How could the wrecking of the Sea Venture have influenced Shakespeare?

There is a theory that the wrecking of the Sea Venture in Bermuda may have influenced Shakespeare and prompted him to write ‘The Tempest’. Stories of shipwrecks were thought to be interesting by the citizens of England. Shakespeare wrote about this particular one because at the time, the plague was rapidly infecting people, and so attention was growing in forming new and better colonies in places such as America. The Sea Venture was a ship attempting to help one such colony in Virginia, and Shakespeare thought it would be a good idea to include the idea of it being wrecked in a play, so as he could make a reference to the overseas ambitions of his country.

Some similarities between ‘The Tempest’ and the wrecking of the Sea Venture are:

  1. Both the Sea Venture and ship in ‘The Tempest’ were wrecked on an island after a tempest hit them.
  2. The people who stayed in Bermuda for nine months after the wreck of the Sea Venture described hearing ghostly and mysterious cries during the night. A bird called the Cahow was responsible for this. This may have prompted Shakespeare to portray the island as a place of intrigue and magic.
  3. Sea turtles are extremely common in Bermuda, and Caliban from ‘The Tempest’ has the fins of a turtle. As well as this, William Strachey, a poet who was on the Sea Venture, wrote a narrative about his time on the island. In it, he describes a sea turtle with human and bovine elements. Shakespeare uses these three elements when describing Caliban, also calling him a ‘moon-calf’
  4. The men who was castaways after the wrecking of the ‘Sea Venture’ made a drink from berries while they were on the island. During the play, Caliban mentioned that when he was thirsty, Prospero would give him water ‘with berries in’t’.

These pieces of evidence show that it is extremely likely that ‘The Tempest’ was influenced in at least some ways by the wrecking of the Sea Venture.


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