Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My Family and Shakespeare -- we go way back

It was a perfect President's day weekend!  Thank you to Mr. Washington and Mr. Lincoln for being the celebrated Presidents they were so that we could have a long weekend.  We also had Friday off, which was a treat, making it an exceptional four days free.

Various things made it the perfect weekend, like spending time with my cousin, my friend Michael and my kids, but there was a highlight that I'd like to share that made it particularly unique.

While I was browsing through the bookstore on Saturday, waiting for my friend Michael to arrive, I came across a book about the Mayflower.  I don't know that I've ever mentioned it before, but I had an ancestor on the Mayflower, who we trace back from my mother's father's side.  I picked up the book and looked for the familiar name in the glossary.  Not surprised to find several references, I started thumbing through them to see what I could find.

You can't believe what I found!

It turns out that there's more to Stephen Hopkins (my ancestor) than I realized.  It seems that years before the Mayflower sailed, in 1609, he was on another excursion to the New World with a group of nine boats.  Towards the end of the trip, it seems a bad storm (or hurricane) caused the boat he was on to shipwreck on what is now Bermuda.  They were thought to be lost, but everyone on the boat survived, and spent the next nine months building two new boats to escape on.  During those nine months there was a lot of debate about who was in charge, and it seems ol' Stephen led a bit of a mutiny to overthrow the leader.  Apparently he was not successful, and in fact was sentenced to death for his actions, but was able to talk his way out of it for the sake of his family.  They let him live and he made it out with the others, where they went first to Jamestown, and then eventually back to England.

Some time later a gentleman by the name of William Strachey chronicled the happenings of the shipwreck and everything that followed.  Somehow this letter made it into the hands of William Shakespeare, who soon after turned this shipwreck story into "The Tempest."

A fantastic website I found, amidst all my research, has a great write up of everything and said this:

Strachey was no stranger to the theater people who met regularly at the Mermaid Tavern, so it's probable that Shakespeare was among those who got a preview of the work. Some believe he used it as the basis for his farewell play, The Tempest, which relates the story of a shipwrecked group stranded on an enchanted island. In a play to be performed for the King, a rebel could only be shown as a clown or a villain, so Shakespeare created a drunken, mutinous butler (or bottler) with delusions of grandeur who he named Stephano.

Hodges writes, "To have provided some of the fabric for Shakespeare's vision of The Tempest and to appear in the play, even in the absurd disguise as Stephano, this in itself is a kind of immortality for Stephen Hopkins."

How incredible is that?!  All this time I've been a lover of Shakespeare, and I had no idea that there was this unique connection between us.  If only it wasn't because my ancestor was kind of a fool when he was young, but who among us wasn't?  I'm proud to say he grew wiser as he grew older, and was quite involved in the entire Plymouth history until his death.  You can read a great deal about Stephen Hopkins at the above website if you want to delve deeper into his history.  Or maybe that's only interesting to me.  Either way, I'm glad I got to share my history with you.


Mere said...

That's so cool!! I'm reading "Hamlet" right now for my English class....it's not a fave, but again so cool you've got a connection to him!!

Love, Mere

Ramel said...

My ancestral Grandfather was William Strachey. Love your blog!

Ramel said...