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Stage and Screen Education and Inspiration The American Identity

THE AMERICAN IDENTITY

 

The Wreck of the Sea Venture

The Wreck of the Sea Venture
Alden T. Vaughan, professor emeritus of history, Columbia University; co-curator of Folger Shakespeare Library's 2007 Shakespeare in American Life exhibition
Excerpted from Alden T. Vaughan, "Shakespeare Discovers America, America Discovers Shakespeare," Shakespeare in American Life exhibition catalog. Folger Shakespeare Library, 2007.


The story of the Sea Venture's wreck on the Bermuda Islands has often been told, but it bears a brief summary here because it opened Shakespeare's works to the influences of English colonization and, perhaps more important, because it undergirds the theory—espoused intermittently since the late nineteenth century—that Shakespeare set The Tempest on Bermuda and intended the characters to reflect early American persons and events. Bermuda, to this day, reminds visitors of its reputed Tempest connections with venues like Prospero's Cave (a night club), Caliban's Bar, and the Ariel Sands Beach Club.

The five hundred potential colonists in nine ships that departed England in early June 1609 expected to sail north of Bermuda on their westward route from the Canary Islands to Virginia. When they were several days short of their destination, a massive hurricane scattered the fleet. One vessel sank; seven ships straggled into Jamestown, weeks overdue. The flagship Sea Venture, carrying the fleet's admiral, Sir George Somers, and Virginia's new governor, Sir Thomas Gates, never arrived at Jamestown and was presumed to have been lost.

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McKie. A Shakespearean Atlas. Manuscript, 1934 (Detail). Folger Shakespeare Library.

Bank of Bermuda Foundation