The Sea Venture was part of a fleet making a third voyage to Jamestown, the new colony in Virginia. It left England on 2 June 1609 with supplies and colonists bound for the new world. About six weeks into their ill-fated journey, and only a week away from their destination, the Sea Venture was separated from the seven other ships during a sudden storm. News reached England that the ship had been destroyed and England mourned the loss of its men and cargo. However, although the ship had been wrecked, its crew survived. They built a smaller craft out of the remains of the Sea Venture and almost a year later arrived in Jamestown. Their astonishing survival amazed everyone in the young colony and back home in England.
Shakespeare may have been alluding to the story of the Sea Venture in The Tempest when he dramatised a similar storm. In his play also, the crew are miraculously preserved (by the machinations of Prospero and the work of Ariel). The Tempest even opens with a sudden storm at sea, realistically represented by a flurry of activity and a Boatswain shouting orders to concerned passengers:
Here, master. What cheer?
Good, speak to the mariners. Fall to’t, yarely,
or we run ourselves aground: bestir, bestir.
Heigh, my hearts! Cheerly, cheerly, my hearts!
Yare, yare! Take in the topsail. Tend to the
Master’s whistle. Blow, till thou burst thy wind,
if room enough!
[Enter ALONSO, SEBASTIAN, ANTONIO, FERDINAND, GONZALO, and others]
Good boatswain, have care. Where’s the Master?
Play the men.
I pray now, keep below.
Where is the Master, boatswain?
Do you not hear him? You mar our labour. Keep your
cabins. You do assist the storm.
Nay, good, be patient.
When the sea is. Hence! What cares these roarers
for the name of king? To cabin! Silence! Trouble us not.
Good, yet remember whom thou hast aboard.
None that I more love than myself. You are a
counsellor; if you can command these elements to
silence, and work the peace of the present, we will
not hand a rope more. Use your authority. If you
cannot, give thanks you have lived so long, and make
yourself ready in your cabin for the mischance of
the hour, if it so hap. —Cheerly, good hearts! Out
of our way.— I say!
I have great comfort from this fellow. Methinks he
hath no drowning mark upon him. His complexion is
perfect gallows. Stand fast, good Fate, to his
hanging. Make the rope of his destiny our cable,
for our own doth little advantage. If he be not
born to be hanged, our case is miserable.
Down with the topmast! Yare! Lower, lower! Bring
her to try with main-course.
[A cry within]
A plague upon this howling! They are louder than
the weather or our office.
(Act 1 Scene 1)
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