A New Source, A New Date for The Tempest, Part 1

Other researchers have proposed The Tempest contains an inherent theme related to the Hallowmas season.(fn. 1)  Such proposals have been based mainly on the first recorded performance date of The Tempest on November 1, 1611.

One such proponent, John Bender, admits ‘… I have studied the All Saints’ Day scriptures [from The Book of Common Prayer] in each of the three versions [of the Bible: King James, Bishops’, Geneva], and in none of them have found sure verbal parallels with Shakespeare’s language in The Tempest; …’(fn. 2)

Such admission is not surprising, once one considers the Collect from The Book of Common Prayer for All Saints Day (fn. 3):

Almighty God, which hast knit together thy elect in one communion and felowship, in the misticall body of thy son Christ our Lord: graunt vs grace so to folowe thy holy sainctes, in all vertues and Godly liuing, that we may come to those inspeakeable ioyes whiche thou haste prepared for them that unfainedly loue the, through Jesus Christ oure Lorde. Amen.

Said Collect neither represents The Tempest, nor do its related scriptures from Apocolypse 7:2-12 (the sealing of 144,000 of all the tribes of the children of Israel) and Matthew 5:1-12 (a recitation of the Beatitudes, ‘Blessed are…’).

However, the Collect for the First Day of Lent does nicely match The Tempest (fn. 4):

Almightie and euerlastyng God, whiche hatest nothyng that thou haste made, and doest forgyue the synnes of all them that be penitent: create and make in vs newe and contrite hartes, that we worthely lamentyng our synnes: and knowledgyng our wretchednesse, maie obtain of thee, the God of all mercye, perfect remissyon, and forgiuenesse, through Jesus Christ. (emphasis added)

Recall Prospero’s ‘They being penitent, / The sole drift of my purpose’ (V.i.28-9: emphasis added).(fn. 5)

Based on that Collect, can we find other references in The Tempest to the Lenten season? And, if so, would it be possible to find actual dates for such season and perhaps even a year? Could such dating analysis tell us when The Tempest was written? I propose answers to such questions lie within The Book of Common Prayer.

I. Lenten Season in The Tempest

A. Preliminary Investigation

Can we find any allusions in The Tempest to the two scriptures (Joel 2:12-17 and Matthew 6:16-21) read at the Communion Service on the First Day of Lent from the BCP? (fn. 6)

(a) Joel 2:15-17: ‘Blowe out with the Trompet in Syon, proclayme a fastyng, call the congregacyon, and gather the people together: warne the congregacyon, gather the elders, bryng the children and suckelynges together. Let the brydegrome go furthe of hys chamber, and the bryde out of her closet. Let the pryestes serue the Lord, betwen the porche and the Altar, wepyng, and saiyng: be fauourable, O Lorde, bee fauourable vnto thy people: let not thyne heritage be brought to suche confusion, lest the heathen be lordes thereof, wherefore should they saie emong the heathen: where is now their God?’ (emphasis added)

Compare when Ariel gathers together first Alonso, Gonzalo, Sebastian, Antonio, Adrian, and Francisco (the elders) before Prospero’s cell (V.i.57, s.d.). Then Prospero discovers Ferdinand and Miranda (the bridegroom and the bride) playing at chess (V.i.171, s.d.). Later, Ariel returns with Master and Boatswain (V.i.215, s.d.) and, finally, ‘driving in’ Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo (V.i.255, s.d.). Certainly, those three would be ‘the heathen’; recall their attempt to take over the island and that Stephano is addressed as ‘my noble lord’ by Caliban (III.ii.38).

(b) Matthew 6:19: ‘Laie not vp for your selues treasure vpon yearthe, where the rust and the mothe doeth corrupte, and where theues breke throughe and stele.’ (emphasis added)

Compare Ariel’s load of ‘glistering apparel’ which Prospero uses to hang Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo (fn. 7):

Trinculo.  O King Stephano! O peer! O worthy
xxxxxStephano! look what a wardrobe here is for thee!
Caliban.  Let it alone, thou fool; it is but trash.
(IV.i.222-4: emphasis added)

Clearly, Shakespeare is alluding to Matthew 6:19 (lay up your ‘treasure’ in heaven and leave your ‘trash’ on earth for thieves to steal).

(c) Matthew 6:20: ‘But lay vp for you treasures in heaven, where neither rust nor mothe doeth corrupt, and where theues do not breake throughe, nor stele.’ (emphasis added)

Trinculo.  Monster, come, put some lime upon your
xxxxxfingers, and away with the rest.
(IV.i.245-6: emphasis added)

Trinculo would have no need for lime to catch moths if he were placing his treasures in heaven.

Stephano.  Monster, lay-to your fingers. Help to bear this
xxxxxaway where my hogshead of wine is, or I’ll turn you
xxxxxout of my kingdom. Go to, carry this.
TrinculoAnd this.
StephanoAy, and this.
(IV.i.250-4: emphasis added)

Stephano and Trinculo make Caliban lay up their treasures on earth, a reversal of ‘Lay up for you[rselves] treasures in heaven’.

Clearly, Shakespeare is alluding to the First Day of Lent in The Tempest.

B. Further allusions to the First Day of Lent

Consider ‘A Commination against sinners, with certaine prayers to be vsed diuers times in the yere’ from the BCP which begins (fn. 8):

Brethren, in the prymatyue churche there was a godly discipline, that at the beginyng of Lent, suche personnes as were notoryus synners, were putte to open penaunce and punyshed in thys world, that their soules might be saued in the daie of the lord. And that others admonyshed by theyr example myght be more afrayde to offende. In the stede whereof (vntill the sayde Discypline maye be restored agayne, whyche thynge is muche to be wyshed) it is thought good that at this time (in your presence) shoulde be redde the general sentences of goddes cursyng agaynst impenitent Synners, … (emphasis added)

Compare Prospero’s ‘They being penitent, / The sole drift of my purpose’ (V.i.28-9: emphasis added) regarding the ‘three men of sin’ (III.iii.53).

Compare also the Argument from the Book of Joel: ‘… Thirdly he exhorteth them to repentance, shewing that it muste be earnest, and procede from the heart because they had grieuously offended God. And so doing, he promiseth, that God wil be merciful, & not forget his couenant that he made with their fathers but wil send his Christ who shal gather the scattered shepe, and restore them to life, and libertie, thogh they semed to be dead.’ (emphasis added; fn. 9)

(a) Joel 1:9: ‘The meat offring, and the drinke offring is (f) cut of from the House of the Lord: the Priests the Lords ministers mourne.’ Marginal note (f): ‘The tokens of Gods wrath did appeare in his Temple is so muche, as Gods seruice was left of.’ (emphasis added)

(b) Joel 1:13: ‘(h) Girde your selues & lament, ye Priests: houle ye ministers of the altar: come, and lye all night in sackecloth, ye ministers of my God: for the meat offring, and the drinke offring is taken away from the House of your God.’ Marginal note (h): He sheweth that the only meanes to auoide Gods wrath, & to haue all things restored is vnfained repentance.’ (emphasis added)

Compare Ariel’s speech to the ‘three men of sin’ at his vanishing banquet:

whose wraths to guard you from‒
Which here, in this most desolate isle, else falls
Upon your heads‒is nothing but heart’s sorrow
And a clear life ensuing.
(III.iii.79-82: emphasis added)

Clearly, Ariel is exhorting the men to repent. Also, the reference to ‘sackecloth’ in Joel 1:13 is related to ashes; both define the act of repentance.(fn. 10)

And, we have thus satisfied ourselves The Tempest does allude to the Lenten season, in particular, the first day of Lent (also known as ‘Ash Wednesday’).

=== GO TO A New Source, A New Date for The Tempest, Part 2 ===


(1)  See for example, R. Chris Hassel, Jr. Renaissance Drama & the English Church Year (Lincoln, NE, 1979),169-70, 171.

(2)  John B. Bender, ‘The Day of The Tempest’, ELH (Summer, 1980), 256-7 fn.12.

(3)  The Boke of common praier, and administration of the Sacramentes, and other rites and Ceremonies in the Churche of Englande  (London, 1559) from The Book of Common Prayer Commonly called The First Book of Queen Elizabeth Printed by Grafton 1559 (London, 1844), f.78, henceforth referred to as BCP. Spelling and punctuation have been retained, and abbreviations have been expanded.

(4)  BCP, f.24v.

(5) All quotations of The Tempest are from The Riverside Shakespeare, Second Edition, ed. G. Blakemore Evans, et al. (Boston, 1997).

(6)  BCP, f.24v.

(7)  ‘Come, [hang them] on this line.’ (IV.i.193)

(8)  BCP, f.106. ‘A Commination against sinners’ was previously referred to as ‘The First Day of Lent commonly called Ash-Wednesday’ in the 1549 edition of the BCP.

(9)  Unless otherwise noted, all biblical texts are from the Geneva Bible (1560 ed.). Spelling and punctuation have been retained, and abbreviations have been expanded.

(10)  See for example Luke 10:13: ‘… they had a great while agone repented, sitting (k) in sacke clothe and ashes.’ Marginal note (k): ‘Which were the signes of repentance.’

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About knitwitted

Goofette and troublemaker
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1 Response to A New Source, A New Date for The Tempest, Part 1

  1. knitwitted says:

    Side-note: Wasn’t Caliban instructed by Prospero or Miranda about Christianity? That would work that he would know ‘trash’ vs. ‘treasure’.

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