Dating the play

The Tempest (2000) Oliver Dimsdale as Ferdinand and Nikki Amuka-Bird as Miranda. Photo by Hugo Glendinning © RSC

Rebecca Brown explains how we know when Shakespeare wrote The Tempest.

The Tempest was not in print until the 1623 Folio of Shakespeare's plays was published after his death.

The first recorded performance is noted in the Revels Accounts at court on 1 November 1611. It would have been unusual to risk a play's first ever performance before the king and so it is safe to assume that The Tempest had already been performed publicly.

Clues to a more exact date of composition come from a letter written by William Strachey describing the shipwreck of Sir William Somers during a voyage to Virginia. This letter clearly influenced Shakespeare's story of the storm and shipwreck and it could not have reached England before the beginning of September 1610, at which time Shakespeare could have read it in manuscript. (It was not published until 1625).

Other material relating to Virginia and Bermuda (which are discussed as Shakespeare's sources) was published later in 1610.

All this makes late 1610 or early 1611 as the likeliest time in which Shakespeare wrote The Tempest. This is the same time at which The Winter's Tale was written.

Written by Rebecca Brown © RSC
Photo by Hugo Glendinning shows Oliver Dimsdale as Ferdinand and Nikki Amuka-Bird as Miranda in the RSC's 2000 production of The Tempest © RSC

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Teaching Shakespeare