How is America mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays?
This list includes some of the many references to the Americas in Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare’s characters often refer to the New World as “the Indies.” Early European explorers who made navigational errors originally used the term, and the name stuck; today, we still refer to the West Indies, and Native Americans are also called American Indians. The “Bermoothes” mentioned in The Tempest are the Bermudas.
In Shakespeare’s day, Spain had become enormously wealthy from its imports of gold and jewels from the Americas; as a result, he often uses “the Indies” to refer to treasure, jewels, or wealth. Other references reflect tensions between the colonists and peoples native to the Americas.
As You Like It, Act 3, scene 2
ROSALIND (reading a paper):
From the east to western Ind,
No jewel is like Rosalind.
Her worth being mounted on the wind,
Through all the world bears Rosalind.
Henry IV, Part I, Act 3, scene 1
In faith, he is a worthy gentleman...
...wondrous affable, and as bountiful
As mines of India.
Henry VIII, Act 4, scene 1
Our king has all the Indies in his arms,
And more and richer, when he strains that lady:
I cannot blame his conscience.
The Comedy of Errors, Act 3, scene 2
ANTIPHOLUS OF SYRACUSE (comparing a fat maid's body to a globe):
Where America, the Indies?
DROMIO OF SYRACUSE:
O, sir, upon her nose, all o’er-embellished with rubies, carbuncles, sapphires, declining their rich aspect to the hot breath of Spain; who sent whole armadas of caracks to be ballast at her nose.
Where stood Belgia, the Netherlands?
O, sir, I did not look so low.
The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act 1, scene 3
I will be cheater to them both, and they shall be exchequers to me; they shall be my East and West Indies, and I will trade to them both.
The Merchant of Venice, Act 1, scene 3
He hath an argosy bound to Tripolis, another to the Indies. I understand, moreover, upon the Rialto, he hath a third at Mexico, a fourth for England, and other ventures he hath squandered abroad.
The Tempest, Act 1, scene 2
Safely in harbor
Is the King’s ship. In the deep nook, where once
Thou call’dst me up at midnight to fetch dew
From the still-vex’d Bermoothes, there she’s hid.
The Tempest, Act 2, scene 2
When they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian.
The Tempest, Act 2, scene 2
What’s the matter? Have we devils here? Do you put tricks upon’s with savages and men of Ind?
Researchers believe the following quotation from one of Shakespeare’s last plays, Henry VIII, may have been inspired by Epenow, a Wampanoag Indian from Cape Cod who was captured and brought to England as a curiosity in 1611. (Epenow got home three years later, tricking his captors into bringing him back to Cape Cod with false claims of a gold ore deposit and then escaping.)
Henry VIII , Act 5, scene 4
Have we some strange Indian with the great tool come to court, the women so besiege us?