Today in Theatre History: THE EARL OF OXFORD “UNDEAD”; OR, THE EARLIEST RECORDED PERFORMANCE OF THE TEMPEST–November 1, 1611

English: Frontispiece of the opening scene of ...

Very nearly losing it along the coast of Bermuda in 1609. The Earl of Oxford, back from the dead?

Today in theatre history–November 1, 1611–records the earliest known performance of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  It was staged at Whitehall Palace before James I and the royal court as part of the annual Hallowmas celebrations.  All Saints Day (or All Hallows Days), November 1, is one of the most important in the Anglican calendar, celebrating “the blessed who have not been canonized and who have no special feast day.”  It is a day to recognize saints and martyrs, known and unknown.  Many use the holiday to visit the graves and to place flowers in memory of relatives and friends.  But it is also a day to recognize the victory of life.   Given that The Tempest is very likely based on the published accounts in 1610 of the survivors of the shipwreck of the Virginia Company’s flagship, The Sea Venture, the year before in Bermuda, the play would seem a most fitting way to honor the victory of life over death.  I am especially fond of The Tempest from a purely historical standpoint–as it is the one Shakespeare play that thoroughly debunks the so-called Oxfordians (Shakespeare deniers).  The Earl of Oxford could not have possibly written a play based on a 1609 shipwreck when he died in 1604.  Or at the very least, it makes Oxford less likely to be the author, since death has a demonstrably debilitating effect on one’s ability to write full-length plays.  (On the other hand, perhaps the Oxfordians are right and that explains why The Tempest is the ideal play for the 1611 All Saints Day celebration–proof of the late Earl of Oxford’s victory over death.  Boo!)

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