How can you say from act 1, scene 1 that Shakespeare had a sound knowledge of a ship at sea?

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We can't know for sure if Shakespeare really did have extensive knowledge of seamanship, but we do know that he was a great dramatist. And as a great dramatist he'll have wanted to make his depiction of life aboard a ship in the middle of a storm as realistic as possible.

However he came by the knowledge, Shakespeare clearly knew that, in the event of a deadly storm at sea, it would be standard procedure for the passengers to remain below deck while the crew tried to navigate the ship though the treacherous conditions. Shakespeare uses this fact to illustrate what kind of characters Prospero has decided to subject to this frightening tempest. The haughty Gonzalo's testy exchange with the Boatswain, who tells him and the other VIP passengers to get below deck, immediately elicits a good deal of sympathy from the audience towards Prospero. On the whole, we tend to think that this calamity at sea really couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of people.

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I do not think that whether or not Shakespeare had a sound knowledge of a ship at sea can be stated with a great deal of confidence based on act 1, scene 1. Most of the scene is made up of drama between men arguing and fearing for their lives about the storm—this does not necessarily prove that Shakespeare knows about sailing. What I can say is that Shakespeare gives readers and audiences the appearance that he knows about sailing. This is because he uses a bunch of vocabulary associated with sailors and ships—one of the characters is the "boatswain." Then he has orders being given that name parts of a ship or specific sails:

Take in the topsail.—Tend to th' master’s whistle.—

Blow, till thou burst thy wind, if room enough!

Finally, Shakespeare has the boatswain barking orders about where to steer the ship.

Lay her a-hold, a-hold! Set her two courses off to sea again.

All of these jargon-filled lines give the impression that Shakespeare has some kind of working knowledge of ships, crews, and proper sailing.

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