This book, A Direction for the Plantation in Ulster (1610), is part of the propaganda used to promote the colonisation of Ireland in the reign of James I. Written by the English politician, Thomas Blenerhasset, it aims to entice English and Scottish Protestants to settle in the Irish province of Ulster, by rewarding them with land confiscated from Gaelic chiefs. Ireland, like America, is presented as ‘our new worlde’ (sig. C4v) – a land of opportunity and self-transformation, perhaps like the ‘brave new world’ of the island in The Tempest (5.1.183).
Ulster had been the stronghold of Hugh O’Neill, the leader of the Irish rebellion, who surrendered after the Nine Years’ War (1594–1603) and left Ireland in 1607. James I aimed to subdue this ‘wilde’, largely Catholic, Gaelic-speaking region by filling it with loyal English-speakers. Blenerhasset promises ‘rich’ settlers the means to get even richer, and tradesmen the chance to ‘feede’ their ‘whole family’ (sigs. C4r-v). More disturbingly, he invites the ‘Gentleman’ that takes pleasure in the ‘hunt’ to pursue the ‘Wood-kerne’ or Irish peasant, just as he would chase a ‘Fox’.
Brave new worlds – Ireland and Caliban’s island
Alongside the travel narratives of Virginian settlers, this book gives us an insight into topical ideas of appropriation and resistance, reflected directly in Shakespeare’s play. Caliban insists, ‘This island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother, / Which thou tak’st from me’ (1.2.331–32). He is condemned by Prospero and Miranda as a ‘slave’ and ‘villain’, but one who has his uses: ‘We cannot miss him. He does make our fire, / Fetch in our wood, and serves in offices, / That profit us’ (1.2.308–13). This might remind us of Blenerhasset’s description of the Irish as ‘poore ignorant untaught people’ who ‘worship stones and sticks’ (sig. D1r).