by Joseph L. Eldredge
The first time The Tempest was linked to the Vineyard and Cuttyhunk was in 1902 when Rev. Edward Everett Hale discovered similarities between phrases and word patterns in two journals kept on Bartholomew Gosnold's 1602 voyage and certain lines in the Shakespeare drama. He described his findings in a talk to the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester. His interesting revelations seemed to create no waves.
Twenty years later, Marshall Shepard, soon to be the first president of the new Dukes County Historical Society, came upon Hale's findings. In a talk to the Daughters of the American Revolution in Edgartown, he outlined what he called the "Gosnold-Shakespeare Theory". His talk was mentioned in the Vineyard Gazette, where it was read by Edna Coffin of Edgartown, then a student at Radcliffe College.
She wrote to Shepard requesting more information, stating that she hoped to write a paper on the subject. In his response, Shepard suggested, "It might be interesting to recall the relationship between the Gosnold and Bacon families, for if Shakespeare was in reality Bacon, no effort of the imagination is needed to picture Gosnold relating his New World experiences to his distinguished kinsman and author of The Tempest. It would be well to examine Dr. Hale's discovery in the light of the evidence of the Baconian theory."
Miss Coffin's paper, "Martha's Vineyard, the setting for Shakespeare's Play, The Tempest" was praised by her professor as "touched with the wand of fancy; the possibilities are interesting – the probabilities strong." Emboldened, she sent a copy to Prof. George Lyman Kittredge of Harvard, the eminent Shakespearean authority, asking for his opinion. The learned professor responded: "A very good joke. I should imagine that it might be a piece of newspaper humor." The "joke" lay fallow until 1940 when Shepard, now president of the new Society, published Our Enchanted Island, quoting lines in The Tempest that were very similar to those in Gosnold's journal, written by Brereton and Archer.1
Today, there is renewed interest in Shakespeare. It is time for another look at the connections our islands have to The Tempest. This time, however, Bacon, like Marlowe and Derby, has been forgotten, replaced by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford
, now said to be the real Shakespeare.2
In his libretto for Albert Eisenstadt's fine photographic essay, Martha's Vineyard3
Henry Hough ruminated on the identity of Prospero's island in Shakespeare's play, The Tempest. Hough, famed editor of the Vineyard Gazette, recalled naturalist Winthrop Packard's suggestion that pinkletinks (spring peepers) could have been Ariel; the heath hen, Caliban. To prove it to yourself, find a half-dozen naturalist passages describing Prospero's island in the play, take them out with you on any island meadow and read them aloud (with or without heath hens!).
It was Edward Everett Hale4
(said Mr. Hough) who thought Shakespeare must have met sailors and gentlemen adventurers back from Gosnold's voyage in 1602 to hear of "mussels-pig-nuts-and scamels". Hough also included Packard's description of his own experience in the spring of 1912 on the Vineyard Plain:
Goblins cackled in weird laughter, whining and whimpering among the scrub oaks clad in brown, wearing black horns that stuck stiffly above their heads and with bags of bad dreams about their necks. Two of these bags, orange colored and round as oranges, hung about the neck of each creature, and now they danced in unholy glee before one another, now they sailed into the air on their broomsticks, and always mingled their strange actions with strange cries.
As a person who read almost everything, Henry Hough certainly knew of a book entitled Bartholomew Gosnold: Discoverer and Planter by his friend and fellow Vineyarder, Warner Gookin, published in cooperation with what was then Duke's County Historical Society.5
In the early 1950's a retired clergyman, Warner Gookin, spent his last years researching the life of Bartholomew Gosnold whom he wanted to rescue from obscurity.6
To those knowledgeable in Island history, this name will be familiar. Others, who may have wondered why the Island of Cuttyhunk is also called the Town of Gosnold, will find in Gookin's book welcome revelations, intrigue, and enchanting speculation. Gosnold's youth in his family seat at Otley Hall in Suffolk was filled with stories of the great voyages of discovery by men like Giovanni Verrazano and Sir Humphrey Gilbert. He read the writings of the Reverend Richard Hakluyt,7
who was known to his family. Gosnold was connected through his mother to Sir Francis Bacon and on his father's side to Bartholomew Gilbert, Gosnold's co-captain in the "discovery" of Martha's Vineyard.
Bartholomew Gosnold married into a family with even more impressive connections, an essential ingredient for success in the totalitarian time of Queen Elizabeth. Martha, his mother-in-law, for whom his first child was named, was a cousin of Sir Thomas Smythe, founder of the East India Company and a leader of the Virginia Company. Smythe was at the time England's foremost world trader. Bartholomew's bride, Mary Golding, was related in two separate generations to the de Veres, the 16th and 17th Earls of Oxford. At Cambridge together, Gosnold and Henry Wriothesley (believed to have been pronounced "Risley"), the Third Earl of Southampton, also read law at the Middle Temple. In 1597 he joined the Earls of Essex and Southampton on an expedition to raid the Azores. But his dream was to found an English colony in America. It was Southampton, perhaps with encouragement and help from the Queen, and later himself a member of the Virginia Company, who financed Gosnold's 1602 voyage in the ship Concord.
Werner Gookin's treatise acquaints us first with Gosnold and his extended family, then with the climate of discovery surrounding him. Two of the voyage's "gentlemen adventurers", Gabriel Archer and John Brereton, kept detailed accounts. They relate that Gosnold and Gilbert were seeking a place called "Norumbega", the broad sound, harbor, and river Verrazano had sailed into and named eighty years earlier. By recorded latitude Norumbega was where Newport is today. Gosnold, sailing down the coast from the north, got only as far as our islands and Buzzard's Bay.
Vineyard historian Gookin took on the task of clearing up misconceptions about Gosnold's voyage in 1602. One of these was that the island Gosnold named "Martha's Vineyard" was what we now call "Noman's". A sailor himself, Gookin deciphered landlubberly readings of these contemporary accounts and by careful induction was able to lead us day by day, league by league, from Concord's first landfall on the upper arm of the Cape. Going ashore in what is today's Barnstable Harbor, Gosnold and others climbed Shoot-Flying Hill from where they saw Vineyard and Nantucket sounds. Meanwhile, back on the Concord the crew found their lines (or nets) had rewarded them with "a great store of Cod-fish, for which we...called it Cape Cod," wrote Archer.
Gookin's research tracked their route rounding the end of the Cape, circling Nantucket, and back up through Muskeget Channel (between Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard). They anchored off Chappaquiddick, again sending a party ashore while an even greater (and much better) "store" of Cod was hauled aboard. It was on that day, May 22nd, 1602, Gosnold christened our Island "Martha's Vineyard." The next day they sailed on down the Sound past East Chop and West Chop to Lambert's Cove. Here they went ashore and, in Gookin's words, for two days "ambled and gamboled, after the manner of sailors ashore." They met, again as recorded by Archer: "thirteen Savages....[who] brought Tobacco, Deere skins and some sodden fish."
From there they headed southwest, passing Menemsha Bight and Gay Head which they called "Dover Cliffs." Then on to Cuttyhunk where, on a small island in a fresh-water pond, they established a base from which to explore. Thanks to narrators Brereton and Archer we get a good picture of the flora, fauna, and topography of "these fragile outposts". Even more challenging is the guarded but polite reception they were given by the locals. It is unfortunate (yet a blessing for the world of letters) that Gosnold took little interest in the language or subtle economy of their hosts.
The original plan had been to leave Gosnold and his party of gentlemen adventurers to start a colony. Gilbert was to return for more supplies. But after it was learned that Gilbert had already stinted on the original provisions, all hands decided to return to England with him. Gookin's opinion of Gilbert based on this suggests that Gosnold had made a wise decision. However, had Gosnold learned more of the native economy, as did the Pilgrims at "Plimoth Plantation" a few years later he might have tried to stick it out. Of course Tempest's pungent lines might then have been enriched by reports of some other island.8
After less than a month on Cuttyhunk (with some potting about in Buzzard's Bay) the small band left for England leaving for the future "County of Dukes County" two names: "Martha" and "Elizabeth". Gookin assures us that the first was the name of Gosnold's infant daughter, who died one year later in 1603: the second was the name of his sister Elizabeth, who married a distant relative of Anne Boleyn. Queen Elizabeth herself might have been the one so honored, but being already the nominal owner of all "Virginia", it may not have been flattering to add a tiny string of islands to her necklace.
Back to Henry Beetle Hough. His image of the sailor's recounting their adventures in London (or Portsmouth) taverns was not far off. The Third Earl of Southampton was in the Tower awaiting execution for his part in the "Essex Rebellion"; Essex had already been shortened by a head. Sir Walter Ralegh, who with some reason thought he owned the New World, tried to confiscate Gosnold's cargo of cedar and sassafras.9
Of all of the resources available to Gosnold, the most likely was his "relative" the Earl of Oxford, one of the only persons with sufficient clout to oppose Ralegh. It is also possible that Elizabeth's interest in the New World, as expressed through Southampton's participation, took precedence over Sir Walter's waning influence. Oxford and Gosnold may even have met in the elegant rooms of Otley Hall.10
In any event. the remarkable accounts of the voyage would not have been lost on a courtier, poet, and adventurer, whose plays and poems (properly understood) are a splendid rotogravure of the personalities and events of the late sixteenth century.
In addition to lending his own ship, Edward Bonaventure, to exploration, Oxford had already financed a voyage to America, dropping three thousand pounds (they were ducats in Merchant of Venice) in a venture that brought back only iron pyrites (fool's gold). He also fitted out and manned his ship as part of England's defense against the Spanish Armada. Because of his noble hobby of writing plays, Oxford would have picked up on more than Henry Hough's heath hen. In typical British style, Gosnold's sailors were not interested in cutting the trees and loading up the ship with its return cargo. The job fell to the customary group of gentlemen adventurers. In The Tempest it is Prince Ferdinand that dutifully stacks logs to prove his love for lovely Miranda. Brereton and Archer both tell us of the clear water, wild fruits, and tall cedars, all of which found their way into the lines of the play. At one point Ariel speaks of flying (easily and perhaps east?) to the Bermoothes.11
This brings us to the question of who wrote The Tempest. A dwindling number of Elizabethan "scholars", hard-put to defend authorship by an otherwise obscure person from Stratford-on-Avon, tried unsuccessfully to make a last stand in disproving the possibility of Oxford's nomination to "bardship". They cling to a published report of a shipwreck on Bermuda in 1610, six years after Oxford's death. If this was the scene of the play they ask, how could Oxford have written it? In their zeal they overlooked several accounts of wrecks on Bermuda before 1600; especially one of Henry May in 1593. In this earlier adventure, which involved Oxford's own ship, one of the sites on the map was already named Mount Oxford. The 1609 wreck on Bermuda, holy and necessary as it may be to the Strafordian heresy, has no special meaning for The Tempest.
While the man-on-the-street may be aware that there is a serious controversy about the identity of the person responsible for the Shakespeare canon, few realize that the overwhelming evidence against Stratford and for Oxford can no longer be ignored. Nor have they begun to comprehend the new insights into the social. political, economic, military, scientific, religious, theatrical, and of course literary history of Elizabethan life. The Polish scholar, Jan Kott, in his brilliant analysis of The Tempest12
, sees Prospero as a Gallilean (or Leonardian) magus. Near the end of his days he brings all of his characters; kings, villains, heroes, lovers, heroines, and buffoons; to an idyllic island. After putting them (for just one more time) through their paces, he takes them all away, leaving a composite and challenging image of his audience: Ariel as the freed human spirit, and Caliban as that other and less attractive part. One does not need to know who wrote the play to get this message; but the more we learn about the 17th Earl of Oxford, the clearer it is that he was the only one in his time that could (and would) have skewered us with this merry metaphor.
Shakespeare, for that was the way this pen name first saw the printed page, was also at the end of his days. He died shortly after Gosnold returned; The Tempest is believed to have been his last full play. Oxford, in real life a true Renaissance man, speaks through Prospero. As a descendant of the oldest earldom in England dating back to William the Conqueror; he was hereditary Lord High Chamberlain; had at least two groups of actors performing his and other plays; and led a group of scholars devoted to the improvement of not only the English language, but of language itself. He received a no-strings stipend of one thousand pounds a year from Elizabeth's secret service fund. Scholars believe that this was to support his writing of the "king" plays. His wise Queen knew that her nation needed a shot in the arm to stand up to the territorial and religious ambitions of Spain. Oxford's rough companions (of whom his father-in-law complained) provided ready material: The Henry IV shenanigans with Falstaff and other low life around Boar's Head Tavern really did happen.
Oxford's father died when he was twelve; his mother re-married in unseemly haste (such that the funeral meats would serve for the wedding cakes). The 16th Earl was buried, not unlike Macbeth's victim King Duncan, in Earl's Colne, the Oxford family chapel. Names such as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern show up in accounts of Swedish royal visits to Castle Hedingham, the Oxford family seat. Oxford married the daughter of his guardian, William Cecil (Lord Burleigh), the royal advisor most all scholars agree was the model for Polonius. Oxford visited the cities on the Continent where many of his plays take place. His version of the story of Romeo and Juliet is the only one (of many) that has the layout of the Town of Verona correct. His son-in-law was one of the "pair of noble brethren" who published the First Folio in 1623.
There is not space here to do justice to the whole story, nor do I need to convert the congenitively inconvertible. But the film, Shakespeare in Love, has unwittingly made a start in unravelling the literary DNA of authorship by giving us a young, romantic poet who suspiciously could barely write his name. He could have been the Earl, but never the standard android of the Stratfordim. The film is filled with clever indications that either Hollywood has joined the cover-up or is secretly trying to get out of the Stratfordian closet.
At this point it may help to discuss briefly the Tudor Heir (also called the Prince Tudor) theory. Based on inspired literary analysis, dating back to the 1920's, and supported by plentiful (although challenged) historic data, the connection of Elizabeth, Oxford, and Southampton can be read as "filial". Modern biographers have granted Her Highness a measure of "normal" romantic behavior; other scholars joust around the clock on the Internet about what was really going on. The Tudor theory has Elizabeth excusing herself from a royal progress long enough to bear a "changeling child" (Titania's in A Midsummer Night's Dream) who was then packed off along with a team of Tudor retainers to the Wriothesley family seat to become the Third Earl of Southampton. Throughout his life Oxford acted at least in loco parentis toward this young Earl; it is generally believed that he is the object of many of the sonnets. And of course both Venus and Adonis and Lucrece were dedicated to him.
While even Oxfordian scholars disagree, the Southampton-Oxford-Elizabeth triangle makes for the best explanation of the need for an alias for the greatest body of literature in the English language. Elizabeth's main problems were her need to keep France at bay by entertaining the bizarre courtship of the Duc d'Alencon; and whether she should/could have an heir. The cover-up was effective, not because they lacked DNA testing, but because Elizabeth was an absolute monarch on an unreasonably uneasy throne. Southampton was not officially recognized. But the plays and sonnets, once their authorship has been understood, are very hard to ignore. He survived his putative father, Oxford; and his royal mother to become a star at the Court of King James I. Like his father and grandfather, he had his own troup of actors to carry on a great tradition. The winter of Oxford's death, James commanded seven of his plays to be performed in memoriam. There is no recorded public recognition of the passing of a grain merchant from Stratford-on-Avon.
Oxford fathered three daughters and three sons; a Henry, and Edward, and of course Henry Wriothelsley, Bartholomew Gosnold's friend. The Tudor theory, although unproven and perhaps unprovable, is now the subject of intense research. It is not essential to tie The Tempest to Cuttyhunk and the Vineyard, but it does make the connection more challenging. It is becoming increasingly painful for those who still believe in (and who have become so economically dependent on) a Stratfordian of whom there is no more than a page and a half of verifiable facts; none of which have anything to do with writing plays or sonnets. But this was no problem for Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Freud, Bismark, de Gaulle, Disraeli, Charlie Chaplin, John Buchan, Galsworthy, Whittier, Emerson, Henry James, and two out of three supreme court justices asked to rule on the authorship in mock trials. They are all on record in their rejection of Mr. Shagsper of Stratford. We may never know what wise Henry Hough believed.
Adherents to the traditional scenario dismiss the Oxfordians as "historicists"; they in turn are considered the Keepers of the Myth. Hiding behind a hoary scrim of "perhaps-would-have-probably-might well have been" assertions, they refuse to accept the possibility that their hero was anything other than "a common man." His noble status automatically disqualifies Lord Edward for the job. They can not offer a scrap of evidence for any education for Wilyum (limned as the rube in As You Like It), but are not troubled by the fact that Oxford could read and translate Latin, Greek, French, Italian, and perhaps Spanish. He had degrees from Oxford and Cambridge, and attended the (law) Inns of Court. As a child he learned about nature from the leading naturalist of his day, was an accomplished musician (and composer), and never lost a bout in Elizabeth's tournaments. His plays and poems are about love, war, revenge, history, greed, and folly; but above all about cause and effect; about responsibility. When our founding fathers and mothers came to the New World they brought along the Magna Carta, the King James, Geneva, and Douai versions of the Bible-as well as the works of Shakespeare. Our Constitution, laws, and high court decisions are laced with quotations and borrowed phrases. Notes in Oxford's hand in his own Bible, now in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, have been found to have an uncanny correlation with biblical references in the plays and poems. Thus when it came time for "common men" to govern themselves in a "brave new world" our uncommon hero was right at hand.
Perhaps we can leave it here, reserving many happy hours of armchair exploration of Queen Bess's boys, both explorers and poets, if only to erase four hundred years of mendacity and disinformation. Wouldn't we all like to know more about the real adventurers who "discovered" these enchanted islands – and about an imaginative and appropriately irreverent poet that knew them when? Recent research has found that Gosnold's angel, Southampton, led his nation away from a policy of leaving the New World to Spain. One can only wonder at the fact that this article is being written in English; or that it is not being posted from New South Wales.
- Levermore, Charles Herbert, Ph.D; Forerunners and Competitors of the Pilgrims and Puritans; Brooklyn NY 1912; Volume I
- Introduction by Arthur Railton, editor of The Dukes County Intelligencer, journal of the Island's historical society, in which this article first appeared in a shorter form.
- Eisenstadt, Alfred; and Hough, Henry Beetle; Martha's Vineyard; Viking Press 1970
- Rev. Edward Everett Hale (1822-1909), Unitarian minister in Boston, most remembered for his short novel, The Man Without a Country, 1863
- Gookin, Warner F. and Barbour, Philip L., Bartholomew Gosnold: Discoverer and Planter, Archon Books, Hamden CT, 1963. After Gookin's death in 1953, Barbour put Gookin's work into publishable form under the sponsorship the The Duke's County Historical Society.
- Gookin was Society Historian for a number of years, including while researching the Gosnold manuscript. On his death, Henry Hough took over the position.
- Richard Hakluyt (1552-1616), a leading English geographer and publisher, was a promoter of English colonization of North America and a member of the London Virginia Company.
- And Plymouth Rock would be just another boulder. America's founders would have been entrepreneurs, not Pilgrims, and we may not have had a Thanksgiving Dinner to celebrate.
- Ralegh was already importing sassafras (a valuable medical ingredient believed to be both an aphrodisiac, and helpful in treating resultant disorders) from other places. Gosnold's cargo would have flooded his market, destroying his monopolistic pricing.
- Otley Hall in Suffolk, a 15th century moated house set in ten acres of gardens seven miles north of Ipswich, the home of the poet, historian, and philosopher Nicholas Hagger. It is available for social functions, conferences and seminars, including those devoted to Oxfordian studies.
- While the genesis of The Tempest is obviously Mediterranean, and the story does not depend upon any New World lore, Shakespeare-Oxford was open to anything that could make his theater lively. As we begin to decipher his pungent sources and electrifying references it is easy to see him using this material hot off the dock. Scholars have speculated on another possible source for the term "Bermoothees". There was a lawless and intemperate section of London with that name along about that time. The playwright we know would not have hesitated to forge this double entendre, especially for the rakes in the loges and rabble in the pit.
- Kott, Jan; Shakespeare Our Contemporary, W.W. Norton & Company, 1974
- This article was suggested by: Cali, Grace; Shakespeare's Tempest Locale: Cuttyhunk?. Shakespeare-Oxford Society Newsletter, Vol.30 No.1; Winter 1994