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Stephen Hopkins and Stephano

Shakespeare Unlimited: Epsiode 163

He was in a shipwreck. He was at Jamestown. He was on the Mayflower. And maybe, just maybe, he’s in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Stephen Hopkins was the only passenger on the Mayflower who had previously been to the Americas. Eleven years before the Mayflower landed in what is now Massachusetts, Hopkins sailed aboard the Sea Venture, a ship bound for Jamestown, VA that was blown off-course by a hurricane and wrecked in Bermuda. Among Hopkins’s fellow passengers on the Sea Venture was William Strachey, a poet and playwright whose account of the ill-fated voyage may have inspired Shakespeare’s The Tempest

Hopkins is also the ancestor of documentary filmmaker Andrew Buckley’s. Buckley’s new documentary, Stephano: The True Story of Shakespeare’s Shipwreck, traces Hopkins’s travels in England and the Americas and links him to The Tempest’s drunken, mutinous butler, Stephano. We talk to Buckley about the documentary, walking in his great-grandfather’s footsteps, and what the story reveals about the early colonization of North America.

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FolgerShakespeareLibrary · Stephen Hopkins and “Stephano”

Andrew Buckley is the creator and host of the public media series Hit and Run History. Stephano: The True Story of Shakespeare’s Shipwreck, premiered on Rhode Island PBS in January 2021. Learn about broadcasts, screenings, and video-on-demand opportunities to watch the film at Buckley is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast. Published March 16, 2021. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This podcast episode, “How Now, Stephano!” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. Leonor Fernandez edits our transcripts. We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano and Paul Luke at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California.

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The Tempest
Read, download, or search Shakespeare’s play online with The Folger Shakespeare.

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MICHAEL WITMORE: He was at Jamestown. He was on the Mayflower. And maybe—just maybe—he also inspired a character in Shakespeare.

From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I’m Michael Witmore, the Folger’s director. Stephen Hopkins is a settler you likely didn’t hear about during American History in grade school. But there are compelling reasons why maybe you should have, and now one of his relatives is trying to correct that oversight.

Andrew Buckley has produced a film called Stephano: The True Story of Shakespeare’s Shipwreck. In it, he walks in Stephen Hopkins’s footsteps, sometimes literally, to talk about his role in the white settlement of North America, and, as the title of the film suggests, his possible appearance as a character in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

There are historians who theorize that parts of The Tempest were inspired by an account of the storm that wrecked a ship resupplying the endangered Jamestown Colony in 1609 and landed them in Bermuda. Stephen Hopkins was on that ship and, as you’ll hear, Andrew Buckley’s film suggests Shakespeare knew that and used it in The Tempest.

Andrew joined us from his home in Cape Cod to lay all this out for a podcast that we call, “How Now, Stephano!” Andrew Buckley is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

BARBARA BOGAEV: Andrew, why don’t we start at square one? Remind us who Stephen Hopkins was.

ANDREW BUCKLEY: Stephen Hopkins was—I mean, the short way of putting it is, he was the only person, passenger on board the Mayflower who had been to North America before.

[CLIP from the film Stephano: The True Story of Shakespeare’s Shipwreck.]

NARRATOR: Something must have changed after the birth of Giles, because in the spring in 1609, Stephen deeded his land to his mother-in-law, the ale-house owner Joan Kent, for safekeeping. As a widow, she was allowed to own land, whereas his wife, Mary, could not at the time. Stephen was about to take a risk that could end in his death.

BUCKLEY: And he plays a pivotal role not only in the story of Virginia but also, ten years later with the fledgling Plymouth colony.

[CLIP from the film Stephano: The True Story of Shakespeare’s Shipwreck.]

NARRATOR: “It seemed good to the company for many considerations to send some amongst them to Massasoit: the greatest commander amongst the savages bordering about us.”

BOGAEV: Okay, so he made these two famous voyages, and that’s why we’re talking about him. We’re going to start, I think, talking about the second voyage, which is the Mayflower part of the story. So, what role did he play there?

BUCKLEY: He was informally the head of the “Strangers,” as they’ve been called.

[CLIP from the film Stephano: The True Story of Shakespeare’s Shipwreck.]

NARRATOR: There were four groups. You had the settlers, people who were known as the “Strangers.” You had the pilgrims. You had the crews. And of course you had the servants.

BUCKLEY: They were headed for the mouth of the Hudson River. They were blown off course, and they headed, instead, north around the tip of Cape Cod. He is believed to be instrumental in making sure, before they stepped foot on dry land, that they were going to have some sort of understanding as to what the government was going to be like, because they were outside of their charter. And so, that is where the Mayflower Compact came from, which was a document to say that [there] was going to be government by the consent of the people; not just the wealthy people but everyone, including the servants.

BOGAEV: And how do you know all this?

BUCKLEY: Some of it was passed down to me. He is my 11th or 12th great grandfather. My mother was a Hopkins. She’s a Hopkins from East Orleans, grew up on Hopkins Lane. As I’m fond of saying is that, you know, my family came to North America 400 years ago, and instead of heading west, they headed east. And they just stayed and that was it. That was the end of the adventures, but there seemed to be plenty of them beforehand. And so, you know, I learned these things.

Then there was a book on the shelf that I read called Hopkins and the Mayflower, and that was really interesting, you know, when I was about like 10. Then in high school, of course, I was exposed to Shakespeare, and the story was like, “Oh, well, you know, he had already been to North America before. He was shipwrecked on Bermuda, and he got into trouble because he had a big mouth, and then he got in trouble again.”

BOGAEV: We’ll get into that.

BUCKLEY: Yeah, but the thing is, I looked at this, and I was saying, “This reminds me of any number of people in my family.”

BOGAEV: You’ve recognized yourself and your family in the story.

BUCKLEY: Yes, and the other thing was that, you know, he was very, very committed to his family. It led me to always want to be able to tell this story, as I’ve been making films for public media with our Hit and Run History project, is to be able to have stories that have movement from one place to another place, and lesser known stories.

[CLIP from the film Stephano: The True Story of Shakespeare’s Shipwreck.]

SPEAKER: Good morning! Well, it’s about to get started; [I’m going to] go meet up with Andrew in Plymouth and get started on this crazy walk.

BOGAEV: Now you’re anticipating my next question and, you said, movement. Because you don’t just tell Hopkins’ story in your film, but you and your crew physically trace his trail in America, and the shipwreck, and back to England, and also coming to Cape Cod. Your first journey in the
film is not at the beginning of Hopkins’s story. Instead you start at Plymouth, and you follow in the footprints of a trek that Hopkins took when the early settlement there was failing.

[CLIP from the film Stephano: The True Story of Shakespeare’s Shipwreck.]

NARRATOR: “Having here, again, refreshed ourselves, we proceeded in our journey. The weather being very hot for travel.”

SPEAKER: Oh! I think I might get a jumbo dog.

BOGAEV: The pilgrims sent Hopkins and another settler along with the Native American guide, Squanto—who we might all remember from sixth grade history—to seek out help from a powerful Native American chief about 50 miles away.

[CLIP from the film Stephano: The True Story of Shakespeare’s Shipwreck.]

NARRATOR: “For these and the like ends, it pleased the governor to make choice of Stephen Hopkins and Edward Winslow to go unto him. And having a fit opportunity by reason of a savage called Squanto, that could speak English coming unto us.”

CHRIS WESSLING: Chris Wessling, Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, following the footsteps of my ancestor Squanto and his personal relationship with Stephen Hopkins and all of his travels.

BUCKLEY: The first half of the film really does…it is interspersed with this journey to Pokanoket with this 50-mile walk that we took. We are going with a member of our crew who is also a member of the Wampanoag tribe, who himself, Chris Wessling, had portrayed Squanto in an earlier documentary film.

BOGAEV: Yeah, I want to ask you about that. I can see the allure of telling this story of a walk, and I’m a big walker too. Honestly, watching the documentary does remind me a little bit of the Amazing Race reality show, which is a good thing.

BUCKLEY: Oh yeah.

BOGAEV: I’m a fan. We see you guys buying snacks at 7/11 and stuff.


BOGAEV: This was a 50-mile trek and a lot happens. It’s fun. As you say, you take along this young man who’s a member of the Wampanoag tribe. So how’d that happen? How’d you hook up with Chris?

BUCKLEY: Well, it would’ve been very easy to make a film that was told in chronological order about my great, white ancestor. I did not want that to be this, because when he was in Plymouth—and running a tavern, which really changes the idea of what people think about the pilgrims, he was running a tavern, selling alcohol—when the Native Americans came to Plymouth they stayed at his house.

So, I wanted to be able to demonstrate why. What is it about Stephen Hopkins that gave him such a good relationship with Native Americans? And if we’re going to tell that story we couldn’t tell it just from his perspective, but we needed to tell it from a Native American perspective as well. Since Squanto also had traveled to England when Stephen Hopkins was in Virginia, we’re getting two different threads that are eventually ending up. So, the thing is, we needed to be able to tell that, and having Chris there, who had portrayed a young Squanto, really added a new layer to things.

BOGAEV: And so, Chris, he portrayed a young Squanto in this film series that was part of the Mayflower Plymouth 400 celebrations. So you kind of tracked him down. It must’ve been pretty funny for him to get a call, “Hey.”

BUCKLEY: Oh, it was actually even better than that because… see, I had gone to Paula Peters, who had made that film. I watched the film, and afterwards I went up and I said, “You know I’m making this film about Stephen Hopkins. Of course, I want to be able to talk more about what’s going on here. I want to get your perspective about what was going on in Plymouth beforehand. And you’ve made this film about the kidnapping of Squanto and I want to be able to talk about that more. Can I have an interview?”

So, I interviewed her, but she said, “I’d like to bring along the young man who played Squanto.” Then afterwards, I said, “You know, we’re going to be taking this 50-mile walk. Do you want to come along?” And he said, “Absolutely. I’ll put the skins on and everything.” I said, “No, you can wear whatever you want; street clothes is okay.” But that’s how it started. So then we took the walk, and then he went to England with us. Chris had never been on a plane before.

BOGAEV: Okay, that’s amazing. And now I want to circle back to Shakespeare and The Tempest. So, let’s talk about the Sea Venture.

[CLIP from the film Stephano: The True Story of Shakespeare’s Shipwreck.]

NARRATOR: Two passengers stood out: Namontack and Machumps, natives of Virginia sent as emissaries, and now returning home. And William Strachey, former business partner to William Shakespeare, and was made secretary to the mission.

BOGAEV: That is the ship that Stephen Hopkins took headed for Jamestown that wrecked off of Bermuda. This is the trip that he took before he ended up in Plymouth. So, this is a shipwreck that was written up in an account by a man named William Strachey.

[CLIP from the film Stephano: The True Story of Shakespeare’s Shipwreck.]

NARRATOR: A True Repertory by William Strachey. A most dreadful tempest, the manifold deaths whereof are here to the life described.

BOGAEV: And it was his account that made it back to Shakespeare ostensibly. What are the elements of William Strachey’s account that make it into Shakespeare’s play? There’s a description, for instance, of St. Elmo’s Fire. What else?

BUCKLEY: The real interesting thing is that they’re talking about… you know, he’s describing a tempest. People in England have no real concept of what a hurricane is like.

[CLIP from the film Stephano: The True Story of Shakespeare’s Shipwreck.]

SPEAKER: “For four and twenty hours, the storm in a restless tumult had blown so exceedingly as we could not apprehend in our imaginations any possibility of greater violence. Winds and seas were as mad as fury and rage could make them. There was not a moment in which the sudden splitting or instance oversetting of the ship was not expected.”

BUCKLEY: But more importantly, is a less visually dramatic thing, but rather a breakdown of society. Because after they make it through the storm, they realize they have a leak, and every male set of hands had to man those pumps 24 hours a day, because people were… This is manual labor. Strachey says, “Hands that never knew labor or work were set to work on these pumps.”

And in the opening scene of The Tempest, you’re having the nobles being told by the boatswain, you know, “Get below. You’re in our way.” And the nobles are taking great afront to this when actually, it’s like, “No, you’re useless now. Your position means nothing. We’re going to die if you don’t get out of my way and let me do my work.”

And so, the same sort of sense is—it’s less visually dramatic—but the fact is, here we have a very hierarchical society that, all of a sudden, “Everybody has to work or we’re all going to die.” And, all of a sudden, the master cries, “Land,” and they’re able to make their way to the dreaded Isle of Devils; which again, there are elements of Strachey in The Tempest, whereby they’re talking about these, you know, howling of birds and things like that, when actually it ends up actually being paradise.

They realize that they need to get off of there, and the lieutenant governor, Sir Thomas Gates, wants to continue on to Jamestown. So they decide to build two vessels. Around Christmastime, Stephen Hopkins has said effectively that the governor of Virginia has no authority in Bermuda because they’re not in England. They’re not in Virginia; they’re out of his jurisdiction, and he’s actually correct.

Well, Gates was a soldier, and he treated Hopkins like he was a soldier. So, he was brought up on charges of mutiny, and he pleaded for his life. You know, the better sort stepped forward. They came forward and said, “Look, spare his life,” including Strachey. You open up with a shipwreck and a hurricane, it’s a great way to start a story.

BOGAEV: Yeah, that keeps them in the seats. So, remind us why was your ancestor, Stephen Hopkins, on the ship?

BUCKLEY: Well, you know, at that time the economy in England was changing.

[CLIP from the film Stephano: The True Story of Shakespeare’s Shipwreck.]

SPEAKER 1: The towns expanded quite considerably, and you needed to feed that urban population. To feed the urban population, agriculture had to become more efficient. That meant you needed to enlarge the farms, and we had great civil unrest as a consequence of that. The agricultural laborers were on the verge of starvation, and of course that drove people overseas.

SPEAKER 2: Well, you know, what you had in North American was land.

ANDREW BUCKLEY: Land that you could own, rather than be a tenant farmer.

SPEAKER 2: You could own, absolutely, yes.

BOGAEV: Well, what evidence is there that Stephen Hopkins is a model for Stephano in The Tempest? Maybe you could lay out the parallels for us that you see.

BUCKLEY: Sure. I mean, first of all, there’s just the name: Stephen Hopkins and Stephano. Okay, so, let’s take that superficial one.

But more importantly, that Stepheno, or Stephano—he’s a butler or… you know, the origin of that term is a bottler: someone who actually serves alcohol. Stephano rides ashore on a “butt of sack,” you know, a cask of sherry, which he then spends the rest of the play getting progressively drunker on. Stephen Hopkins was from a family of tavern keepers. Strachey talks about the fact that they were making alcohol. They were soaking Juniper berries in water, and they were also making something from palm tree hearts. So there’s alcohol involved there as well.

Now, I’m going to take that one step further and make the big leap to be able to say… well, it was Christmas when Stephen Hopkins started spouting off about who had authority, trying to overthrow things. I can imagine that Christmas was a time that people drank. So, you know, that was some liquid courage right there.

But the fact is that, even if Sir Thomas Gates is Prospero and Stephen Hopkins is Stephano. You know, you have the drunken, let’s say, middle class clown trying to overthrow the ruler of the island. And since The Tempest was written for King James, and King James really did enjoy his divine right of authority, “Let’s make sure that there is some comeuppance for this drunken attempted usurper.”

But at the same time, there’s mercy. At the end of the play, Trinculo and Stephano are forgiven. They’ve learned their lesson and they continue on, and the same thing happens with Stephen Hopkins. No trouble from him ever reported ever again in the Virginia colony.

BOGAEV: So, you see a lot of parallels. It’s interesting. How do you feel about Shakespeare’s take on your ancestor? I mean, Stephano is a great comic character, but he’s also this agent of evil or greed or power, and he plots ineptly to kill Prospero. He’s a drunk, he’s pretty gullible and certainly distractable.

BUCKLEY: Well, I mean he’s friends with the one native on the island. Here’s the interesting thing. He is the rising middle class that North America colonization allows for. And so, therefore, he must be made fun of. He must be exaggerated. But he seems to, you know, in one way, is getting along with Caliban. On the other hand, he’s enslaving the native in order to rise up. We get a case of that where, later on, you have these colonists who have made their fortunes in Virginia, coming back to England, and they’re still being treated as yokels. No matter how much money they have, they’re still commoners.

[CLIP from the film Stephano: The True Story of Shakespeare’s Shipwreck.]

ANDREW BUCKLEY: Strachey actually had returned to England, I’m just wondering what it would have been like for him to be able to see what he had written coming to life on stage?

SPEAKER 1: So you’d think that he would have been quite thrilled, or kind of maybe even disappointed that he didn’t get to do that himself.

SPEAKER 2: And watching his description of what he’d experienced get turned into a possible, magical phenomena being created by a spirit; that must have been both uplifting and a little weird.

BOGAEV: So, it’s funny because we started the conversation with you saying how you saw your family in Stephen Hopkins, the accounts of Stephen Hopkins. And now you’re saying you see your family in Stephano and Shakespeare’s character too.

BUCKLEY: I mean, we will admit, he gets progressively worse as he gets progressively drunker. But, at the same time, he is the frontier tavern keeper. Any place on any frontier, a tavern is a crossroads. And there’s one thing that I think that is certainly said about my family, and is certainly said about my mother, and everything, is that they’re entertainers. Anybody’s welcome in the house. Someone described my house once as, “the cornucopia.” You know, you’ll come in and we’ll make room for you and so, plenty to eat and plenty to drink and lots of laughter and such like that.

I’m sure, if you’re a snob, an aristocrat, you’re going to look at the worst of that and turn it into that. Also, the fact is, travel is a really big thing in my family. And so, I can see that as well, is that it’s not a coincidence that this story is a travel story. It’s because I want it to be because it’s in my blood, I feel.

BOGAEV: So, at the end of your film, you call the story the original American story. Make the case for us. Why?

[CLIP from the film Stephano: The True Story of Shakespeare’s Shipwreck.]

ANDREW BUCKLEY: Oceans, frontiers, islands. Those that we find ourselves on and those that we make for ourselves. That’s been our recurring theme.

BUCKLEY: When I say, “American,” I mean what was coming forward, not the virginal story of the place that is now known as North America. I’m talking about the culture. And the fact that—we talk about this as well when we’re at Shakespeare’s Globe. This is the point in which cultures diverge. There’s an English culture that’s moving along on its own little track, but then there are people on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and they’re developing their own culture.

Colonialism can be mapped right onto this. The people are scattered out. Authority is not centralized. People are encountering native peoples, and they are figuring out, “How can I use this native person to my advantage?” There is alcohol involved. There’s all these elements. You know, there is that libertarian streak that is kind of unique in the world often to Americans, which is, “I’m going to do my own thing. I’m going to question authority.” And it’s a journey.

I think that Americans are always out seeking more. I think—for good or for bad—I think this original American story is about somebody who gets into trouble, has several brushes with death. And at the same time, by the end of it, Stephen Hopkins is, you know, he’s a wealthy guy and his family is important to him. He’s running a tavern, of which I’m the legacy of that.

[CLIP from the film Stephano: The True Story of Shakespeare’s Shipwreck.]

ANDREW BUCKLEY: England was an island that Hopkins escaped, only to find himself stranded, greedfully, on Bermuda. Jamestown was an island fort and prison of the English on the American frontier. Caliban’s island was his by birthright, yet Propsero takes it and Stephano covets it. All are players in the story; we’re searching for that. To attain it or regain it. And that is what makes this the original American story.

BUCKLEY: It’s learning that one person can make a difference being in the right place at the right time, or the wrong place. In this particular case, in the case of The Tempest, often in the wrong place with the wrong alcohol content.

BOGAEV: Well, Andrew, I am so glad you were able to talk today. Thank you so much.

BUCKLEY: Oh, no, this has been a pleasure. I really appreciate the opportunity. I couldn’t have made this film without some really great interviews at the Folger.

WITMORE: Andrew Buckley is the creator and host of the public media series Hit and Run History. His latest film, Stephano: The True Story of Shakespeare’s Shipwreck, premiered on Rhode Island PBS in January 2021. To watch Stephano, you can find out about broadcasts, screenings, and Video-on-Demand by going to That’s

Our podcast, “How now, Stephano!,” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer, with help from Leonor Fernandez.

We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano and Paul Luke at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California.

If you’re a fan of Shakespeare Unlimited, please leave us a positive review on Apple Podcasts.

Shakespeare Unlimited comes to you from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the Folger is dedicated to advancing knowledge and the arts. You can find more about the Folger at our website, Thanks for listening. For the Folger Shakespeare Library, I’m Folger Director Michael Witmore.