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Welcome to Episode #84 of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that takes you behind the curtain and into the life of William Shakespeare.
There are several references to Indians in Shakespeare’s plays, which were being written right at the same time famous American Indians like Squanto and Pocahontas were interacting with explorers like Sir Walter Raleigh from the courts of Elizabeth I and later, under King James I. All of these explorations were big news back home in England, with many round trip voyages across the Atlantic to connect Shakespeare with England’s first colony, Virginia. As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week here in the United States and our minds turn to prominent figures of our history, like Captain Miles Standish, John Smith, and Chief Massasoit, we are honored to welcome the foremost expert in the intersection of Shakespeare’s life with the founding of Jamestown and establishment of early America, Dr Alden Vaughan.
Alden T. Vaughan, Professor emeritus of History at Columbia University, has published widely on England's American colonies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, especially their racial perceptions and policies. His books include New England Frontier: Puritans and Indians, 1620-1675 (1965; 3rd ed. 1995), American Genesis: Captain John Smith and the Founding of Virginia (1975), Roots of American Racism: Essays on the Colonial Experience (1995), and Transatlantic Encounters: American Indians in Britain, 1500-1776 (2006). He has also written about Shakespeare's The Tempest, most notably Shakespeare's Caliban: A Cultural History (1991), with Virginia Mason Vaughan. The Vaughans coedited The Tempest for the Arden Shakespeare, third series (1999, rev. 2012). He is currently writing essays on both areas of his scholarly interests.
In this episode, I’ll be asking Alden about :
Would Shakespeare have used the term “pilgrims” to describe the various shiploads of people who were going off to The New World during the early 17th century?
- I know that some American Indians are known to have come back to England. There are even references to Indians on display in London that we find in Shakespeare’s plays. Were these native Americans brought back voluntarily or were the English capturing the natives as slaves?
- Lady Rebecca Rolfe, also known as Pocahontas, came to England merely 2 months after Shakespeare died, and they were entertained in a lavish performance ordered by King James I at Whitehall’s Banqueting Hall. Alden, would Shakespeare have known about Pocahontas and the establishment of Virginia?
- … and more!
Religious in mine error, I adore
The sun, that looks upon his worshipper,
But knows of him no more.
Sir Walter Ralegh, by ‘H' monogrammist (floruit 1588). Inscription right: Aetatis suae 34 An(no) 1588 (“In the year 1588 of his age 34”) and left his motto: Amor et Virtute (“By Love and Virtue”). National Portrait Gallery, England. Source
Sir Walter Raleigh
Dr. Vaughan described Sir Walter Raleigh as “a man of some distinction”, saying he was curious about what was going on in the New World, as well as trying to curry favor with the Queen. Personally, Raleigh was a man of intellectual curiousity as well. As an avid adventurer, he wanted to explore the indigineous world, and was interested in mapping out these new lands.
Inside Aldens book, there is a beautiful image which shows Sir Walter Raleigh in what appears to be a Guiana camp or gathering and the image is captioned with a specific mention to one of the leader’s sons. The image makes it seem like there was a play which might have been performed before Elizabeth. When I asked Alden to explain the reference, he shares that there is very brief reference to a device –which is a kind of play in that it is a performance piece. The leader's son who is in the picture could very well be the Indian whose role is called for in the surviving records of the device. The son of the Indian leader was in England because Sir Walter Raleigh had good relations with this man's father, and the father entrusted the son to Raleigh for the journey.
we some strange Indian with the great tool come to
court, the women so besiege us?
Squanto returning John Billington from the Nauset in a 1922 storybook for children. “Good stories for great birthdays, arranged for story-telling and reading aloud and for the children's own reading” by Olcott, Frances Jenkins. Boston, New York, Houghton Mifflin company. The Library of Congress. Source
Alden writes about one particular native American, who people in the United States often grow up reading about this time of year — the man named Squanto. Alden explains that Squanto was arrested for trying to negotiate peace between Plymouth and the native tribes, and that it was Captain Miles Standish which established Squanto as the main intercultural advisor to the English colonists. When William Bradford wrote about Squanto “having been in England” Squanto was not only in the vicinty of Shakespeare, but it is highly likely the bard saw, or even interacted with, Squanto.
They were both in London at the same time. It is possible. He wasn’t exactly arrested. He was seized by other Indians because he was a manipulator in his own interests as well as for Plymouth with neighboring cheiftans, and often successful with Massaoit, to have good relations but some other natives didnt like this and would have killed him if Standish had not stepped in.
While there’s no evidence that Squanto came into contact with Shakespeare directly, we do know that in 1614, he was captive in Spain, after which he escaped only to end up in England, living with the President of Newfoundland Society in London.
A lovely boy, stolen from an Indian king;
La Belle Sauvage Inn, Ludgate Hill, London. Source
The Bell Inn
Alden writes about Pocahontas visiting The Bell Inn at Ludgate Hill, which was a popular spot for theater performances, and indeed was host to a stage performance when the Rolfes and their entourage stayed there. At this performance, it would be none other than Ben Jonson himself who was able to get Pocahontas to come on stage.
William Shakespeare died just two months before their visit, or it would have been Shakespeare who entertained the visiting dignitaries.
Were I in England now,
as once I was, and had but this fish painted,
not a holiday fool there but would give a piece
of silver: there would this monster make a
man; any strange beast there makes a man:
when they will not give a doit to relieve a lame
beggar, they will lazy out ten to see a dead
Portrait of Pocahontas, wearing a tall hat, and seen at half-length. Around the oval lettering reads: “MATOAKA AĽS REBECCA FILIA POTENTISS: PRINC: POWHATANI IMP: VIRGINIÆ”. Below oval “Ætatis suæ 21. Ao / 1616.” Below: “Matoaks aľs (alias) Rebecka daughter to the mighty Prince / Powhâtan Emperour of Attanoughkomouck aľs (alias) virginia / converted and baptized in the Christian faith, and / wife to the wor[shipfu]ll Mr. Joh. Ralff.” Engraving by the Dutch and British printmaker and sculptor Simon van de Passe. Courtesy of the British Museum, London. Source
Pocahontas and the Infamous Masque
Lady Rebecca Rolfe, also known as Pocahontas, came to England merely 2 months after Shakespeare died, and they were entertained in a lavish performance ordered by King James I at Whitehall’s Banqueting Hall.
While Shakespeare would not have the opportunity to see Pocahontas at The Bell Inn, he would have known of her and her husband, John Rolfe, as their work in the new colonies was widespread news in England.
The Virginia colony was big news, as England’s first colony. Not only was it the first, but it was successful and taking on settlers at a great rate. Pocahontas and John Rolfe's work was common knowledge as a result of, among other things, the numerous reports written by John Smith, and Shakespeare would have known about these reports as well.
There is some scholarship around the idea of Pocahontas being a spy, based in part on a story by John Smith about a masque hosted by the Indians which John Smith called ““Viriginia Maske”. While the story would have been widely circulated in England in 1608, Alden contends that more has been made of that masque recently that far eclipses the attention it received at the time.
Books Dr. Alden Vaughan recommends:
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