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AFTER a careful examination of the sources from which Shakspeare appears to have derived hints for the plot, characters, and incidents of the present drama, the predominating impression left on our minds is that of its originality. In this instance, as in almost all others, the more he borrows, the more does his entire power over his materials become apparent. The vulgar is metamorphosed into the refined; the crude outlines are filled up with well-establi, hed life; shadows are changed into substance, or substance into shadow; and the whole is put in motion, not like a new set of things, but with the crowded impetus of forgone existences, and all their complex activities.
A wild-headed, old “conceitede comedie,” called “MUCEDORUS,” has been thought by a pleasant critic of antiquarian literature (Octavius Gilchrist by name), to have furnished Shakspeare with the first idea of the plot and persons of the “ TEMPEST.” The passages he adduces in support of his opinion are amusing from their dissimilarity. The romantic monster in “Mu
CEDORUS” makes love to the heroine princess in so truly poetical and touching a strain, that she absolutely consents to live with him in the woods; but eventually receives the hand of her royal lover! Still, there may be some slight foundation for the critical fancy.
It should be observed, that certain kinds of harmless “monsters” were in high favor with the court at this period. We find in the old chronicles and black-letter correspondence, that Queen Elizabeth, during a hunting excursion, was occasionally met, “all unawares;” by some savage man issuing out of the woods, his naked body overgrown “with mosse and yvie.” Instead of flourishing his club so as to bring his rich prize to the ground, and carry her off to his cave, according to his nature and “ usual custom of an afternoon,” the savage man made her a profound bow, and instantly fell to reciting a well-conceited batch of complimentary verses, very pleasant to hear.
A far more feasible origin of the “ TEMPEST” than the old, and once very popular comedy of “MUCEDORUS," may be superstitiously traced to an account by one Sylvester Jourdan of the discovery of the Bermudas. In this Fe find a narrative of the shipwreck of Sir George Somers, who was on a voyage for the purpose of colonizing Virginia. He was cast on the Bermuda Islands, then uninhabited, and generally believed to be enchanted; although a benevolent commentator on Jourdon edifies and comforts his readers with the assurance that they were not really enchanted. Several mutinies occurred while Sir George Somers and his people remained on the island; and a sea-monster-man had once shewn himself to some of the party whose eyes were best suited to the raro discovery. Stowe, in his “ ANNALS," speaking of this shipwreck upon “the dreadful coast,” further remarks, that these islands “ were, of all nations, said and supposed to be enchanted and inhabited with witches and devills, which grow by reason of accustomed monstrous thunder, storms, and tempests.” This account by old Stowe of the elemental growth and generation of the hags and imps and devils and abortions of the island, is fearfully fine. Caliban and Sycorax and Setebos, might well be imagined to have first glared into life through the long fermenting incantation of “ accustomed monstrous thunder."
The narrative of the shipwreck of Sir George Somers was published in 1610: the romantic drama of the * TEMPEST,” in 1611. It is supposed to have been the last of Shakspeare's productions. How beautiful the thought, that after his hard struggle with the common world, and the liccntious society into which he had been so much thrown, he should yet have preserved the freshness of heart, the youth of mind, the purity of affection, and the magnanimity of soul, which pervade this “enchanted” drama.
R. H. H