Tempest's Red Herrings: Does "Bermoothes " = Bermuda
or "Caliban " = Cannibal?
by W. Ron Hess
from his The Dark Side of Shakespeare trilogy, Sections 3.B, 4.A.6, B.5.6, & C.3
At the April 19, 2003 Smithsonian Associates panels debate of
Chiljan-Hess-Sobran vs. May-Matus-Nelson, orthodox Stratfordian author Irvin
Matus announced discovery of a pre-1610 instance of Bermuda described as
"Bermoothes," and he implied this somehow "proved" the date
of Shakespeare's writing of The Tempest could not be earlier than 1610.
Why 1610? Because that was
the year William Strachey's story of a shipwreck in Bermuda was available in
manuscript. But, as Katherine
Chiljan pointed out, the Strachey manuscript wasn't published until 1625, long
after Mr. Shakspere of Stratford had died and after Tempest had appeared
in writing for the first time in the 1st folio of 1623. So, Matus and his orthodox colleagues argue that Mr.
Shakspere "must have" read from Strachey's unpublished manuscript and
then rushed to insert it into his play in time to have it's first known
performance at Court in 1611. Understandably,
many have felt this string of orthodox conjectures are weak, so they've strained
to find more links of Tempest to the Americas and presumably to 1610,
when some of Montaigne's essays touching on cannibals were first published (an
example of the orthodox approach is at www.shakespearedc.org/pastprod/tempoet.html).
They've noted "Caliban's" name in Tempest was NEARLY an
anagram for "cannibal," implying an American context (observers of our
political processes all agree that we still "eat our own" here in
"the New World"). So,
because the 17th Earl of Oxford died in 1604, is the case closed
against him as a potential author of Tempest?
Not at all! "Caliban" is only a NEAR anagram for canNibal, but it is an EXACT anagram for "in Cabal," which the O.E.D. shows to have been an alternative name for the Jewish book of the occult and magic, "the Cabala." After all, the occult was a major feature of the plot of Tempest, with sorcerer "Prospero" using the dark arts for his purposes. And within the Cabala is a demon of darkness "Kaliban" and an angel of the air "Uriel," apparent sources for two important names in Tempest (orthodox Prof. Nelson's new book emphasizes Oxford’s fascination with the occult!). Moreover, although nobody got eaten in the play (good evidence that Americans weren't involved), if anyone wished to chew on the orthodox cannibal arguments, they need not have waited for a 1610 Americas context, because the Odyssey provided a cannibal "Cyclops" living on a Mediterranean isle (the Romans equated that "three-cornered isle" with Sicily). Sure enough, all relevant references to the place of action in Tempest put Prospero's isle in the vicinity of Sicily, somewhere between a wedding in Tunis of the "King of Tunis" to the daughter of the "King of Naples," and a return to Naples. Here are a few samples of the many Tempest lines establishing the play’s locale:
<Ari.> Safely in harbor / Is the King's ship, in the deep nook, where once / Thou call'dst mee up at midnight to fetch dew / From the still vex'd Bermoothes, there she's hid; / The mariners all under hatches stowed, / Who, with a charm join'd to their suff'red labor, / I have left asleep; and for the rest o' th' fleet / Which I dispers'd, they all have met again, / And are upon the Mediterranean float / Bound sadly home for Naples, / Supposing that they saw the King's ship wrack'd, / And his great person perish....
Methinks our garments are now as fresh as / when we put them on first in
Afric, at the marriage / of the King's faire daughter Claribel to the King of /
Tunis.... <Adr.> Tunis was never grac'd before with such a /
paragon to their queen. / <Adr.> Widow Dido, said you? You make mee /
studie of that. She was of Carthage,
not of Tunis. / <Gon.> This Tunis, sir, was Carthage.
Other scholars before me have noted that the "Bermoothes" line refers to a past exercise at a different location than the isle where Tempest's action takes place. So, even if it does identify Bermuda it was meant to be quite superfluous. Others have also pointed out that the ship was said to be "safely in harbor," so this does not at all refer to a shipwreck, but more likely a grounding or abandonment by her distressed crew. Such details or criticisms have been neglected by orthodox scholars, who fixate on their 1610 dating regime.
There were good reasons from pre-existent literature for "Prospero's
isle" of magical healing to be in the general vicinity of Sicily.
For a few examples, in Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, the
isle of Lampedusa was a sort of Mediterranean "Avalon" where knights
could be taken for healing; the islands of Malta-Gozo had been where St. Paul
was shipwrecked in the Bible; the Lipari isles had been the home of the
"King of the Winds" in the Odyssey; and back into Sicilian
pre-history the isle of Favignana had been where the chariot of the Sun god fell
into the sea each night, with aspects of death-resurrection, loss-rediscovery.
Oxford's visit to Palermo made him the only Shakespeare candidate known
to have been to Sicily (while his son-in-law, the 6th Earl of Derby,
was the only other candidate known to have sailed on the Mediterranean)!
Which doesn't deny that some details of "Prospero’s" isle
could have originated elsewhere. In
1962 Georges Lambin argued some details came from a garden at a Tuscan villa
(see my trilogy's Appendix A for a full translation of Lambin's book).
In 1994 Grace Cali argued some pre-1602 events at the Maine island of
Cuttyhunk may have influenced details in Tempest.
And John Barton's 2003 article suggested details of Mersea island near
Oxford's Wivenhoe castle were consistent with details of Prospero's bleak isle.
Yet, Tempest's large-scale geography was completely in the
Mediterranean scope of Oxford's direct experience.
The connections of Oxford to Tempest only get better.
My trilogy's Chapters 3 and Appendix C presented evidence that Oxford's
travels to Italy in 1575-76 were an elaborate mission to contact, probe, engage,
and ultimately betray Don Juan of Austria, the heroic half-brother of Philip II
of Spain. When Oxford went to
Italy, Don Juan governed Sardinia, Sicily, Naples, and Milan.
Moreover, in 1573 Gregory XIII's Papal Bull had renewed his predecessor's
excommunication of Queen Elizabeth, declared her deposed in favor of Mary Queen
of Scots, wed Mary to Don Juan (without consulting either party), and then
ordered Don Juan to invade England to make it all happen.
After his smashing victory over the Turks at the sea battle of Lepanto in
1571, Don Juan had become the darling of all who dreamed of military victory
over those other "infidel heretics," the Protestants.
Yet, the only activity his jealous half-brother Philip had allowed Don
Juan was as "Captain-Vicar" over the Viceroyalties of Spanish Italy,
command of the Spanish fleet in Messina, and a half-hearted conquest of Tunis in
1573. Ever a fan of Don Juan, the
Pope was inclined to name him "King of Tunis" and to groom him for
greater things. But in 1574, while
Don Juan was winning the great Jousting Tournament at Piacenza, the Turks sent
out a restored fleet and took back Tunis before a coronation could take place.
In 1576 to 78, Philip sent Don Juan to the Netherlands in a hopeless
attempt to quell the rebellion there. He
bore secret orders from Philip to prepare an invasion of England, inevitable
knowledge of which brought hysteria to England's noble circles, linking us back
to Oxford. For example, in July 1578 Gabriel Harvey read a Latin
encomium before the Queen and her Court, during which he elaborately praised
Oxford, predicted Oxford would destroy Don Juan (mentioned by name), equated the
latter with "Hannibal" (which explains Tempest's allusions to
"Carthage"), and portrayed Oxford as "Hector standing at
England’s gates" featuring the phrase "thine Will / Spears
shakes." Two months after this
prediction, Don Juan died of poison, Queen Elizabeth rewarded Oxford with the
grant of Castle Rysing, and Don Juan's ambitious invasion plans were shelved
until 1588, granting England a precious decade's reprieve (see my Sections 3.C
The significance of Tempest's geography (i.e., Milan, Naples, Sicilian isles, Tunis) was that it was the sphere of Don Juan's hegemony in the 1570s. Astonishingly, Tempest even alluded to a specific episode out of Don Juan's life from 1573. My trilogy's Section 4.A.6 provided the following citation from Stirling-Maxwell's 19th century biography of Don Juan (or "Don John" in England):
"...Don John of Austria lands at Goletta [the harbor fortress
overlooking Tunis] on the 9th of October 1573 -- Landing of the army... -- The
city is pillaged... -- A deputation from Biserta surrenders that place to Don
John... -- On the 20th he returns to Tunis, and soon afterwards sails from
Goletta -- Stormy voyage -- Don John puts into porto Farino [Tunisian coast,
halfway from Tunis to Bizerta], and has an interview with Horrux, the Governor
of Biserta -- Arrives at the isle of Favignana on the [1st] of November
-- Receives the news of the death of his sister, the Infanta Juana [dowager
Queen of Portugal and in 1559 the
Regent of Spain who helped ‛discover' the supposedly ‛lost'
12-years-old Don Juan] -- The fleet put into mourning -- On the 2nd of
November Don John casts anchor at Palermo -- Public reception there on the 8th
-- G. de Andrade brings in a Turkish galley [= Latin,
a "biremis"] -- On the 14th of November Don John arrives at
Naples -- His pursuits [winter 1573-74] -- His amours -- Diana di
Falanga -- Supplies for Tunis -- Negotiations with Gregory XIII to obtain the
Pontiff's intercession with Philip II in favour of Don John's assumption
of the Crown of Tunis...". (Vol. II, pg. v) [emphasis added]
Note that after Don Juan took Tunis he secured Bizerta's surrender, the
small fishing village oddly named in Boiardo's Orlando Innamorato and
Ariosto's Orlando Furioso as the mythical capital of the evil
"Saracen Empire." Attracted
to these mythical aspects, in 1535 Don Juan's father Emperor Charles V took
Bizerta during his only anti-Saracen crusade.
Note that the Pope was involved in naming Don Juan "King of
Tunis." Note the stormy voyage
with a delayed sorrowful arrival at the isle of Favignana off the western tip of
Sicily. Note the capture of a still
vex'd Biremis or "Turkish galley," likely informing
"Ariel's" still vex'd Bermoothes line.
As noted later on pg. 17, some Spanish ships had wrecked on Favignana,
the galley had been captured in Bizerta, and in the process 150 Turks were taken
(just the right number of oar slaves for a "biremis").
Note Don Juan's pursuit of a virginal "Diana," a possible
inspiration for Tempest's "Miranda."
At www.bright.net/~tratclif/gurps/vehicles/oarterms.htm we see "biremis"
was a then-used word. It begins:
"...between the Siege of Troy and the Battle of Lepanto," features the
topic of "biremis" or "bireme" (a class of warship with two
banks of oars), then ends with the topic of "Galeazza di Lepanto."
The "trireme" featured three banks of oars, with a minimum of
170 slaves. So, a "biremis"
would have required about 2/3 of that, or a minimum of 120 slaves.
At www.chass.utoronto.ca/~wulfric/marine/traite.htm, Wooldridge's "Vocabulaire
de la marine a la Renaissance" lists "biremis" in 1573 and 1606
contexts, and http://translatio.ens.fr/langueXIX/onomastique offers a Turkish
biremis: "Biremis. Vox Turcica."
At www.angelfire.com/ga4/guilmartin.com/Galley.html are noted Don Juan
and his flagship Real at Lepanto, which had an astonishing 35 banks of
oars, each with 5 to 7 oarsmen per oar. If
there were 100 oars per bank, that would have required 15,000 oarsmen.
It must have been a rapacious floating fortress, and no wonder that its
cannons destroyed the Turkish flagship and after it the larger Turkish fleet.
The 1599 edition of Hakluyt's Voyages (dedicated to Oxford's
brother-in-law Robert Cecil) had in it a section partly written by Oxford's
sometime secretary Anthony Munday (pgs. 246-67).
Munday described the harrowing adventures in 1576-77 of John Fox, who
freed 266 Christian prisoners in Alexandria, seized a Turkish galley, narrowly
eluded capture, and doubled-up at the oars ("their labour with the oares,
in helping one another") in rowing to Crete and Italy.
Munday was in Rome when they were greeted by the Pope.
The point is their doubling-up likely meant they had seized a biremis,
since they were too few to fully double-up for a triremis. Also, their "famine" (likely also lacking water)
caused 8 men to die in 2 weeks. They
would have added to their water by collecting "dew" condensation from
the morning mists on the sails (so, "fetching dew" from a "vexed
biremis" originally may have had the sinister occult connotation of
stealing vital essence from a beleaguered-famished ship!).
That section of Voyages ended with 1579 to 81 letters between
Queen Elizabeth and Sultan Murad, with release of "captivi triremibus,"
translated within as "captives in your Gallies."
Even if the superior "biremis" context for
"Bermoothes" did not exist, Alan Tarica suggested to me that a
"Berber" context existed still better than a Bermuda one in light of
the Don Juan episode above. Besides
Don Juan as "King of Tunis" and his Oct. 1576 disguise as a
black-faced Moorish slave (= Berber) as he infiltrated across France from Madrid
to the Netherlands, there is a less direct connection.
Descendants of Berber slaves are majority inhabitants of the
sweet-water-deprived Tunisian isle of Jerba, which today's tourism industry
calls the "Polynesia of the Mediterranean" (though its water is piped
to it, in olden times reliant on "dew").
In 1559-60, Philip II led a crusade against Tripoli that fell far short
of its mark but did occupy Jerba, using Malta and Lampedusa as supply stations.
Philip as usual proved incompetent in military matters and quickly lost
interest, returning to Spain. Meanwhile,
the Turks sallied forth with a huge fleet, invested both Jerba and Malta, and
captured over 10,000 Christians at Jerba, most of them disappearing into the
maws of Turkish slave galleys ( = biremes or triremes).
It was a tremendous disgrace to all Europe, greatly encouraging the Dutch
Protestants in their rebellion against Philip.
As to Malta, it was periodically attacked by the Turks but never taken.
In 1565, partly to erase Philip's ignominy at Jerba, Philip's son Don
Carlos, nephew Don Alessandro (Prince of Parma), and half-brother Don Juan fled
from Madrid heading for Barcelona with the intention of volunteering to fight
for the Knights of Malta. In their
company was a young captain, Bernardino Mendoza, but early in the journey two of
the Princes lost courage and turned back. When
Mendoza and 18-year-old Don Juan reached Barcelona, Mendoza had him arrested and
taken back to Madrid. Mendoza did
reach Malta, served there and at Oran for several years before becoming a Knight
in the service of the Duke of Alba in the Netherlands, and in 1578 he was Don
Juan's commander of the horse at the "miraculous" battle of Gemblours
and then his duplicitous emissary to Queen Elizabeth in London (see my trilogy's
Chapter 3; Mendoza's high rank as a Knight in the Order of Santiago was
among his many qualities inspiring Othello's "Iago").
Jerba, Malta, and Berbers were vexing topics in the 1570s, and after Don
Juan's sack of Tunis we can be sure that there were at least a few "still
vex'd Berbers" in that region too!
If Don Juan's episode was part of Shakespeare's "origination"
scenario for Tempest, would Shakespeare have known all the above without
having encountered Don Juan? It was
improbable that Mr. Shakspere of Stratford would have learned such things or
encountered Don Juan, but almost certainly Oxford did!
One of the many things Oxford would have known was that from about 1574
to as late as Feb. 1578 there were secret efforts by emissaries from both sides
to negotiate marriage between Queen Elizabeth and Don Juan (despite the
latter’s affiance via the Papal Bull of 1573 to the already-married Mary
Stuart). So, who married the
"King of Tunis" in Tempest?
She was the daughter of the "King of Naples," a title held in
the 16th century by Spain's Philip II.
The name "Claribel" is the Latin root for "clarity"
contracted with the name "Isabel," and it turns out that one of Philip
II's daughters was indeed named Isabella, and there were some discussions in
1573-78 of marrying her to her slightly older uncle Don Juan so that they could
jointly rule the Netherlands and give Philip a face-saving exit from his endless
troubles there. But,
"Isabel" was also the Spanish equivalent of "Elizabeth."
Though not quite as young as Philip II's daughter, Queen Elizabeth was
the much-younger half-sister of Philip's 2nd wife, Mary Tudor, the
"Bloody Mary" of England. So
Tempest had a double entendre in slyly having Queen Elizabeth (= "Claribel")
marry Don Juan (= the "King of Tunis").
When was Tempest "originated?"
In addition to the 1570s allusions just mentioned from my trilogy, my
article Hess-1999 (56) proposed Tempest derived from an ur-Tempest
related to the Love's Labour's Wonne play mentioned by Francis Meres in
1598, and it turned out that Holland in 1923 (105-07) and Dickinson in 2001
(536-38) independently proposed something similar.
Hess-1999 also proposed a major Tempest rewrite in the waning
months of 1600 in conjunction with a visit to Queen Elizabeth by Duke Orsino of
Bracciano, cousin of the Marie de Medicis whose Sept. 1600 proxy marriage to
Henri IV was identified by Lambin as the analog for "Miranda's"
betrothal to "Ferdinando." So,
it seems that as indicated in my trilogy's Section B.5.6, an ur-Tempest
was "originated" in about 1576-77 (to account for the abundant
references to Don Juan), and then there were various periods when revamps,
rewrites, and even complete restructures of the play occurred up to late-1600 to
"someone" (like Derby for example) have added things to the play
during a 1610-11 revival, at that time confusing the original name "Biremis"
with the newer name "Bermoothes?"
Perhaps, but I’ve yet to see anything suggested that HAD to have been
inserted after 1601. For example,
some have suggested the "Bermoothes" London suburb may have existed
then, and later it's riots and distilleries were infamous.
Even if there was a Bermuda-connection for Tempest (which is
doubtful), accounts reached London
in 1594 of the wreck in Bermuda of the Edward Bonaventure, a ship in
which Oxford had tried to invest in 1581; and this account was first published
in Hakluyt’s Voyages of 1600!
So, Matus has kindly shown that the name "Bermoothes" was used
prior to 1610. And the first and only time any word beginning with "Berm..."
appeared in Shakespeare's works was when Tempest first appeared in print,
in the 1623 1st folio. So,
we have no certainty what words were in an ur-Tempest of 1601, 1598, or
earlier. But there's no evidence that "Bermoothes" was the
determining word that orthodox scholars claim it to have been, or that it dates
"origination" of the entire play.
Rather, an abundance of evidence links this play back solidly to the
1570s, to Don Juan of Austria, and to the experiences of the 17th
Earl of Oxford. Nothing about Tempest
links significantly to a non-Mediterranean setting, to a post-1601 time-frame,
or to Mr. Shakspere the perpetrator of enclosure and grain hoarding in
Stratford. Nothing at all!
To conclude, Mr. Matus should be careful of the company he keeps,
especially those who persist in finding cannibals under every bush.
In his dark nights at the inner sanctum of the Folger Library when the
natives get restless, he should consider that orthodox Shakespeare scholars have
been less than civil to those who aid their opponents with our Oxfordian
arguments. Yes, they will "eat
their own." Bon appetite!
Barton, John, "Prospero's Island," The SOS News., 39.1, Win. 2003, 2, 4, 9, & 23.
Cali, Grace, "Shakespeare's Tempest Locale: Cuttyhunk?," The SOS News., 30.1, Winter 1994, 14-18.
Dickson, Warren. D., The Wonderful Shakespeare Mystery, Nashville, TN 2001, OMNI PublishXpress. 615/256-3344, ISBN 0-9717608-0-2
Hess, W. Ron, with Bloch, Howard W., & Chow, Winston C., "Shakespeare's Dates: Effects on Stylistic Analysis," The Oxfordian, Vol.II, Oct. 1999, 25-59.
– The Dark Side of Shakespeare, Vol. I: An Iron-fisted Romantic in England's Most Perilous Times, Lincoln, NE, 2002, Writers Club Press, 1-877-823-9235,
– Vol. II: An Elizabethan Courtier, Diplomat, Spymaster, & Epic Hero, Lincoln, NE, 2002, Writers Club Press.
– Vol. III: The Invincible Paladin, Maecenas, &King-maker of His Time, Lincoln, NE, 2002, Writers Club Press.
Holland, H. H., Shakespeare Through Oxford Glasses, Covent Garden, UK, 1923, Cecil Palmer.
Nelson, Alan, Monstrous Adversary: A Documentary Biography of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, Liverpool, 2003, Liverpool U. Press. (www.isbs.com).
Stirling-Maxwell, William, Don John of Austria, or Passages from the History of the Sixteenth Century 1547-1578, London, 1883, Longmans, Green.
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