AFTER a few centuries of neglect, Fletcher and Massinger’s The Sea Voyage has received a burst of critical attention. At least two debates in the secondary literature concern us here, both involving the play’s focus on early colonial ventures. In the first debate, one group of scholars has seen a sharp critique of early plantations and their tendency toward degeneracy and collapse.1 Other critics stress a redemptive narrative in which the play’s much abused characters and their projects are redeemed by the possibility of trade and investment, or restored by a fresh focus on the family unit, particularly women’s agency and craft therein.2 The second debate surrounds the geographical nature of the playwrights’ interest in the colonial project: Is the play calculated to evoke a specific place, or is it more broadly inspired, even calculatedly obscuring any possible locus of inspiration?3 The present authors aim to assist in resolving both arguments by offering a fresh look at parallels between The Sea Voyage and English plantations in the period 1608–25. We argue that specific verbal parallels with early accounts of Jamestown indicate that Fletcher and Massinger probably had access to written accounts of the so-called ‘Starving Time’ (1608–10) that were unpublished at the time of the play’s initial performances.4 This would suggest that those critics compelled by the play’s colonial resonance are on firm historical ground; it also reinforces readings that stress the anxious nature of the play’s colonial politics. Additionally, gaining a sharper sense of Fletcher and Massinger’s colonial engagements allows us to speculate about other ways The Sea Voyage glances at new world events. The influence of Strachey’s A True Reportory on both The Tempest and The Sea Voyage has been well established. The central texts covering the Starving Time are the accounts of John Smith and George Percy. Early in The Sea Voyage, the castaways begin to rationalize the prospect of eating Aminta, a noble French virgin captured by pirates.5 The would-be cannibals allude to ‘a thousand examples’ of cannibalism of which they have heard: Lamure. Why should we consume thus, and starve, Have nothing to relieve us; And shee live there that bred all our miseries, Unrosted, or unsod? … Lamure. Women that have eate their Children, Men their slaves, nay their brothers: but these are nothing; Husbands devoured their wives (they are their chattels,) And of a Schoolemaster that in a time of famine, Powdered up all his Schollers … Francisco. She needs no powdering. (III.i.96–111) The correlating account from Smith’s A True Relation follows: So great was our famine, that a Salvage we slew, and buried, the poorer sort tooke him up againe and eat him, and so did divers one another boyled and stewed with roots and herbs: And one amongst the rest did kill his wife, powdered her, and had eaten part of her before it was knowne, for which hee was executed, as hee well deserved; now whether shee was better roasted, boyled or carbonado’d, I know not, but of such a dish as powdered wife I never heard of.6 Such specific verbal parallels, previously noted by Hutner, imply access to firsthand accounts, which, oddly, were not published until after the play’s first staging.7 Claire Jowitt has suggested that these issues were in the London air in 1622 (108). Likewise, Anthony Parr’s edition of the play suggests coyly that Fletcher’s gallants ‘seem to have been listening to the renegades who deserted the Jamestown colony’ and told tales of a man eating his wife (176). However, no one seems to have thought at much length about the remarkable closeness of the verbal connections, nor of possible textual forms of transmission. With this in mind, we need to attend to another early text whose overlap is perhaps even more provocative. Another text that was unpublished at the time of the play’s first staging seems more than coincidentally linked with Fletcher and Massinger’s play. George Percy’s A Trewe Relacyon (1624) is believed to be based on a diary, now lost, so there is a possibility of a specific textual connection in the milieu of our 1622 play. Percy was president of the colony during the Starving Time. The passage that connects strongly with The Sea Voyage is as follows: Then haveinge fedd upour horses and other beastes as longe as they Lasted, we weare gladd to make shifte w[i]th vermin as doggs Catts Ratts and myce all was fishe thatt Came to Nett to satisfye Crewell hunger, as to eate Bootes shoes or any other leather some Colde come by and those beinge Spente and devoured some weare inforced to searche the woodes and to feed upon Serpentts and snakes and to digge the earthe for wylde and unknowne Rootes, where many of our men weare Cutt of and slayne by the Salvages. And now famin beginneinge to Looke gastely and pale in every face, thatt notheinge was Spared to mainteyne Lyfe and to doe those things which seame incredible, as to digge upp deade corpes outt of graves and to eate them. And some have Licked upp the Bloode which hathe fallen from their weake fellowes. And amongste the reste this was most lamentable. Thatt one of our Colline murdered his wyfe Ripped the Childe outt of her woambe and threwe itt into the River and after Chopped the Mother in pieces and sallted her for his foode …8 The details of the predicament of Fletcher’s castaways are hauntingly similar. The starving Sebastian’s initial description of their plight picks up a key series of undesirable food items, presumably from Percy: Serpents, and ugly things, the shames of nature, Roots of malignant tastes, foul standing waters; Sometimes we find a fulsome Sea root, And that’s a delicate: A Rat sometimes, And that we hunt like Princes in their pleasure; And when we take a Toad, we make a banquet. (I.iv.144–153) Likewise, eating shoe leather in a time of extremity is borrowed and played upon at length: Surgeon. If I had any thing that were but supple now! I could make sallads of your shoos Gentlemen, And rare ones: any thing unctious. Morillat. I and then we might fry the soales’ith Sun. The soales would make a second dish. Lamure. Or, souce ‘em in the salt-water, An inner soale well souc’d. (III.i.58–64) As Percy’s description of this crisis of resources precedes a mention of seasoning female flesh, so the meditation on shoe leather immediately precedes the entry of Aminta, whose seasoning is also discussed, picking up on threads in the accounts of both Smith and Percy: Surgeon. I think shee may be made good meat. But look we shall want Salt. Franville. Tush, she needs no powdering. (III.i.110–112) Finally, yet one more parallel reinforces our sense of a direct influence on Fletcher and Massinger’s composition. Percy’s description of licking blood from open wounds finds its gory analogue in a castaway’s wish to drink from his own wounds: Lamure. Oh! What a tempest have I in my stomack? How my empty guts cry out? my wounds ake, Would they would bleed again, that I might get Something to quench my thirst. (III.i.1–4) These verbal parallels and their specificity partly counter those scholars who stress the non-specific setting of The Sea Voyage; wherever this island may be, its echoes of accounts of the Starving Time would imply a considerable fascination with the Virginia colony. We speculate that Fletcher and Massinger had access to the Percy diary, or another manuscript version of A Trewe Relacyon, as well as rather close engagement with Smith or his associates, or we would not have so many close connections noted above. If these connections with the Starving Time indicate as much familiarity as we think they do, this might also explain the play’s title, with its glancing evocation of the third supply’s shipwreck, which triggered the famine. Oddly, The Sea Voyage describes no ‘voyage’ in particular, but rather a shipwreck and its island aftermath. The ship, Sea Venture, wrecked in the Bermudas en route to Jamestown, may have triggered the title, The Sea Voyage, for Fletcher or Massinger. Intriguingly, the text uses the names of one of the ships built from the wreckage, Deliverance. When Sebastian sees the pirate ship on the horizon, he cries out ‘tis a Ship, I see it now, a tall Ship; she has wrought lustily for her deliverance’ (I.iii.1–2). With these verbal parallels in mind, the play’s engagement with the Jamestown narrative can be seen in plot threads that may not seem connected at first glance. If Fletcher and Massinger were working with first hand accounts of the Jamestown colony circa 1609—1610, then they would have been aware of the impact that the native princess, Pocahontas, and her father, Powhatan, had on the settlers. While Pocahontas’s saving of John Smith from the wrath of her father is largely dismissed as legend, the scene where the Amazon princess, Clarinda, saves Albert, the colonial hero, from her angry mother bears a resemblance. Clarinda’s abrupt and politically expedient marriage to Aminta’s brother, Raymond, may be an allusion to Pocahontas’s marriage to Rolfe, a ceremony that temporarily brought peace to the region. That Albert had to cross a river in order to reach the Amazon Portugals, and that many tribes lived on the James River suggests that perhaps Fletcher and Massinger were aware of the geography of Virginia, the settlement being on what the settlers conceived of as an island. The barren side of the island, with its threat of starvation, may reflect the English’s difficulties in growing crops there. The self-sustaining Amazon culture on the other half of the island perhaps even glances at the peculiar predicament of native Americans, from the viewpoint of the colonists. They must have seemed powerful, even alluring, in their ability to live off the land. And yet, for Smith or Percy, they were unregenerate, incapable of an afterlife without Christianization. Analogously, the play’s Amazon women can have no children; however fortunate they seem, as against the starving colonial figures, they are always understood as trapped within a system that makes them the last of their kind. At one level, they are simply literary figures; in another sense, they capture the colonists’ strange double view of the natives. Footnotes 1 Important accounts of the play’s satiric angle on colonial projects include: J. Feerick, ‘“Divided in Soyle”: Plantation, and Degeneracy in The Tempest and The Sea Voyage’, Renaissance Drama, xxxv (2006), 27–54; J. Sutherland, ‘“What Beast is This Lies Wallowing in His Gore?” The Indignity of Man and the Animal Nature of Love in The Sea Voyage’, Modern Language Review, cvii (2012), 88–107; G. McMullan, The Politics of Unease in the Plays of John Fletcher, (Amherst, 1994) 235–54; A. Parr, Three Renaissance Travel Plays (Manchester, 1995), 20–34; T. Walters, ‘“Such Stowage as These Trinkets”: Trading and Tasting Women in Fletcher and Massinger’s The Sea Voyage (1622)’, Consuming Narratives: Gender and Monstrous Appetite in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (2002), 67–80. C. Jowitt, ‘“Her flesh must serve you”: Gender, Commerce and the New World in Fletcher’s and Massinger’s The Sea Voyage and Massinger’s The City Madam’, Parergon, xviii (2001), 93–117. 2 See G. Shahani, ‘Of “Barren Islands” and “Cursėd Gold”: Worth, Value, and Womanhood in The Sea Voyage’ Journal For Early Modern Cultural Studies, xii (2012), 5–27; P. Akhimie, ‘Travel, Drama, and Domesticity: Colonial Huswifery in John Fletcher and Philip Massinger’s The Sea Voyage’, Studies in Travel Writing, xiii (2009), 153–66. 3 Readings which favour a strong engagement between the play and the Virginia colony include Jowitt, McMullan, Parr, and Walters. Conversely, for accounts that stress the play’s looser geographic engagements, see Shahani, as well as Michael Neill’s Putting History to the Question: Power, Politics, and Society in English Renaissance Drama (New York, 2000), 314. 4 A similar assumption has been made about Shakespeare’s famous access to Strachey’s account of Bermuda, which The Tempest (1611) echoes despite the fact that A True Reportory was not published until 1625. Gordon McMullan helpfully clarifies the many connections between Fletcher and participants in and sponsors of the Virginia venture, most critically Henry Hastings, Fletcher’s most important patron. See McMullan, The Politics of Unease, 1–36. 5 We quote The Sea Voyage from Bowers, The Dramatic Works in the Beaumont and Fletcher Canon (Cambridge, 1994), IX., citing parenthetically. 6 Quoted in R. Hermann, ‘The “tragicall historie”: Cannibalism and Abundance in Colonial Jamestown’, William and Mary Quarterly, lxviii (2011), 54. 7 See H. Hutner, Colonial Women: Race and Culture in Stuart Drama (Oxford, 2001), 42. 8 Quoted from M. Nicholls, ‘George Percy’s “Trewe Relacyon”: A Primary Source for the Jamestown Settlement’, Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, cxiii (2005), 248–9, italics ours. Nicholls also addresses the existence of the diary (226). © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes and Queries – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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