Man in stormy weathers: tempestuous skies and outbursts in Shakespeare’s times and works.

The opening dialogue between Damville and Borachio in Cyril Tourneur’s Atheist’s Tragedy renders men’s antithetic philosophical and ethical creeds and attitudes when confronted to hostile natural phenomena and catastrophes. Damville’s pseudo scientific arguments and reasoning suit his atheism whereas Borachio’s blind faith in determinism and superstition cannot help him control his fright when thunder rolls and lightning flashes.

Historical records and chronicles show that natural catastrophes have always existed. Yet, at the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th centuries, the European continent was severely affected by floods and tempestuous climates. Inundations, higher tides, ‘furious’ tempests, heavy rainfalls and storms caused thousands of casualties in many countries and made sailing perilous.

From general stormy contexts to edifying texts, my study will first focus on men’s behaviours in stormy weathers in Desiderius Erasmus’s Colloquy on The Shipwreck (1523) as well as in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, King Lear and Twelfth Night in order to analyse how the characters face the ‘Holy’ mysteries of Nature and Life, and how they respond to them, from veneration to the saints to fear and superstition, from praying and begging, to bartering and bargaining. Emphasis will be laid on how they position themselves in the micro world they inhabit within a macro universe they ignore and believe overpowered by anthropomorphic divine skies.

From mirroring texts to mirrored interior political contexts, the second part of my paper will focus on how the Scottish witch-hunt launched by James VI-I was triggered off and amplified by his allegedly superstitious reactions to the several storms he and Anne of Denmark were submitted to, and how it became a political strategy to overcome his fear of being overthrown.

Danièle Berton-Charrière (Université Clermont Auvergne)

 


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