[Frontispiece to Canto 41: 'the Tempest'. Click thumbail for bigger image.]
I read Robert NcNulty's edition of Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, Translated by Sir John Harrington (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1972), and found myself particularly struck by the illustrations: each canto is faced by a splendid frontispiece. Now, what I’m interested in here is the possibility that this text, and specifically its pictures, was one of the inspirations for The Tempest. The proposal is that Shakespeare saw these images, and that they, rather than (or in addition, but prior, to) verbal sources, lie behind his ideas for the play.
This is an unconventional way of considering the inspiration behind Shakespeare’s play. Frank Kermode runs through various proposed sources for the Tempest by way of arguing that none of them seem very likely: a German play called Die Schöne Sidea by a fellow called Jakob Ayrer who died in 1605, in which the beautiful Sidea (a sort of Miranda-figure, daughter of a displaced mage) puts a young prince through various tasks such as log carrying to prove his worth in marrying her. But Kermode rather severely says: ‘the similarities between the two plays are not as striking as their advocates have suggested … there is no Caliban in the German play; no shipwreck; no significant system of magic … and the whole play is so naïf and buffoonish as to be beyond the possibility of serious consideration as the reflection of an important source.’
He goes on: ‘Since Ayrer failed to give complete satisfaction, rival sources were bound to be proposed.’ He notes two Spanish works: Antionio de Eslava’s Noches de Invierno (1609) and Diego Ortunez de Calahorra’s Espejo de Principes y Caballeros (1562). ‘For a while there was keen interest’ in these, Kermode says, but he is unimpressed. Of the second he says ‘there is not a single feature of the Spanish story that has a unique similarity to The Tempest’; and of the former he is even more dismissive: ‘this tale has not even an island to recommend it’ (the magician in it builds a palace underneath the sea).
Kermode’s overall point seems straightforward: The Tempest ‘draws its stories from a vast reservoir of primitive fiction’ [lxiii]; and whilst ‘analogues of the Tempest fable are, inevitably, quite plentiful’ [lxx] that’s not the same thing as saying that there is one source text which Shakespeare read and then adapted for his own play. Specifically, although Kermode can find various source stories containing some elements of the Tempest, he can find none that contains them all: the opening tempest; the ship containing ordinary seaman and various noble passengers, the nobleman who swims alone from the ship, thinking the others drowned, the ship that continues on its way; the island; the deposed magician-king and his daughter; Caliban; Ariel; the entire kit and caboodle.
So, here’s a story; see what you think of it: a ship containing noblemen and kings, and a valiant young Prince called Rogero, sets sail upon the Mediterranean. It encounters a fearful tempest, described in vivid terms that contain a good deal of specific nautical language and terminology. The crew struggle to keep the ship afloat, the passengers fear for their lives; Rogero, thrown overboard, swims heroically through the raging seas and makes landfall on a desert island. Against the expectations of the passengers the ship survives the storm, and sails on. On the island Rogero meets an old man who possesses supernatural wisdom, and who lives in a cell or cave. The old man’s business is to work Rogero round to a condition in which he is worthy of marrying the beautiful Bradamant—which he (the old man does) does. The story ends happily when Rogero is reunited, on the island, with various noblemen from whom he had previously been separated.
[Differences: the noblemen with whom Rogero is reunited are not the same ones he travelled with on the ship--they all drown (despite the fact that the ship is ultimately unharmed by the storm; they panicked and got into a longboat which was overturned by the sea). Bradamant is not the magician's daughter; she is unrelated. The magician's task is to convert Rogero to Christianity, not have him carry some logs about. But these strike me as small differences when stacked up against the major similarities listed above.]
This is Orlando Furioso cantos 41-43. —‘Rogero’ is Harrington’s version of the more usual Ruggiero. Now although I haven't been able to find scholars who have explored the possibility, I'm assuming it's taken for granted in Shakespeariean scholarship that Shax. at least may have had a read Harrington's Orlando Furioso in English Heroical Verses, published as it was in 1591. More specifically what I'm imagining is that he saw the illustration of the tempest and was struck by the imaginative possibilities it opened in his mind.
Other names from Harrington’s Ariosto sounds familiar too: there’s an Alfonso King of Sicily (Shakespeare’s Alonso, we recall, is King of Naples) whose son is called Ferdinand—and, moreover, Ferdinand becoming afterwards King of Naples [Ariosto: 33:23] Ariosto includes no Gonzalo (‘an honest old Councellor’, says the Folio), but he has no fewer than ten Gonzagos, amongst them Cardinals and counselors. There’s also Miranda-esque ‘Mirra’ (‘Mirra, in love with her father’ 25:36)
And Caliban? The plate of the tempest (the frontispiece to the 41st book, reprinted at the top of this post), is one of the more striking ones in the volume; but the plate to the 42nd book is even more interesting.
I'm particularly interested in this detail:
The name there is 'Malagigi', in case you can't read it. Picture Shakespeare looking at that: a nobleman (see how he is dressed) on an island, standing before the mouth of his cell, conversing with a beast-man, or devil. Let's say this image sticks in Shakespeare’s mind. He starts to imagine a story. Perhaps he leafs through the canto itself, looking for the text that underpins this image. Actually the story, in Ariosto's poem, concerns the mage 'Malagige' (as Harrington calls him) who inter alia summons a devil to find out what one of the protagonists, distant from him, is doing; but Harrington's translation is less than clear on this. Indeed, the 34th stanza sounds rather more like Prospero conjuring Ariel:
And straight from thence he go'th unto the place
Where he was wont the spirits to conjure,
A strong vast cave in which there was great space
The precepts of his Art he put in ure.
One spright he calls that of each doubtfull case
Of Cupids court could give him notice sure;
Of him he askt what bred Renaldos change;
By him he heard of those two fountains strange.
Spright, no less. Doesn't that sound to you like a scene from The Tempest, save only for the name of Renaldo and the fountain? The image from Canto 42 (nobleman conversing with beast-man/sprite before an island cell) and Canto 41 (violent tempest at sea) are clearly connected; so Shakespeare thinks. He begins to piece together the sort of narrative that this might be. Look again at the individual swimming away from the wreck in the frontispiece to 41, reproduced at the top of this post. This is how Harrington describes him:
Rogero for the matter never shranke
But still above the water keeps his hed,
And from farre off he sees that rockie banke
From which in vaine he and his fellowes fled.
He thither laboureth to get with swimming
In hope to get upon the same by climing.
With legges and armes he doth him so behave
That still he kept uppon the floods aloft.
He blowes out from his face the boistrous wave
That readie was to overwhelme him oft.
This while the wind aloofe the vessell drave
Which huld away with pase but slow and soft
From those that while they thought their death to shun
Now dide perhaps before the glasse was run.
And here’s Francisco’s account [II:i] of Ferdinand’s swim:
Fran. Sir he may liue,
I saw him beate the surges vnder him,
And ride vpon their backes; he trod the water
Whose enmity he flung aside: and brested
The surge most swolne that met him: his bold head
'Boue the contentious waues he kept, and oared
Himselfe with his good armes in lusty stroke
To th' shore; that ore his waue-worne basis bowed
As stooping to releeue him: I not doubt
He came aliue to Land
And here, finally and at greater length, is Ariosto/Harrington’s description of the tempest itself, signaled in the text by a marginal gloss: ‘A description of a tempest’
From the poop it changed to the side,
Then to the prore; at last it wherled round
In one place long it never would abide
Which doth the Pilots wit and skill confound
The surging waves swell still in higher pride,
While Proteus flocke did more and more abound
And seem to them as many deaths to threaten
As the ships sides with divers waves are beaten.
Now in their face the wind, straight in their backe,
And forward this and backward that it blowes
Then on the side it makes the ship to cracke.
Among the Mariners confusion growes,
The Master ruine doubts and present wrack,
For none his will nor none his meaning knows.
To whistle, becken, crie, it nought availes,
Somtime to strike, somtime to turne their sailes,
But there was none could heare nor see nor marke,
Their ears so stopt, so dazzled weree their eys
With weather so tempestuous and so darke,
And black thicke clouds that with the storm did rise
From whence somtime great ghastly flames did spark
And thunder claps that seemd to rend the skies,
Which made them in a manner deaffe and blind
That no man understood the Masters mind;
Nor lesse nor much lesse fearfull is the sound
The curell tempest in the tackle makes,
Yet each one for him selfe some business found
And to some speciall office him betakes:
One this untied, another that hath boynd,
He the Main bowling now restraines, now slakes
Some take oare, some at pumpe take paine
And power` the sea into the sea againe.
Behold a horrible and hideous blast
That Boreas from his frozen lips doth send
Doth backward force the saile against the mast
And makes the waves unto the skies ascend;
Then brake their oares and rudder eke at last.
Now nothing left from tempest to defend
So that the ship was swayd now quite aside
And to the waves layd ope her naked side.
Then all aside the staggring ship did reele,
For one side quite beneath the water lay
And on the tother side the verie keele
Above the water plaine discerne you may.
They thought they all hope past, and down they kneel
And unto God to take their soules they pray.
Worse danger grew then after this when this was past
By meanes the ship gan after leake so fast.
The wind, the waves to them no respite gave
But readie ev’rie houre to overthrow them.
Oft they were hoist so high upon the wave
They thought the middle region was below them.
Oft times so low the same their vessell drave
As though that Caron there his boat would show them.
Scant had they time and powre to fetch their breth,
All things did threaten them so present death.
Thus all that night they could have no release,
But when the morning somewhat nearer drew
And that by course the furious wind should cease,
(A strange mishap) the wind then fiercer grew,
And while their troubles more and more increase,
Behold a rocke stood plainly in their view,
And right upon the same the spitefull blast
Bare them perforce, which made them all agast.
Yet did the master by all meanes assay
To steare out roomer or to keepe aloofe
Or at the least to strike sailes if they may
As in such daunger was for their behoofe,
But now the wind did beare so great a sway
His enterprises had but little proofe.
At last with striving, yard and all was torne,
And part thereof into the sea was borne.
[Marginal gloss: They that have beene at the sea do understand these phrases]
Then each man saw all hope of saftie past.
No meanes there was the vessell to direct.
No helpe there was, but all away are cast
Wherefore their common saftie they neglect,
But out they get the ship-boat, and in hast
Each man therein his life strives to protect.
Of King nor Prince no man takes heed or note,
But well was he could get him in the bote.
Here’s the famous opening scene of Shakespeare’s play:
A tempestuous noise of Thunder and Lightning heard: Enter a Ship-master, and a Boteswaine.
Botes. Heere Master: What cheere?
Mast. Good: Speake to th' Mariners: fall too't, yarely, or we run our selues a ground, bestirre, bestirre.
Botes. Heigh my hearts, cheerely, cheerely my harts: yare, yare: Take in the toppe-sale: Tend to th' Masters whistle: Blow till thou burst thy winde, if roome enough.
Enter Alonso, Sebastian, Anthonio, Ferdinando, Gonzalo, and others.
Alon. Good Boteswaine haue care: where's the Master? Play the men.
Botes. I pray now keepe below.
Anth. Where is the Master, Boson?
Botes. Do you not heare him? you marre our labour, Keepe your Cabines: you do assist the storme.
Gonz. Nay, good be patient.
Botes. When the Sea is: hence, what cares these roarers for the name of King? to Cabine; silence: trouble vs not.
Gon. Good, yet remember whom thou hast aboord.
Botes. None that I more loue then my selfe. You are a Counsellor, if you can command these Elements to silence, and worke the peace of the present, wee will not hand a rope more, vse your authoritie: If you cannot, giue thankes you haue liu'd so long, and make your selfe readie in your Cabine for the mischance of the houre, if it so hap. Cheerely good hearts: out of our way I say.
Gon. I haue great comfort from this fellow: methinks he hath no drowning marke vpon him, his complexion is perfect Gallowes: stand fast good Fate to his hanging, make the rope of his destiny our cable, for our owne doth little aduantage: If he be not borne to bee hang'd, our case is miserable.
Botes. Downe with the top-Mast: yare, lower, lower, bring her to Try with Maine-course. A plague --
A cry within. Enter Sebastian, Anthonio &.
Gonzalo. vpon this howling: they are lowder then the weather, or our office: yet againe? What do you heere? Shal we giue ore and drowne, haue you a minde to sinke?
Sebas. A poxe o'your throat, you bawling, blasphemous incharitable Dog.
Botes. Worke you then. Anth. Hang cur, hang, you whoreson insolent Noyse-maker, we are lesse afraid to be drownde, then thou art.
Gonz. I'le warrant him for drowning, though the Ship were no stronger then a Nutt-shell, and as leaky as an vnstanched wench.
Botes. Lay her a hold, a hold, set her two courses off to Sea againe, lay her off.
Enter Mariners wet.
Mari. All lost, to prayers, to prayers, all lost.
Botes. What must our mouths be cold?
Gonz. The King, and Prince, at prayers, let's assist them, for our case is as theirs
Sebas. I'am out of patience
An. We are meerly cheated of our liues by drunkards, This wide-chopt-rascall, would thou mightst lye drowning the washing of ten Tides
Gonz. Hee'l be hang'd yet, Though euery drop of water sweare against it, And gape at widst to glut him.
A confused noyse within.
Mercy on vs. We split, we split, Farewell my wife, and children, Farewell brother: we split, we split, we split
Anth. Let's all sinke with' King
Seb. Let's take leaue of him.
Gonz. Now would I giue a thousand furlongs of Sea, for an Acre of barren ground: Long heath, Browne firrs, any thing; the wills aboue be done, but I would faine dye a dry death.
And from a little later in the play, Ariel’s account of the same scene:
Pro. Hast thou, Spirit,.
Performd to point, the Tempest that I bad thee
Ar. To euery Article.
I boorded the Kings ship: now on the Beake,
Now in the Waste, the Decke, in euery Cabyn,
I flam'd amazement, sometime I'ld diuide
And burne in many places; on the Top-mast,
The Yards and Bore-spritt, would I flame distinctly,
Then meete, and ioyne. Ioues Lightning, the precursors
O'th dreadfull Thunder-claps more momentary
And sight out-running were not; the fire, and cracks
Of sulphurous roaring, the most mighty Neptune
Seeme to besiege, and make his bold waues tremble,
Yea, his dread Trident shake
Pro. My braue Spirit,
Who was so firme, so constant, that this coyle
Would not infect his reason?
Ar. Not a soule
But felt a Feauer of the madde, and plaid
Some tricks of desperation; all but Mariners
Plung'd in the foaming bryne, and quit the vessell;
Then all a fire with me the Kings sonne Ferdinand
With haire vp-staring (then like reeds, not haire)
Was the first man that leapt; cride hell is empty,
And all the Diuels are heere
There’s a good deal of similarity of mood and tone: that a tempest is described, that a lot of nautical jargon is used ('They that have beene at the sea do understand these phrases'), that the prince escapes, that the boat which seemed sinking is spared. But there are relatively few specifically linguistic parallels. But that, I’d argue, is because it was Shakespeare’s visual imagination that was engaged by the book under his hand, rather than his verbal one; he was struck by the image—Prosperous nobleman, beastial caliban.