This connection made me realize there is a deeper connection between Shakespeare and the United States than we typically talk about in Shakespeare history. England has their claim on him as a native son, sure, but it turns out, William Shakespeare is just as embedded in the history and establishment of the United States as he is in the foundation of England.
While the bodily form of William Shakespeare never set literal foot on the continent that became the United States of America his plays were among the few books and possessions that people like the Pilgrims brought over with them when they set out across the Atlantic from England.
Here’s a brief look at how Shakespeare’s legacy came to be firmly rooted in the history and founding fathers of The United States of America.
These Puritans weren’t the same as the colonists who settled Jamestown in 1607, the Pilgrim Fathers migrated primarily to establish a community where they could practice their religion freely while maintaining their English identity. 1607 was the year William Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna married Dr. John Hall, and was around the time Shakespeare wrote Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus.
As part of that English identity, The Puritans considered bringing Shakespeare’s Fourth Folio to be rather essential, as it was packed along with the Bible as one of the few literary possessions they took with them on their voyage across the Atlantic. While it did make great reading material, and very quickly after their arrival saw the establishment of theater companies, the actual Puritans probably did not perform the plays on board the Mayflower as their faith prohibited acting.
“The first recorded production in America of a play by Shakespeare took place in 1730 in New York City – an amateur performance of Romeo and Juliet . Although Shakespeare’s plays often figured in the collections of early colonists, they did so only as literature, hardly as performance scripts. This was mainly because the dominant Puritan and Quaker religious beliefs prohibited acting, but once Romeo and Juliet made its first appearance more followed in Philadelphia and Charleston. Richard III and Othello were popular choices, as was Romeo and Juliet.
In 1751, the London Company of Comedians , under the direction of Lewis Hallam, landed in Virginia where the ban on the immigration of actors had recently been lifted. Their first production was The Merchant of Venice , which played to mixed groups of settlers and Native Americans, and over the next ten years they added Richard III, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Othello and Hamlet to their repertory . By 1754, the company had toured prosperous cities like Fredericksburg, Williamsburg, and Annapolis. They spent four years in Jamaica and returned to Philadelphia and New York in 1758 with new productions of Cymbeline, The Taming of the Shrew, and Macbeth .”
Source: No Sweat Shakespeare
Portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh. In service of the Queen and denied permission to settle a new colony personally, Sir Walter Raleigh invested heavily in the expeditions that helped establish the colony of Virginia, near Roanoke Island (now North Carolina), and named the new colony after the virgin queen, Queen Elizabeth I. Image Source: Britannica
“Another US area that’s been linked to 17th-Century British English is Appalachia, especially the mountainous regions of North Carolina… “Mountain speech has more archaisms than other types of American English, but that’s about it,” Montgomery writes. These include terms like ‘afeard’, which famously appears in The Tempest.”
The article points out that ‘afeard’ appears in The Tempest, but the word “afeard” actually appears a total of 31 times in Shakespeare’s works, including Alls Well That Ends Well, Antony and Cleopatra, Hamlet, Henry VI Part 1, Cymbeline, Henry IV Part 1, Henry V, King John, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Macbeth, Merchant of Venice, Merry Wives of Windsor, A Midsummer NIght’s Dream, Rape of Lucrece, Romeo and Juliet, Taming of the Shrew, Troilus and Cressida, and A Winter’s Tale in addition to The Tempest.
Just in this one word alone, we can see solid evidence that words like “Afeard” were quite a common occurrence for Shakespeare. As a result, although there are plenty of variations, modern American pronunciation is generally considered a closer replica of 18th century English than modern British accents. Source: BBC Britain
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