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ADAPTED FOR USE IN SCHOOLS AND FOR PRIVATE-STUDY.
REV. JOHN HUNTER, M.A.
Instructor of Candidates for the Civil Service and other Public Examinations;
LONGMAN, GREEN, LONGMAN, ROBERTS, & GREEN.
THE PLAY of The Tempest stands first in the folio collection of 1623, and no earlier copy of it is known; but probably its first production was in 1610 or 1611.
In 1603 was first printed Florio’s translation of Montaigne's Essays, a copy of which having Shakspeare's autograph on the fly-leaf is in the Library of the British Museum; and as in the present play there is a speech of Gonzalo unquestionably founded on a passage in Florio’s Montaigne, we may be sure that The Tempest was not written before 1603, unless Shakspeare had earlier access to Florio's translation in manuscript. That it was written not later than 1611 is evident from Accounts of the Revels at Court, preserved in the Audit Office, which contain a memorandum of a play called The Tempest having been presented before King James on Hallowmas Night (Nov. 1), 1611. Probably The Tempest was then a new play, as the still-vexed Bermoothes,' to which it refers, had recently become notorious from a narrative, published in 1610, of the shipwreck of Sir George Somers on the coast of Bermudas in 1609. In this and in other accounts the Bermudas were said to be inhabited only by witches and devils; and as earlier voyagers had reported the stormy dangers of the Bermudas, the recent relation of the disaster of 1609 might naturally suggest to Shakspeare the epithetstil-vexed.'
Probably no actually existing island was intended by Shakspeare as the scene of this play. Certainly he could not with any propriety have chosen Bermuda to be the residence of such a being as Miranda, although he might well feign the midnight dew of that habitation of witches and devils to be of such magic potency as to justify Ariel being sent thither to fetch some of it for the spell-devising Prospero. In a Disquisition on Shakspeare's Tempest, by the Rev. Joseph Hunter, it is maintained that the scene of the play was Lampedusa, an uninhabited island in the Mediterranean, believed by sailors to be enchanted, and ' lying not far out of a ship’s course passing from Tunis to Naples.' Douce also asserts that this Lampedusa will turn out to be the veritable island' of Prospero 'whenever the Italian novel on which the play was founded shall be discovered. For our own part, we cannot think that Shakspeare would have hazarded the interest of his play by permitting its incidents to be referred to any known locality. The island of Prospero should be merely conceived as having been somewhere in a circuitous route from Tunis to Naples, and as having never again been visited or seen after Prospero's wand was broken, and his book drowned in the unfathomable sea.
That some novel on which the play was founded' may yet be discovered is possible enough; for Shakspeare was ever more ready to dramatize existing stories than to devise plots for himself. Collins, the poet, appears to have read a romance that might have supplied the groundwork of The Tempest ; for he stated to Mr. T. Warton that the principal character in the story was a chemical necromancer who had a spirit like Ariel in his service; but Collins, who was then unsound in his mind, gave as the name of the romance, 'Aurelio and Isabella,' in which he has been shown to have been mistaken.
In the New Monthly Magazine,' for January 1841, is a paper by Mr. Thoms, on the 'Early English and German Dramas,' in which is mentioned a play by Jacob Ayrer, a notary of Nuremberg, entitled Die schöne Sidea (the Beautiful Sidea), as bearing considerable resemblance to The Tempest, and as conjectured by Tieck to have been a translation of some old English play from which Shakspeare derived his plot. In the German drama, it is said, Prince Ludolph and Prince Leudegast supply the places of Prospero and Alonso. Ludolph is a magician, and has an only daughter, Sidea, and an attendant spirit, Runcifal. Ludolph having been vanquished by his rival, and with his daughter driven into a forest, summons his spirit, Runcifal, to learn from him their future destiny and prospects of revenge. Runcifal, who is, like Ariel, somewhat'moody,' announces to Ludolph that the son of his enemy will shortly become his prisoner. We afterwards see Prince Leudegast, with his son Engelbrecht and the councillors, hunting in the same forest; when Engelbrecht and his companion, Famulus, having separated from their associates, are suddenly encountered by Ludolph and his daughter. He commands them to yield themselves prisoners: they refuse, and try to draw their swords, when Ludolph, with his wand, keeps their swords in their scabbards, paralyses Engelbrecht, and gives him over to Sidea as a slave, to carry logs for her. Towards the end of the play, Sidea, moved by pity for the labours of Engelbrecht, declares to him that she will be happy if he will be faithful and marry her—an event which, in the end, is happily brought about, along with the reconciliation of their rival fathers.
Jacob Ayrer was the author of several dramas at the beginning of the seventeenth century, some of them obviously founded on English plays, and as Shakspeare does not appear to have been known in Germany till nearly the close of that century, it seems not improbable that some old play or fable suggested incidents to both Ayrer and Shakspeare.