A Brave Vessel

A Brave Vessel

A Brave VesselA Brave Vessel

By: Hobson Woodward

In a well-researched, but always engaging narrative, Hobson Woodward explores the connection between William Shakespeare’s The Tempest and the voyage of the Sea Venture, a ship sent to supply the floundering colony at Jamestown, Virginia in 1609. If you’re not a Shakespeare fan, it’s still a fascinating look at an often-overlooked aspect of American history as well as how current events often inspire brilliant art.

The Sea Venture, the titular brave vessel, was separated from the other six ships of the Jamestown supply fleet during an epic hurricane. Admiral George Somers spotted land, correctly identifying it as Bermuda. For the next nine months, the castaways survived on the uninhabited land, weathering numerous mutinies (some wished to stay in Bermuda instead of continuing to Virginia), a murder, two births, and a marriage. No rescue was forthcoming, so they built two small ships from wood scavenged from the wrecked Sea Venture and successfully sailed to Jamestown with supplies.

Shakespeare’s The Tempest mirrors the published account of an obscure poet, William Strachey, who was a Sea Venture passenger and Bermuda castaway, as well as godfather to both babies born on Bermuda. Strachey’s literary mediocrity and the lack of a wealthy patron forced him to take a clerk position in Jamestown, and his meticulous writings are his only claim to fame today. Academics debate how much Shakespeare actually borrowed from Strachey, but Woodward makes a strong case for Strachey’s influence. As he says in the prologue, “The greatest writer of the English language was a bit of a literary pickpocket. Shakespeare was a voracious reader and extracted language and ideas from contemporary and classical literature alike. Such homage to the works of others was not only tolerated in Jacobean England, it was expected, and Shakespeare was a master.”

Review By: Julia Welzen