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A Brave Vessel: The True Tale of the Castaways Who Rescued Jamestown and Inspired Shakespeare'sThe Tempest Hardcover – July 9, 2009

4.7 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this well-written and expertly paced work of popular scholarship, Woodward, an associate editor of the Adams papers, tells the story of William Strachey, an aspiring poet whose chronicle of a disastrous sea voyage and its aftermath had a profound influence on Shakespeare's The Tempest. Strachey is a fine figure for historical resurrection—he was good friends with John Donne and a passenger on pioneering journeys to the New World, which eventually brought him, aboard the Sea Venture, to Bermuda and the infant Jamestown colony in Virginia. Woodward draws heavily on Strachey's written narrative, often to marvelous effect. This is particularly true of the dramatic storm scenes, in which the entire crew of the Sea Venture nearly perished. Through Strachey, Woodward tells of the conflicts that divided the crew after making landfall in Bermuda and the hardships of replenishing a starving Jamestown's supplies. The heart of the book is Woodward's recreation of Strachey's viewing of The Tempest, which affords the author the opportunity to catalogue the narrative and linguistic parallels between the Sea Venture's travails and the play—fascinating fodder for the committed Shakespearean source hunter. Maps. (July 13)
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" At once a penetrating work of literary analysis and a riveting historical narrative."
-Nathaniel Philbrick

"At once a penetrating work of literary analysis and a riveting historical narrative, Hobson Woodward's A Brave Vessel reveals the salty survival tale at the heart of Shakespeare's New World masterpiece, The Tempest."
-Nathaniel Philbrick, author of In the Heart of the Sea and Mayflower

"On the 400th anniversary of the Sea Venture's wreck on Bermuda, Hobson Woodward recounts the events and personalities of the voyage, the island refuge, and the early Jamestown Colony. He tells the story with accuracy and verve, and makes a compelling case for Shakespeare's indebtedness to William Strachey when writing The Tempest. Woodward's Brave Vessel is learned, lucid, and engrossing."
-Alden Vaughan, Professor emeritus of History at Columbia University and coeditor of the Arden edition of The Tempest

A Brave Vessel is a real-life story of heroism and human ambition as thrilling as any Hollywood fiction. Injecting popular history with a wealth of little-known detail, it traces a fascinating story of unlikely survival-and the impact a single, freak event in the mid-Atlantic had on the fortunes of America's birthplace and the world's greatest playwright. Woodward immerses us in the mindset of 17-century colonists and the immense challenges and tragedies of their endeavor. He entwines true events with their literary spin-offs, and in doing so, brings both to life.
-Rosemary Jones, author, Bermuda: Five Centuries --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (July 9, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670020966
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670020966
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,372,878 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In 1609 the English ship "Sea Venture," flagship of a relief fleet for the Jamestown colony in Virginia, was caught in a violent hurricane and wrecked on the Bermuda coast, miraculously with no loss of life. Much to the voyagers' surprise, the ill-reputed island provided them a comfortable existence, with abundant wood, water, fish, and food for almost a year; eventually they built two new ships and completed the voyage to Jamestown.

This true story, widely thought to form the basis for Shakespeare's play "The Tempest," was retold by several authors in 2009, the 400th anniversary of the voyage, including well-received books by Glover & Smith, and Caleb Johnson. The book reviewed here, Hobson Woodward's "A Brave Vessel," focuses attention on William Strachey, the expedition's secretary, whose account of the voyage eventually made its way back to England, and probably came to Shakespeare's notice at that time. The majority of Woodward's book, though, is about the expedition itself, and related events in Jamestown; it is only the final chapter or two that compare Strachey's factual account to Shakespeare's imaginative play. These chapters are inspired by the research of other scholars, that Woodward has summarized into a popular and readable account. The book includes substantial endnotes and bibliography.

Woodward's straightforward writing, and the interest of the voyage both in real-life adventure and the literary gold that Shakespeare mined from it, make this book a pleasant addition to the story of Jamestown.
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Format: Hardcover
I found this to be a fascinating book. Living, as I do, less than an hour away from Jamestown VA it was an interesting tale, indeed.

William Strachey's accounts of life in Jamestown are an invaluable source for all those, scholars and laymen alike, who want know what it was really like in the early days of Jamestown.

Shortly after reading this book I took my first trip to Bermuda and I must say the knowledge that Jamestown and Bermuda have an unexpected connection added to my enjoyment of the trip. The founding date of Hampton Virginia (my home town)is July 10, 1610 so I felt like the Bermudans and I were very distant cousins.

This shipwreck, that occurred in 1609, is considered the founding event for Bermuda and is a very important event indeed in the survival of Jamestown and the subsequent success of English America. For if the Sea Venture's passengers had not survived the shipwreck to arrive at Jamestown a year later, the history of Virginia, English America and the subsequent founding of the United States would be very different.

The fascinating "side story" to the shipwreck was that William Strachey's account of the shipwreck caused such a stir in England that the legendary William Shakespeare, having apparently read the account, was inspired to write what many scholars believe is his best work "The Tempest." William Strachey had used the term "tempest" to describe the severe storm (likely a hurricane) that caused the shipwreck. It should be noted that Plagiarism was not a concept in the writing field at that time, and writers freely used ideas from others.

William Strachey had been a slightly successful playwright before his trip on the Sea Venture as the official chronicler of the mission assigned to the Sea Venture's passengers.
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Format: Hardcover
An incredibly gripping retelling of the wreck of the Sea Venture.

As the subtitle notes, the Sea Venture, part of a 1609 relief convoy for the Jamestown colony, was intentionally wrecked on Bermuda after barely surviving a hurricane.

Hobson Woodward devotes the first pages of his book to detailing the life circumstances of William Strachey, a formerly well-to-do aspiring writer who saw the Jamestown colony as a chance to become famous as a New World chronicler.

The majority of the book mostly rephrases Strachey's account of the storm, the time spent on Bermuda, and the year or so Strachey spent in Jamestown, following the self-redemption of the castaways.

Woodward's ability to paint a vivid picture of these events -- calling upon Strachey's words sparingly and appropriately, bringing in supporting facts and arguments ably and intelligently -- is truly impressive.

It's as much good journalism as good prose, and it makes it close to impossible to put down the roughly 200 pages of actual narrative.

The only disappointment I found in this work -- and the only reason I can't give it five stars -- is near the end of the book, when William Shakespeare's The Tempest is introduced to us.

Woodward chooses to take flights of fancy here, placing Strachey in the Blackfriars Theater of London, and narrating his possible thoughts as he watched the play unfold. That's a radical departure from the tone of the previous narrative, and the most charitable term I can find for some of the parallels Woodward draws between The Tempest and Strachey's diaries is "equivocal."

That aside, taken as a history, A Brave Vessel is an exceptional work, one that can easily be devoured in an afternoon; or, broken up into short chapters, consumed in a week's worth of bedtime reading.
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