from myself.” 

Francesco Petrarca*

Tempest metaphors are a favourite amongst poets and always have been. It's so easy to associate Olympian raging storms with chthonic emotional turmoil. Shakespeare's storm on the heath in King Lear is possibly the closest confrontation between elemental nature and primordial humanity. Storms on heaths, however barren, are different from storms at sea.

In The Tempest, there is no prelude. The play begins in the middle of a storm at sea. A storm at sea offers no possibility of shelter and must be withstood until calmer weather prevails. Even if there is a harbour in sight, any attempt to reach safety is likely to be more dangerous than endurance at a safe distance.

in 1610, the survivors of a famous shipwreck in a storm were back in London, regaling drinkers with tales of their improbable survival after fortuitously landing on an island of phantoms (Bermuda) and building small boats to take them to Jamestown, the new but ailing capital of the colony of Virginia. The famous Strachey letter contains an account of this storm and the events that followed. Did Will read it before writing The Tempest? There's plenty of correlation between the two accounts. Yet the differences are just as obvious.

In the table below are four accounts of storms at sea. The Shakespearean storms, one metaphorical, one magical can be contrasted with what we know to be two first hand accounts, one prose, one verse. There are those who deny that the Strachey account is drawn from first-hand experience but they are merely trying to cut it loose from its moorings in London in 1610. John Donne, the author of the poem The Storm, was on the Essex expedition to the Azores in 1597 and came close to foundering in the Atlantic.

The two first-hand accounts have interesting points of coincidence. Both concentrate on the unrelenting nature of the forces, repeatedly renewing their onslaught, the noise, the darkness and the apparent endlessness of the crashing of the waves on the ship.

Neither of Will's imagined accounts have the immediacy of the two first-hand accounts.

If  you are setting out to draw conclusions based on the influences of one piece on another, Donne's influence of Strachey should come before Strachey's on Will. His poetry wan't published until the 1630's but we know his work was circulated in manuscript. And even if it is highly speculative to assume that Donne might have influenced Will, surely that speculation belongs in any attempt to be comprehensive about possible shipwreck sources.

So it is surprising that the Stritmatter and Kositsky book ignores Donne completely, especially since Donne's poem's offers pretty conclusive evidence on what Elizabethans thought 'the still vex'd Bermoothes' might have been. This is an important matter in Oxfordian misreadings of the play.

Roger first insisted the poem didn't exist, when he couldn't find it in his initial internet searches and only later tried to claim he was referring to its non-existence in Tempest scholarship, as if that mattered. (Yes I kept copies of the posts - I'm learning). This was of a piece with Lynne Kositsky's response which claimed they had read and dismissed the poem. She said:

"it was unnecessary to use Donne's storm, especially as in this case the storm imagery was a virtual copy of what's called a "storm set,"

This is shameful, pseudo-academic nonsense in itself, given the breathtaking originality of Donne's work. It's also quite revealing of a mindset which regards Shakespeare's work as a series of lab samples which can be judged entirely on critical assessments carried out in the Oxfordian Laboratory. "Storm sets" indeed! Lynne's error was made infinitely worse when she revealed she was actually referring to 'A Valediction forbidding morning', entirely the wrong poem. 

Thus both authors in this case omitted to mention the only poem about a storm at sea, written in the 1590's by a poet in Shakespeare's class. A contemporary masterpiece on a storm at sea. Absent in a book about sources for storms at sea. Because neither knew of its existence. A fact they both tried to conceal when challenged.

Tom Reedy's article compares the Strachey piece with Will's Tempest in detail and it is not the purpose of this article to add to his analysis. But I have included two Shakespearean storms below for comparison to the two first-hand accounts from Strachey and Donne. Whilst there is clear evidence of borrowings in the work of Will and Strachey, it can also be argued that the two men who actually experienced violent storms on a ship and who were both in fear of their lives for the same reasons, saw the storm with similar eyes.

What emerges from these similarities, of course, is the urgency for Oxfordians to find his Lordship experiencing an actual storm at sea of the severity of Donne's or Strachey's. A combination of good source material and imagination is never enough in Oxfordland.

*As an aside, Petrarch's will is remarkably like Will's, most of the estate passing to his
brother in one chunk, small specific bequests to fellow writers and no
mention of any books, despite the fact that he is known to have owned the finest
library of the early renaissance.

Donne: The Storm
Then like two mighty Kings, which dwelling farre
Asunder, meet against a third to warre,
The South and West winds joyn'd, and, as they blew,
Waves like a rolling trench before them threw.
Sooner than you read this line, did the gale,
Like shot, not fear'd, till felt, our sails assaile;
And what at first was call'd a gust, the same
Hath now a stormes, anon a tempests name.
Jonas, I pitty thee, and curse those men
Who, when the storm rage’d most, did wake thee then.
Sleepe is paines easiest salve, and doth fulfill
All offices of death, except to kill.
But when I wakt, I saw, that I saw not.
I, and the Sunne, which should teach mee’had forgot
East, West, day, night, and I could onely say,
If’the world had lasted, now it had been day.
Thousands our noyses were, yet wee'mongst all
Could none by his right name, but thunder, call:
Lightning was all our light, and it rain'd more
Than if the Sunne had drunke the sea before;
Some coffin'd in their cabins lye, ‘equally
Griev’d that they are not dead, and yet must die.
And as sin-burd’ned soules from grave will creepe,
At the last day, some forth their cabins peepe:
And tremblingly’aske what newes, and doe heare so,
Like jealous husbands, what they would not know.
Some sitting on the hatches, would seeme there,
With hideous gazing to feare away feare.
Then note they the ship's sicknesses, the Mast
Shak’d with an ague, and the Hold and Wast
With a salt dropsie clog'd, and all our tacklings
Snapping, like too- high-stretched treble strings.
And from our totterd sailes, ragges drop downe so,
As from one hang'd in chaines a year agoe.
Even our Ordnance plac’d for our defence,
Strive to breake loose, and scape away from thence.
Pumping hath tir’d our men, and what's the gaine?
Seas into seas throwne, we suck in againe;
Hearing hath deaf'd our saylers: and if they
Knew how to heare, there's none knowes what to say.
Compar’d to these stormes, death is but a qualme,
Hell somewhat lightsome, and the’Bermuda calme.
Darknesse, lights elder brother, his birth-right
Claims o'er this world, and to heaven hath chas’d light.
All things are one, and that one none can be,
Since all formes uniforme deformity
Doth cover, so that wee, except God say
Another Fiat, shall have no more day.
So violent, yet long these furies bee,
That though thine absence starve me,‘I wish not thee.

The Strachey Letter (extract)
For four and twenty hours the storm in a restless tumult, had blown so exceedingly, as we could not apprehend in our imaginations any possibility of greater violence, yet did we still find it, not only more terrible, but more constant, fury added to fury, and one storm urging a second more outrageous then the former; whether it so wrought upon our fears, or indeed met with new forces: Sometimes strikes in our Ship amongst women, and passengers, not used to such hurly and discomforts, made us look one upon the other with troubled hearts, and panting bosoms: our clamors drowned in the winds, and the winds in thunder.

Prayers might well be in the heart and lips, but drowned in the outcries of the Officers: nothing heard that could give comfort, nothing seen that might encourage hope. It is impossible for me, had I the voice of Stentor, and expression of as many tongues, as his throat of voices, to express the outcries and miseries, not languishing, but wasting his spirits, and art constant to his own principles, but not prevailing. Our sails wound up lay without their use, and if at any time we bore but a Hollock, or half forecourse, to guide her before the Sea, six and sometimes eight men were not enough to hold the whipstaff in the steerage, and the tiller below in the Gunner room, by which may be imagined the strength of the storm: In which, the Sea swelled above the Clouds, and gave battle unto Heaven.

It could not be said to rain, the waters like whole Rivers did flood in the air. And this I did still observe, that whereas upon the Land, when a storm hath powered itself forth once in drifts of rain, the wind as beaten down, and vanquished therewith, not long after endureth: here the glut of water (as if throttling the wind ere while) was no sooner a little emptied and qualified, but instantly the winds (as having gotten their mouths now free, and at liberty) spoke more loud, and grew more tumultuous, and malignant: What shall I say? Winds and Seas were as mad, as fury and rage could make them

Shakespeare: The Tempest
Hast thou, spirit,
Perform'd to point the tempest that I bade thee?
To every article.
I boarded the king's ship; now on the beak,
Now in the waist, the deck, in every cabin,
I flamed amazement: sometime I'ld divide,
And burn in many places; on the topmast,
The yards and bowsprit, would I flame distinctly,
Then meet and join. Jove's lightnings, the precursors
O' the dreadful thunder-claps, more momentary
And sight-outrunning were not; the fire and cracks
Of sulphurous roaring the most mighty Neptune
Seem to besiege and make his bold waves tremble,
Yea, his dread trident shake.
My brave spirit!
Who was so firm, so constant, that this coil
Would not infect his reason?
Not a soul
But felt a fever of the mad and play'd
Some tricks of desperation. All but mariners
Plunged in the foaming brine and quit the vessel,
Then all afire with me: the king's son, Ferdinand,
With hair up-staring,--then like reeds, not hair,--
Was the first man that leap'd; cried, 'Hell is empty
And all the devils are here.'

I.i Master
Here, master: what cheer?
Good, speak to the mariners: fall to't, yarely,
or we run ourselves aground: bestir, bestir.
Enter Mariners
Heigh, my hearts! cheerly, cheerly, my hearts!
yare, yare! Take in the topsail. Tend to the
master's whistle. Blow, till thou burst thy wind,
if room enough!
Good boatswain, have care. Where's the master?
Play the men.
I pray now, keep below.
Where is the master, boatswain?
Do you not hear him? You mar our labour: keep your
cabins: you do assist the storm.
Nay, good, be patient.
When the sea is. Hence! What cares these roarers
for the name of king? To cabin: silence! trouble us not.
Good, yet remember whom thou hast aboard.
None that I more love than myself. You are a
counsellor; if you can command these elements to
silence, and work the peace of the present, we will
not hand a rope more; use your authority: if you
cannot, give thanks you have lived so long, and make
yourself ready in your cabin for the mischance of
the hour, if it so hap. Cheerly, good hearts! Out
of our way, I say.
I have great comfort from this fellow: methinks he
hath no drowning mark upon him; his complexion is
perfect gallows. Stand fast, good Fate, to his
hanging: make the rope of his destiny our cable,
for our own doth little advantage. If he be not
born to be hanged, our case is miserable.
Re-enter Boatswain
Down with the topmast! yare! lower, lower! Bring
her to try with main-course.
A cry within
A plague upon this howling! they are louder than
the weather or our office.
Yet again! what do you here? Shall we give o'er
and drown? Have you a mind to sink?
A pox o' your throat, you bawling, blasphemous,
incharitable dog!
Work you then.
Hang, cur! hang, you whoreson, insolent noisemaker!
We are less afraid to be drowned than thou art.
I'll warrant him for drowning; though the ship were
no stronger than a nutshell and as leaky as an
unstanched wench.
Lay her a-hold, a-hold! set her two courses off to
sea again; lay her off.
Enter Mariners wet
All lost! to prayers, to prayers! all lost!
What, must our mouths be cold?
The king and prince at prayers! let's assist them,
For our case is as theirs.
I'm out of patience.
We are merely cheated of our lives by drunkards:
This wide-chapp'd rascal--would thou mightst lie drowning
The washing of ten tides!
He'll be hang'd yet,
Though every drop of water swear against it
And gape at widest to glut him.
A confused noise within: 'Mercy on us!'-- 'We split, we split!'--'Farewell, my wife and children!'-- 'Farewell, brother!'--'We split, we split, we split!'
Let's all sink with the king.
Let's take leave of him.
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.

Shakespeare: Henry VI ii
Great lords, wise men ne’er sit and wail their loss,
But cheerly seek how to redress their harms.
What though the mast be now blown over-board,
The cable broke, the holding anchor lost,
And half our sailors swallow’d in the flood?
Yet lives our pilot still: is’t meet that he
Should leave the helm and like a fearful lad
With tearful eyes add water to the sea,
And give more strength to that which hath too much;
Whiles in his moan the ship splits on the rock,
Which industry and courage might have sav’d?
Ah! what a shame! ah, what a fault were this.
Say, Warwick was our anchor; what of that?
And Montague our top-mast; what of him?
Our slaughter’d friends the tackles; what of these?
Why, is not Oxford here another anchor?
And Summerset, another goodly mast?
The friends of France our shrouds and tacklings?
And, though unskillful, why not Ned and I
For once allow’d the skilful pilot’s charge?
We will not from the helm, to sit and weep,
But keep our course, though the rough wind say no,
From shelves and rocks that threaten us with wrack.
As good to chide the waves as speak them fair.
And what is Edward but a ruthless sea?
What Clarence but a quicksand of deceit?
And Richard but a ragged fatal rock?
All those the enemies to our poor bark.
Say you can swim; alas! ’tis but a while:
tread on the sand; why, there you quickly sink:
Bestride the rock; the tide will wash you off,
Or else you famish; that’s a threefold death.
This speak I, lords, to let you understand,
In case some one of you would fly from us,
That there’s no hop’d-for mercy with the brothers
More than with ruthless waves, with sands and rocks.
Why, courage, then! what cannot be avoided
’Twere childish weakness to lament or fear.

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