Hobson Woodward

 

On his book A Brave Vessel: The True Tale of the Castaways Who Rescued Jamestown and Inspired Shakespeare’s The Tempest

Cover Interview of April 09, 2010

In a nutshell

A Brave Vessel is a story of two Williams: William Strachey, a poet and would-be chronicler of the New World in 1609 London; and William Shakespeare, a playwright of uncommon wit with an eye for a good plot.  The book tells the story of Strachey’s shipwreck on Bermuda during a voyage to the Jamestown colony in Virginia.  A long letter home to an anonymous lady about the hurricane-tossed wreck of the Sea Venture and the months the castaways spent on the midatlantic isle found its way to Shakespeare and helped to inspire his ethereal play The Tempest.  Ultimately Strachey’s hope of writing lasting literature under his own name would come to naught, but he would unknowingly contribute to the creation of a masterpiece.

The magical qualities of The Tempest have their roots in Bermuda.  Even before the Sea Venture castaways arrived on the island, it was thought to be enchanted.  Sailors reported strange howls in the night as they sailed past, noises Strachey would learn were the calls of nocturnal seabirds.  Thunder and lightning storms were said to plague Bermuda to an unusual degree.  The exotic landscape was described in the chronicles of the voyages and helped to inspire the supernatural elements of the Tempest island.  Strachey also described the dancing light of St. Elmo’s fire in the rigging of the Sea Venture at the height of the storm, an account that scholars believe inspired Shakespeare’s Tempest portrait of the sprite Ariel and his luminous appearance on the shrouds of the king’s ship.

Readers of A Brave Vessel will find a story of sea voyage, shipwreck, and the settling of America. They will also discover a literary detective story. Connections between the Sea Venture chronicles and Shakespeare’s play emerge throughout the narrative. Readers have the opportunity to join a hunt for literary treasure as they travel with the voyagers to Bermuda, Virginia, and back to London.