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«Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft Ausgabe 9 (2011) Shakespeare’s (Un)fortunate Travellers: Maritime Adventures across the Genres ...»

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Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft

Ausgabe 9 (2011)

Shakespeare’s (Un)fortunate


Maritime Adventures across the



Shakespeare Seminar 9 (2011)


The Shakespeare Seminar is published under the auspices of the Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft,

Weimar, and edited by:

Christina Wald, Universität Augsburg, Fachbereich Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Universitätsstr. 10, D-86159 Augsburg (christina.wald@phil.uni-augsburg.de) Felix Sprang, Universität Hamburg, Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Von-Melle-Park 6, D-20146 Hamburg (felix.sprang@uni-hamburg.de)


Shakespeare Seminar Online is a free annual online journal. It documents papers presented at the Academic Seminar panel of the spring conferences of the Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft. It is intended as a publication platform especially for the younger generation of scholars. You can find the current Call for Papers on our website.


ISSN1612-8362 © Copyright 2011 Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft e.V.


Introduction Christina Wald and Felix Sprang

The Young Man and the Sea: Shakespeare’s Hope of a Dry Death Paul J.C.M. Franssen

Medieval vs. Early Modern: Travel Narratives and other Genres in The Tempest Kirsten Sandrock

The Sea as an Epic Signifier Thomas Kullmann

Shipwrecks and Lost Identities in Shakespeare’s Plays: The Case of Pericles Simonetta de Filippis.

The Tempest Re-Envisioned:

Encounters with the Sea in Iris Murdoch and Derek Jarman Ursula Kluwick.

Call for Statements – Shakespeare Seminar at the Shakespeare-Tage 2012................ 66




Shakespeare’s (Un)fortunate Travellers:

Maritime Adventures across the Genres From The Comedy of Errors to The Tempest Shakespearean drama is imbued with maritime adventure, drawing on the larger cultural appeal which oceanic spaces clearly held for early modern travellers. Maritime adventures both connect the homely landlocked places and potentially disrupt all man-made lines of cultural connection.

Shipwreck is part of this wager, a necessary figure of the risks incurred through human efforts to shape and forge the future, frequently enacted on the stage. Plays such as The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, Othello, Antony and Cleopatra, Pericles and, of course, The Tempest explicitly point to the dangers involved in seafaring, but the spectacle of risk also surfaces in the rhetoric of many other plays and, indeed, in many narratives and poems whenever navigation provides a repertoire of tropes.

Plots based on maritime adventure are by no means just confined to drama, but are frequently involved in tales and travelogues. Some of the most appealing scenes in prose narratives, such as the romances by Sidney and Greene, in fact are scenarios of shipwreck and have, among others, inspired Shakespeare when writing his plays.

Biblical accounts like St Paul’s shipwreck in the Acts or the tale of Jonah, too, serve as a further source of inspiration and of figurative meaning, manifest in poems such as Donne’s Hymn to Christ, at the Author’s Last Going Into Germany or in emblems such as Alciato’s Spes proxima.

The papers in this volume address the question how maritime adventures travelled from the page to the stage and back to the page. What narrative devices, what rhetorical figures and what performative strategies are in each case used to represent the vast illimitable spaces and the terrors of the sea which, strictly speaking, always exceed representation? In what ways and with which terms is this problem of representation addressed in stories, plays or poems, in specific performances or screenings?

The contributions to this volume address these questions. Paul J.C.M. Franssen investigates colonial myth-building in fictional texts from the 20th century that present Shakespeare as a character engaged in colonial endeavours. Kirsten Sandrock explores generic features and traditional narratives in The Tempest arguing that travel narratives and reports of sea voyages had a decisive influence on the structure and theme of that play. Referring to these structural and thematic elements, she explores the boundary drawn between medieval and early modern culture. Thomas Kullmann scrutinizes humility as a human response to storms in the literal and metaphorical sense. He argues that humility brought about by a reflection of the sea is an integral part of

2 Introduction

Renaissance culture at large and Shakespeare’s plays in particular. Simonetta de Filippis traces the ideological as much as theatrical function of ships and shipwrecks on the Shakespearean stage. Looking in closer detail at Pericles, she examines the protagonist’s quest as a search for his lost identity and as the result to come to terms with his ‘secret wound’ in the sense elaborated by Julia Kristeva. Ursula Kluwick looks at how early modern conceptions of the ocean are realigned in Iris Murdoch’s prose adaption of The Tempest, The Sea, The Sea, and Derek Jarman’s film The Tempest. Personal and social issues introduced by Murdoch and Jarman highlight that our fascination with the ocean is rooted in early modern conceptions of the sea as a remnant of pre-Creation chaos, as a zone with limited human control.

–  –  –

Maritime adventure is a frequent theme in Shakespeare’s work; but it carries with it the dangers of shipwreck in strange places like Illyria, or, closer to home, in the Goodwins. Even those who avoid a watery grave may exit this life pursued by a bear on the notorious Bohemian seashore. Antony foolishly abandons the safety of the land to fight the sea battle of Actium, and never recovers. All too often, water spells danger to Shakespeare. One could read this in mimetic terms, as a reflection of the real dangers to seafarers at a time when ships regularly returned from voyages with decimated crews; or in terms of generic expectations, when the romances and comedies, in particular, speak of relatives divided by the sea, only to be miraculously reunited, or argosies presumed lost that are restored at the end.

Fictions of Shakespeare’s life, which may be seen as an important cultural way of dealing with Shakespeare’s meaning for a certain age, a certain nation, a certain author, are often based on the assumption that themes and events that figure largely in Shakespeare’s works must have played a comparable role in his life. This often goes so far that plot elements of Shakespeare’s works are projected into the gaps of his known biography. For instance, as many of his plays are set in Italy, there are fictions about him travelling to Italy, and witnessing scenes from his Italian plays there. Similarly, since Shakespeare wrote so much about love, stories of Shakespeare in Love have featured in plays, novels, and films from at least 1804 onwards. When it comes to sea travel, however, this is not so. Perhaps it is the fear of a watery grave, Gonzalo’s prayer for “a dry death” (Tempest 1.2.60) in the midst of the tempest, that has given rise to the opposite motif: Shakespeare having a cat-like aversion to water. In Erica Jong’s Serenissima, for instance, Shakespeare gets sea-sick crossing from Venice to main-land Italy (154). Anthony Burgess’s Shakespeare, too, becomes violently seasick during a voyage to Spain (6). Wiser Shakespeares do not even leave the shore: in a satirical sketch by “A.P.H.,” published in Punch in 1940, Shakespeare and his wife ponder the pros and cons of joining up with Drake to fight the Armada. Shakespeare likes the idea of gaining experience, something to write about; yet he hesitates, saying he would hate to deprive the world of his talents by drowning. Fortunately, his valour is not put to the test, as news is brought in that the Armada has already been defeated.

In various ways, these fictions contrast the man of action and the intellectual. If the Punch sketch sees Shakespeare’s hesitation as cowardice, and a sign of his inferiority to contemporaries like Drake, other authors are milder in their verdict, and see his talent as compensating for his lack of physical prowess.

4 Shakespeare’s Hope of a Dry Death A special form of this motif occurs in connection with one of the most daring seaventures of the period: the colonization of America. There, typically, Shakespeare looks on from the sidelines while others do the real exploring; yet, this is not seen as a weakness but as a way of saving Shakespeare for his real destiny, writing his plays, in particular that classic of colonial literature, The Tempest.

The history of associations between The Tempest and the New World has been traced by Peter Hulme, William H. Sherman, the Vaughans, and many others. It was Edmond Malone who first pointed out the Bermuda pamphlets dealing with the wreck of the Sea Venture as a possible source in 1808 (Vaughan and Vaughan, Caliban 119).

By 1898, Sidney Lee and Rudyard Kipling concurred in identifying the Bermudas, a British colony some 1000 kilometres east of the American mainland, as the original of Prospero’s island (Vaughan and Vaughan, Caliban 120, 123). Kipling had visited the Bermudas, and been struck by its resemblance to Prospero’s island. In an article, he suggested that Shakespeare, who was not known to have travelled across the ocean himself, could have learned of the island from sailors (Kipling, “Tempest”). Much later, Kipling used his theory as the basis of a narrative poem, “The Coiner” (1931), in which an anonymous player, easily recognizable as Shakespeare, notes down the exaggerated tales of adventure he hears in a tavern from some sailors who had been shipwrecked on the island. He pays them handsomely for their mixture of lies and truth. The sailors think they have had the better of their unknown benefactor, as he paid them for a pack of lies; but Shakespeare tells them that he is a “coiner” who can turn their lead into gold, their experiences into art. Clearly, the sailors are naïve in believing they got the better of the deal: Kipling suggests that, much as these protoimperial adventurers are to be admired for their courage, the raw material of their experience, like other colonial wares, can only get its true value when refined by a genius of Shakespeare’s standing. In the imperial project, too, of which Kipling was the great propagandist, the pen is mightier than the sword.

In a similar vein, dramatist Clemence Dane imagines Shakespeare turning to his imperial destiny after his pursuit of love has proved fruitless. When Marlowe has died accidentally in a quarrel with Shakespeare over the fickle Dark Lady, Queen Elizabeth speaks to the chastened Bard of his destiny. At a time when British ships are going out to colonise the world and defy the might of Spain, England stands in need of a national poet, she tells him, someone who will unify the nation through his adventures of the


I send my ships where never ships have sailed, To break the barriers and make wide the ways For the after world.

Send you your ships to the hidden lands of the soul, To break the barriers and make plain the ways Between man and man. Why else were we two born? (176) If British authors like Kipling and Dane see Shakespeare as a spokesman for the British Empire, Americans gave this motif an inflection of their own, as Michael Bristol and others have argued. As in Germany, Shakespeare was also “nostrified” in nineteenth-century America, be it for different reasons. As Kim Sturgess argues, Shakespeare was exempt from American hostility to the mother country. He stood for

Shakespeare Seminar 9 (2011) Paul J.C.M. Franssen

the Elizabethan spirit of adventure as well as the English language – supposedly preserved better in America than in Britain – that was needed to hold this nation of immigrants together (77-78). Also Shakespeare’s supposed democratic tendencies appealed to Americans. Finally, the doctrine of Manifest Destiny called for comparisons with the British Empire (102-03), so that gradually the initial hostility against the English gave way to the “Special Relationship,” galvanized by fighting on the same side in two World Wars. The Vaughans, too, speak of a “cultural and political rapprochement between England and the United States” at the turn of the century, as “the two English-speaking democracies discovered reasons for cooperation and mutual respect” (Caliban, 124-25). Whereas Britain needed an ally in a world of growing international competition, Americans of English descent became proud of their heritage under pressure of immigration from different parts of the world (125). This resulted in a transnational “virulent Anglo-Saxon racism” and a belief in “a common destiny of world leadership” (126).

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