Shakespeare’s (Un)fortunate Travellers:
Maritime Adventures across the Genres

Convenors: Christina Wald (University of Augsburg, Germany) and Felix Sprang (University of Hamburg, Germany)

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 land-locked 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. Our seminar invites contributions which look at maritime adventures in Shakespeare’s works, in Shakespeare’s sources as well as in adaptations of his plays, across different genres and media.

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. Evidently, a broad spectrum of cultural media and literary genres can be studied to discuss the issues here at stake.

We will address the question how maritime adventures travelled from the page to the stage and back to the page. We particularly invite contributions which consider how issues of seafaring and spectacles of shipwreck figure differently in different media and genres. What may be the problems or the merits when showing as opposed to telling maritime adventures and catastrophes? 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 sea as an epic signifier”
Thomas Kullmann
Universität Osnabrück

To Shakespeare, as well as to most of his spectators and readers, maritime adventures were exclusively textual ones. While we can assume that contemporary voyages of trade and exploration were widely discussed, it was texts handed down (or rediscovered) from antiquity whose graphic accounts of voyages and shipwrecks appear to have left a more significant mark on the works of Sidney, Greene and Shakespeare. One of the central pre-texts involving seafaring is certainly Virgil’s description of the tempest and shipwreck of Aeneas off the coast of Carthage, which, as it is found at the very beginning of the Aeneid (I, 29-183), will have been familiar to Elizabethan schoolboys. Shakespeare repeatedly shows his acquaintance with Aeneas’s voyage, as in Henry VI, Part II (3.2.81-118), The Comedy of Errors, where Egeon repeats Aeneas’s word to Dido (1.1.32f.) and The Tempest, where Gonzalo points out that Tunis was Carthage (2.1.84).

Elizabethan authors together with the Virgilian story obviously adopted a cluster of connotations: Aeneas obviously embodies the human condition as exposed to the whims of the gods and of fortune, as well as the virtues of suffering and endurance, hope and perseverance required to complete a voyage successfully. This picture, and discourse, of the human predicament contrasts with another one current in the Elizabethan age: that of chivalrous valour which enables a knight to reach his goal by fighting.

I should like to argue that, apart from plays which actually feature shipwrecks, like Pericles and The Tempest, metaphorical references to the sea function as a code which evokes the notions of human exposedness and dignity inherent in the classical shipwreck story, as well as the discourse about the human condition connected to these notions. The sea becomes an image of irresistible power – Orsino describes his love as being “as hungry as the sea” (Twelfth Night, 2.4.101), Pericles after recognising his daughter is overwhelmed by a “sea of joys” (5.1.198) etc. ‑ as well as an image of human fallibility: After having fashioned himself as a ‘questant’ and a ‘pilgrim’ Bassanio finally realises that his condition as a wooer of Portia is that of a voyager: “ornament is but the guiled shore/ To a most dangerous sea” (3.2.97f.). Most strikingly, we can observe a clashing of discourses in Hamlet’s mixing of metaphors: It cannot be ‘noble in the mind’ “to take arms against a sea of troubles” (3.1.59), as any attempt to take arms against a sea is as ridiculous as trying to strike at a ghost with a partisan (1.1.143). In Shakespearean drama, the sea imagery deriving from the epic genre serves to promote a discursive change from chivalrous self-assertiveness to a more complex concept of humanity.


“Medieval vs. Early Modern: Travel Narratives and other Genres in The Tempest”
Kirsten Sandrock
Georg-August Universität Göttingen

This paper argues that Shakespeare's The Tempest is shaped by a diversity of genres that, in turn, shape the simultaneity of medieval and early modern worldviews in the play. Particular attention will be paid to the use of early modern travelogues in the text, which are the source for lifelike scenes such as the shipwreck or the sailor's abandonment in the beginning of the drama. These scenes indicate Shakespeare's fascination with a world that was quickly changing through the exploration of foreign lands, about which he may have read in travel narratives such as William Strachey's True Reportory of the Wrack (written 1610), Sylvester Jourdain's Discovery of the Barmudas (1610), and the True Declaration of the state of the Colonie of Virginia (1610). In contrast to these early modern dramatic elements, The Tempest also contains traces of medieval visions of the world, by which I here understand the belief in the supernatural and the scholastic synthesis of magic and rationalism. These medieval elements become apparent, for instance, in passages relating to Prospero's "rough magic" (5.1., l. 50) or in Ariel's songs. I argue that these medieval motifs are strongly shaped by the earlier genre of romance at the same time as they point towards the later genre of the courtly masque. In so doing, the diversity of genres in The Tempest indicates the transition from medieval to early modern worldviews in a manner that not only helps us to better understand this transformational epoch, but it also helps us to rethink our own attempts of periodization as yet inadequate attempts to comprehend the medieval and the early modern age and stage.


“Maritime Adventures: The Example of Apollonius of Tyre and Sidney’s Arcadia
Cristina Paravano
Milan State University

In the paper I investigate two plays deeply concerned with shipwrecks and maritime adventures, The Comedy of Errors and Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Despite belonging to different genres and periods of Shakespeare’s dramatic production, they are respectively a comedy of the first phase and a romance of the last, they show significant similarities and common sources, such as an Alexandrine romance called Apollonius of Tyre and Sidney’s Arcadia, which both revolve around shipwrecks and sea adventures. I will analyze how Shakespeare has recourse to these works as a source, considering the influence of each of them and evaluating the different impact of the sea on the dynamics of the plays. In The Comedy of Errors they both represent the starting point for the development of the story: they offer character names or situations and are combined with the marked influence of Plautus’s Menaechmi which shapes the plot of the comedy. Instead, in Pericles their influence is so relevant that they become a key element of the romance. Actually, on the one hand, the poet John Gower, who put the story of Apollonius of Tyre into verse in his Confessio Amantis, is the chorus of the play; on the other hand, Pericles embodies the spirit of Sidney’s work so that the story is turned into an acute analysis of human condition also in terms of politics.  


“Shipwrecks and lost identities in Shakespeare’s plays: The case of Pericles”
Simonetta de Filippis
Università degli studi di Napoli “L’Orientale”
Ships are widely present in Shakespeare’s plays as symbolic means of trade (The Comedy of Errors, The Merchant of Venice), war (Henry V, Othello, Antony and Cleopatra), love (Antony and Cleopatra), death (Hamlet), loss (Winter’s Tale). But the wooden deck of ships is also an important emblem for the stage, particularly in the last plays (Pericles and The Tempest). Indeed, it is the theatrical dimension of ships and shipwrecks that is the focus of interest in this paper: shipwrecks will be analysed in order to point out the different theatrical solutions and the innovative experimental choices Shakespeare adopts to present them; moreover, the critical discussion will take into account how different genres are used to diversify the theatrical mise en scène of shipwrecks, particularly in Pericles where a number of different shipwrecks are presented. In fact, in Pericles, Shakespeare revives the myth of Ulysses in the wanderings of the protagonist at sea, facing misfortunes, finding himself in different places and playing different roles. In The Tempest the ship represents an explicit metonymy for the stage where the protagonists of the new British society face each other, whereas the shipwreck can be seen as the symbol of the drastic social changes which were taking place at that time (this is particularly evident in the opening scene of the play).

Shakespeare’s ship, therefore, becomes the means of real and symbolic journeys as it takes heroes and spectators on the tempestuous sea of human passions; but it is also a vivid icon of its time, both in reference to the wide commercial and maritime development, and as a symbol of movement and fluidity in that climate of uncertainty and constant transformation which characterises baroque culture in the early 17th century. Finally, the Shakespearean ship becomes a metaphor of life and theatre, the real and symbolic stage of the Shakespearean world.


“The Young Man and the Sea”
Paul Franssen
Utrecht University

The theme of shipwreck is a frequent one in Shakespeare’s work; yet, surprisingly, this is not really reflected in fictions about Shakespeare’s life.  Whereas his writing about love, and its attendants jealousy, lust, and venereal disease, has spawned many a fantasy about Shakespeare in love, no such influence seems to have resulted from his vivid evocations  of sea travel and shipwreck in The Tempest, Twelfth Night, Comedy of Errors, or Pericles. Instead, most fictional Shakespeares tend to avoid the risk of shipwreck by staying at home, so as to preserve their genius for posterity, while others are liable to seasickness.

My paper, which is part of a larger project on the discourses underlying fictions about Shakespeare’s life, will focus on the interbellum motif of Shakespeare being confronted with colonial projects in the New World. Although he never joins such expeditions himself, his literary endeavour is represented as the imaginative equivalent of such a physical enterprise. This motif can be found, in very similar form, in Denton J. Snider’s novel The Rise of Young Shakespeare (1925) and in Paul Green’s drama The Lost Colony (1937), and in somewhat modified form in the poem “The Coiner” (1931) by Rudyard Kipling. In the former two (American) works, Shakespeare’s putative interest in the colonial venture fits into a discourse of American identity rooted in English civilization: Shakespeare’s works, in that respect, feature in the American national myth as a spiritual analogy to the material colonization of (in particular) Virginia. Thus the value of literary authorship is asserted, alongside physical action. Kipling, too, elevates Shakespeare’s role as propagandist of Empire above the heroism of the sailors returned from the expedition shipwrecked at the Bermudas, from whom he gathers material for The Tempest.


“The Tempest Re-Envisioned: Encounters with the Sea in Iris Murdoch and Derek Jarman”
Ursula Kluwick
University of Bern

In Shakespeare’s The Tempest the opening scene of storm and shipwreck is a cacophony of sound, a communal performance of failure and catastrophe. Though later rendered again in Miranda’s opening speech, the horror of the crew’s battle with the sea is vividly staged and brought to life in the seafarers’ dialogue. Telling, here, follows showing. My paper reads this scene against Iris Murdoch’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s play in The Sea, the Sea. One might expect narrative to offer greater possibilities of description, but in Murdoch’s novel, confrontation with a hostile sea frequently eludes representation and becomes unspeakable. Murdoch’s powerless Prospero, Charles Arrowby, weaves an intricate web of showing and telling. While he refuses to tell us of his repeated failures to conquer the sea, in attempting to disguise he inadvertently shows us his physical and mental incompetence nevertheless. Through her choice of the genre of the diary novel, Murdoch thus skilfully explores psychological resistance to the representability of the traumatic physical encounter with the sea.

Another, and related, point of interest is the social aspect of shipwreck. Shakespeare’s shipwreck is a communal experience, and its existential horror notwithstanding, its social component endows the spectacle of death on sea with a stable framework. Derek Jarman’s 1979 adaptation of The Tempest plays with this aspect of communal strength in its famously camp finale, in which the threats of storm and shipwreck are ultimately deflated: “Stormy Weather” reappears as a jazz song at Miranda and Ferdinand’s wedding celebration, as a reminder that it was the product of illusion throughout. In Murdoch’s novel, however, the absence of a social framework for the battle with the ocean forces characters to confront the sea on their own, and at least one such encounter is fatal. This paper explores the changing discourses behind these different modes of representing maritime misadventures, and how they have affected the manner in which confrontations with the sea are expressed.


“The Inner Sea of the Black Diasporic Self in David Dabydeen’s Poetry”
Monica Manolachi
University of Bucharest/Oxford Brookes University
If a traveller to a new and unknown land would usually name that land Terra Incognita, then a new and unknown sea with its beauty and dangers could be called Thalassa Incognita. In the context of the diasporic self, the boundaries between land and sea, between the appearance and the inside of the human body, between the etymologically masculine history of diaspora and its feminine counterparts in contemporary global society have challenged the boundary between the conscious and the unconscious, resulting in what Edouard Glissant called “the awareness of awareness”.

The representations of the sea in the contemporary Caribbean British poetry suggest that the chronotope of the Black Atlantic proposed by Paul Gilroy has been internalized as a plurivalent motive that bridges a whole history of interracial and interethnic cultural encounters envisaged by Shakespeare and the subsequent waves and storms at the level of the collective psyche that led nowadays to the development of cultural psychoanalysis.

This essay explores what figures of speech and rhetoric devices are employed to perform a recontextualization of the Shakespearean Tempest in a few poems by David Dabydeen from his second volume of poetry, Coolie Odyssey (1988), with titles such as “Caliban”, “Miranda” or “The Old Map”. It also deals with some Caribbean postcolonial specificities of the historical circumstances that have generated both psychological shipwrecks and fortunate, yet highly indeterminate home comings at the clash of European, American, Asian and African cultures.