News of shipwrecks reached London regularly during the lifetime of William Shakespeare.
The frequency of travel by water and the fragility of wooden sailing vessels made disaster at sea a relatively common occurrence.
Thus it is all the more striking that the playwright chose one particular wreck—the loss of a Jamestown ship on uninhabited Bermuda four centuries ago this month—as an inspiration for his ethereal Tempest.
The Sea Venture was voyaging from London to the two-year-old colony on the Virginia coast in the summer of 1609 when it encountered an intense hurricane.
After four days of punishing violence the ship came to rest on a Bermuda reef. All 153 people aboard survived to be remembered as the first to occupy the mid-Atlantic isle.
A year later when some of them returned home and told their story, Shakespeare ensured they would also make literary history as a source for his last solo play.