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Bermuda Triangle

calibanAn essential task, when planting the shipwreck in the Tempest into the Oxfordian calendar or locating Prospero's island in Italy, is to explain what the 'still-vex'd Bermoothes' might be, while detaching them from the Bermoothes in the Atlantic, where the shipwrecked mariners from the Sea Venture were marooned.

Safely in harbour
Is the king's ship; in the deep nook, where once
Thou call'dst me up at midnight to fetch dew
From the still-vex'd Bermoothes, there she's hid:

This proved rather tricky until a reference to an area in London called 'the Bermoothes' crops up. Areas of London can quickly acquire nicknames and lose them just as quickly. I lived in Fulham in West London in the 80's and nearby Earl's Court was known as 'Kangaroo Valley' as it was then very popular with visiting Australians. The nickname disappeared in the 90's as individual houses in Earl's Court became more valuable than the entire State of Queensland. So, in an argument in which accurate dating is being fine tuned to order the chronology of a series of documents, it is rather slippery of Oxfordians to try to locate the Bermoothes to an area of London when reference is scant to say the least and the first does not occur until 1616*.

By Oxfordian standards, it is highly plausible that the 'Bermoothes' in London, given their 'vex'd' character, might have taken their name from the Tempest rather than the other way round.

John Donne, a brilliant Elizabethan poet, one of the few in Will's league, saw tempests first hand on the Essex expedition of 1597. As potential source material, this is nicely dated for Oxfordians with the bonus of a loud Essex connection. Yet it doesn't feature anywhere in the extensive arguments, perhaps because Donne is yet another Elizabethan from a poor background producing work of scintillating genius. The description of his near death experience in The Storm is one of the best narrative poems of the age, as anyone can see from the excerpt below. When he reaches for a qualitative description of his storm, he invites you to imagine Hell being 'lightsome' in comparison or those still vexed Bermudas looking 'calm'.

The Bermudas are a well-established Elizabethan byword for turbulence and mortal danger. Donne probably didn't get closer than the Azores but he (and almost certainly everybody else in Elizabethan England) knew what the Bermoothes were famous for.

If the reference in the play has anything to do with a nickname for Clerkenwell, it is a double entendre that Shakespeare intends. Not a direct namecheck. 

Ben Jonson criticised Donne's verse for its lack of elevation, coming too near the speech of ordinary men. Sound familiar? Look at the last six lines and see if you can detect an aristocratic idiom in there. Or does this Elizabethan son of an ironmonger, who struggled up from modest beginnings, sound more like a man from the same middle class background, the son of a glovemaker, who started in Stratford?

Enjoy Donne's storm. And for all you extreme literalists out there, the Fiat in the third from last line is not a car.


Thou which art I, ('tis nothing to be soe)
Thou which art still thy selfe, by these shalt know . . 
 . . . Then like two mighty Kings, which dwelling farre
Asunder, meet against a third to warre,
The South and West winds joyn'd, and, as they blew,
Waves like a rolling trench before them threw.
Sooner than you read this line, did the gale,
Like shot, not fear'd, till felt, our sails assaile;
And what at first was call'd a gust, the same
Hath now a stormes, anon a tempests name.
Jonas, I pitty thee, and curse those men
Who, when the storm rage’d most, did wake thee then.
Sleepe is paines easiest salve, and doth fulfill
All offices of death, except to kill.
But when I wakt, I saw, that I saw not.
I, and the Sunne, which should teach mee’had forgot
East, West, day, night, and I could onely say,
If’the world had lasted, now it had been day.
Thousands our noyses were, yet wee'mongst all
Could none by his right name, but thunder, call:
Lightning was all our light, and it rain'd more
Than if the Sunne had drunke the sea before;
Some coffin'd in their cabins lye, ‘equally
Griev’d that they are not dead, and yet must die.
And as sin-burd’ned soules from grave will creepe,
At the last day, some forth their cabins peepe:
And tremblingly’aske what newes, and doe heare so,
Like jealous husbands, what they would not know.
Some sitting on the hatches, would seeme there,
With hideous gazing to feare away feare.
Then note they the ship's sicknesses, the Mast
Shak’d with an ague, and the Hold and Wast
With a salt dropsie clog'd, and all our tacklings
Snapping, like too-high-stretched treble strings.
And from our totterd sailes, ragges drop downe so,
As from one hang'd in chaines a year agoe.
Even our Ordnance plac’d for our defence,
Strive to breake loose, and scape away from thence.
Pumping hath tir’d our men, and what's the gaine?
Seas into seas throwne, we suck in againe;
Hearing hath deaf'd our saylers: and if they
Knew how to heare, there's none knowes what to say.
Compar’d to these stormes, death is but a qualme,
Hell somewhat lightsome, and the’Bermuda calme.
Darknesse, lights elder brother, his birth-right
Claims o'er this world, and to heaven hath chas’d light.
All things are one, and that one none can be,
Since all formes uniforme deformity
Doth cover, so that wee, except God say
Another Fiat, shall have no more day.
So violent, yet long these furies bee,
That though thine absence starve me,‘I wish not thee.


"No man is an island, entire of himself;" Will was not the only poet who could turn an eternal phrase. Donne's monument in St Paul's Cathedral is the only piece of statuary to survive the Great Fire in 1666. There are scorch marks on the base. Donne was the incumbent Dean of St Paul's when he died. His monument, commissioned before he died, still took two years to appear. No one has ever called him a grain dealer or a plant pot trader.


*Shakespeare's Caliban, (Vaughan & Vaughan, CUP 1991)

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