In English-speaking popular culture, the modern pirate stereotype owes its attributes mostly to the imagined tradition of the 18th century Caribbean pirate sailing off the Spanish Main and to such celebrated 20th century depictions as Captain Hook and his crew in the theatrical and film versions of Peter Pan, Robert Newton's portrayal of Long John Silver in the 1950 film of Treasure Island, and various adaptations of the Eastern pirate, Sinbad the Sailor. In these and countless other books, movies, and legends, pirates are portrayed as "swashbucklers" and "plunderers." They are shown on ships, often wearing eyepatches or peg legs, having a parrot perched on their shoulder, and saying phrases like "Arr, matey" and "Avast, me hearty." Pirates have retained their image through pirate-themed tourist attractions, traditional film and toy portrayals of pirates, and the continued performance and reading of books and plays featuring pirates.
The archetypal characteristics of pirates in popular culture largely derive from the Golden Age of Piracy in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, with many examples of pirate fiction being set within this era. Vikings, who were also pirates, took on a distinct and separate archetype in popular culture, dating from the Viking revival.
The first major literary work to popularise the subject of pirates was A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious pirates (1724) by Captain Charles Johnson, It is the prime source for the biographies of many well known pirates of the Golden Age, providing an extensive account of the period. In giving an almost mythical status to the more colourful characters, such as the notorious English pirates Blackbeard and Calico Jack, the book provided the standard account of the lives of many pirates in the Golden Age, and influenced pirate literature of Scottish novelists Robert Louis Stevenson and J. M. Barrie. While Johnson's text recounted the lives of many famous pirates from the era, it is likely that he used considerable licence in his accounts of pirate conversations.
Stevenson's Treasure Island (1883) is considered the most influential work of pirate fiction, along with its many film and television adaptations, and introduced or popularised many of the characteristics and cliches now common to the genre. Stevenson identified Johnson's General History of the pirates as one of his major influences, and even borrowed one character's name (Israel Hands) from a list of Blackbeard's crew which appeared in Johnson's book.
Appearance and mannerisms of Caribbean pirates
In films, books, cartoons, and toys, pirates often have an unrefined appearance that evokes their criminal lifestyle, rogue personalities and adventurous, seafaring pursuits. They are frequently depicted as greedy, mean-spirited, and focused largely on fighting and looting from enemy pirates and locating hidden treasure. They are often shown wearing shabby 17th or 18th century clothing, with a bandana or a feathered tricorne. They sometimes have an eye patch and almost always have a cutlass and a flintlock pistol, or some other sword or gun. They sometimes have scars and battle wounds, rotten or missing teeth (suggesting the effects of scurvy), as well as a hook or wooden stump where a hand or leg has been amputated. Some depictions of pirates also include monkeys or parrots as pets, the former usually assisting them in thieving goods due to their supposed mischievous disposition. The ship's captain will force captives and traitorous shipmates to walk the plank, usually over shark-infested waters.
Historical pirates were often sailors or soldiers who had fallen into misfortune, forced to serve at sea or to plunder goods and ships in order to survive. Depending on the moral and social context of a piece of pirate literature, the pirate characters in that piece may be represented as having fallen, perhaps resembling a "respectable" person in some way. Pirates generally quest for buried treasure, which is often stored, after being plundered, in treasure chests. Pirate's treasure is usually gold or silver, often in the form of doubloons or pieces of eight.
In the 1990s, International Talk Like a Pirate Day was invented as a parody holiday celebrated on September 19. This holiday allows people to "let out their inner pirate" and to dress and speak as pirates are stereotypically portrayed to have dressed and spoken. International Talk Like a Pirate Day has been gaining popularity through the Internet since its founders set up a website, which instructs visitors in "pirate speak." Venganza.org is also a major supporter of this day.
In the online community, many games, movies, and other media are built upon the premise, thought to have been generated by Real Ultimate Power, that pirates (in the Caribbean buccaneer sense) and ninjas are sworn enemies. The "Pirates versus Ninjas" meme is expressed offline too, through house parties and merchandise found at popular-culture clothing and gift stores.
Pirates also play a central role in the parody religion of Pastafarianism. Established in 2005, Pastafarians (members of The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster) claim to believe that global warming is a result of the severe decrease in pirates since the 18th century, explaining the coldness associated with winter months that follow Halloween as a direct effect of the number of pirates that make their presence known in celebration.
Alternative pirate archetypes
In addition to the traditional archetype of seafaring pirates, other pirate archetypes exist in popular culture.
Air pirates are science fiction and fantasy character archetypes who operate in the air, rather than sailing the sea. As traditional seafaring pirates target sailing ships, air pirates capture and plunder aircraft and other targets for cargo, money, and occasionally they steal entire aircraft.
Space pirates are science fiction character archetypes who operate in outer space, rather than sailing the sea. As traditional seafaring pirates target sailing ships, space pirates capture and plunder spaceships for cargo, money, and occasionally they steal entire spacecraft.
The dress and speech of these alternate archetypes may vary. It may correspond to a particular author's vision of a story's setting, rather than their traditional seafaring counterparts. On the other hand, they may be modeled after stereotypical sea pirates.
Pirates in the arts
Comics and manga
"Swashbuckling Yarns of Piracy": Buccaneers, volume 1, number 21, May 1950. Art by Reed Crandall.
One Piece (1997 onwards), set in a fictional world where piracy is at its height, the World Government and its Navy attempt to put it to a stop, and one young man desires to become the next Pirate King. The most popular manga to date in Japan.
Black Lagoon (2002 onwards) is a Japanese manga portraying group of modern-day pirates in the southeast Asian sea, largely making money with acts of smuggling, extortion, or acting as mercenaries.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006), Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007), Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017), movies based on the popular Disneyland attraction, "Pirates of the Caribbean".
Captain Blood (1922), a novel by Rafael Sabatini (followed by two sequels: Captain Blood Returns [aka The Chronicles of Captain Blood] and The Fortunes of Captain Blood, each being a collection of Captain Blood adventures).
Emerson, Lake & Palmer recorded the song "Pirates", a 13 minute long performance piece from their 1977 tour. It features the Orchestra de L'Opera de Paris. The piece can be found on the album "Works, volume 1"
Running Wild, a German Metal band, adopted a "pirate metal" image in 1987, with its third album.
The Sex Pistols adapted the saucy song "Good Ship Venus" as their hit "Friggin' in the Rigging". Fellow Malcolm McLaren protegée Adam Ant took the pirate image further. One of the tracks on the album Kings of the Wild Frontier was called "Jolly Roger".
In 1986, the Beastie Boys paid homage to the pirate lifestyle on their Licensed to Ill album with the song "Rhymin' and Stealin'". The song is filled with piratical and nautical phrasing liberally mixed with 1980s hip-hop references.
Mutiny is an Australian pirate themed folk-punk band with releases on Fistolo Records.
Goth musician/comedian Voltaire illustrates the sometimes humorous rivalry between vampiric and pirate camps of goths in the song "Vampire Club" from the album Boo Hoo (2002).
The Dreadnoughts are a Vancouver, Canada pirate-based band, including use of an accordion as well as a fiddle.
Relient K released a single covering the song "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything" for the children's show VeggieTales. It was originally recorded by the cast of VeggieTales, and Relient K's version of the song was later included in the 2003 compilation album called Veggie Rocks!
"Barret's Privateers" is a song written by Stan Rogers popular in Nova Scotia, Canada detailing the fictional story of Elcid Barret and his privateers and their voyage on the Antelope to raid American shipping vessels.
In 1879, the comic operaThe Pirates of Penzance was an instant hit in New York, and the original London production in 1880 ran for 363 performances. The piece, depicting an incompetent band of "tenderhearted" British pirates, is still performed widely today, and obviously corresponds to historical knowledge about the emergence of piracy in the Caribbean.
While no pirates are ever on stage in William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, Hamlet claims that his ship to England was overtaken by pirates.
Skies of Arcadia is a video game for the Sega Dreamcast (later remade as Skies of Arcadia Legends for the Nintendo Gamecube) about a group of air pirates that struggle against an oppressive power threatening to take over and destroy the world.
Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves features a level in which the Cooper Gang steals a pirate ship, and upgrades it to defeat rival pirate crews
Sonic Rush Adventure takes place in a pirate-themed world. This includes a robot pirate named Captain Whisker.
In the Soul series, Cervantes, a long-standing character in the franchise, is a pirate. In Soul Calibur III specifically, there is a 'Pirate' class option for custom characters.
In Suikoden IV there are a great deal of pirates to encounter and recruit.
In Tales of Berseria the protagonist reluctantly teams up with a group of pirates. The first mate, Eizen, becomes part of the main cast while the rest of the crew makes frequent appearances throughout the game. The player has the choice of sending the crew on expeditions to retrieve items and explore uncharted waters.
The attack on Veracruz was a 1683 raid against the port of Veracruz, in the Viceroyalty of New Spain (colonial Mexico). It was led by pirates Laurens de Graaf, Nicholas van Hoorn and Michel de Grammont.
Captain Stingaree is a fictional supervillain in the DC Comics universe, and a minor foe of the Batman. He first appeared in Detective Comics #460 (June 1976), and was created by Bob Rozakis, Michael Uslan and Ernie Chan.
Diabolito or Little Devil (died July 1823) was a 19th-century Cuban pirate. One of the more violent of the era, he engaged the United States Navy and was one of the main fugitives pursued during later American naval expeditions in the Caribbean during the 1820s.
Eli Boggs (fl. mid 19th century) was an American pirate, one of the last active ocean-going pirates operating off the coast of China during the 1850s. Based near Hong Kong, Boggs constantly raided outgoing clipper ships carrying highly valuable cargo of opium throughout the decade. He is most particularly known for his cruelty, as in one recorded incident he had the body of a captured Chinese merchant cut into small pieces and had them delivered to shore in small buckets as a warning against interference in his criminal activities. In 1857, after a violent and bloody siege, Boggs was forced to swim ashore after his junk was destroyed by rival pirates. However, after holding his captors at bay with a knife, Boggs was finally apprehended and imprisoned in a Hong Kong jail for three years, eventually being tried for murder before his deportation to the United States.
Hendrick Jacobszoon Lucifer (1583–1627) was a Dutch-born pirate.Hendrick's last name, Lucifer, referred to a lighting stick, not to the fallen angel Lucifer, and was most likely used as a nickname due to his use of fire and smoke to surprise enemies.
Liang Daoming (Chinese: 梁道明; pinyin: Liáng Dàomíng; Cantonese Yale: Lèuhng Douh-mìng) was an abscondee of the Chinese Ming Dynasty who became king of Palembang in Srivijaya. He hailed from Guangdong province and was of Cantonese descent. According to the Ming records, he had thousands of followers and a sizable military contingent in Palembang. Liang Daoming's rule over Palembang was acknowledged by the Ming emperor and protected by Zheng He's armada (1403-1424).
A privateer was a private person or private warship authorized by a country's government by letters of marque to attack foreign shipping. Privateers were an accepted part of naval warfare from the 16th to the 19th centuries, authorised by all significant naval powers.
Notable privateers included:
Victual Brothers or Vitalians or Likedeelers 1360–1401
Gödeke Michels (leader of the Likedeelers) 1360–1401
Klaus Störtebeker, Wismar, (leader of the Likedeelers), 1360–1401
Didrik Pining, German, c. 1428–1491
Paul Beneke, German, born in Hanseatic City of Danzig, Pomerelia c. 1440s–1490s
Kemal Reis, Turkish, c. 1451–1511
Oruç Reis (Barbarossa), Turkish, c. 1474–1518
Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha, Turkish, 1478–1546
Turgut Reis (Dragut), Turkish, c. 1485–1565
Timoji, Hindu, 1496–1513
Murat Reis the Older, Turkish, c. 1506–1609
Sir Francis Drake, English, c. 1540–1596
Sir George Somers, English 1554–1610
Captain Christopher Newport, English, c. 1561–1617
Magnus Heinason, Faroese, c. 1568–1578 privateer in Dutch service under the Dutch revolt and 1580s, and privateer and merchant in Danish service on the Faroe Islands c. 1578–1589
Piet Hein, Dutch, 1577–1629
Alonso de Contreras, Spanish, 1582–1641, privateer against the Turks under the banner of the Order of Malta and later commanded Spanish ships
James Erisey, English, 1585–1590s
Peter Easton, England/Newfoundland, c. 1611–1614
Sir Henry Morgan, Welsh, 1635–1688
Jean Bart, French, 1651–1702
William Dampier, English, 1652–1715
Nicolas Baeteman, Dunkirker 1659–1720
Alexander Dalzeel, Scotland, c. 1662–1715
René Duguay-Trouin, French, 1673–1736
Kanhoji Angre, Maratha, 1698–1729
Lars Gathenhielm, Swedish, 1710–1718
Ingela Gathenhielm, Swedish, 1710/18–1721
Fortunatus Wright, English of Liverpool, 1712–1757
David Hawley, colonial United States, 1741–1807
Jonathan Haraden, colonial United States, 1744–1803
William Death, English, 1756
Alexander Godfrey, colonial Nova Scotia, 1756–1803
Jose Campuzano-Polanco, colonial Santo Domingo, 1689-1760
Etienne Pellot, aka "the Basque Fox", French, 1765–1856
Noah Stoddard, United States, 1755-1850
Robert Surcouf, French, 1773–1827
David McCullough, colonial United States, 1777-1778
Jean Gaspard Vence, French, –1783
Joseph Barss, Colonial Nova Scotia, 1776–1824
Jean Lafitte 1776–1854, French Louisiana hero in the Gulf of Mexico
John Ordronaux (privateer), United States, 1778–1841
Ephraim Sturdivant, United States, 1782–1868
Hipólito Bouchard, Argentina, 1783–1843
Louisa, ship, of Philadelphia United States, 1800s during Quasi-War with the French
Otway Burns, North Carolina, United States 1775–1850
"No purchase, no pay" (or "no prey, no pay") was a phrase used by pirates and privateers, of the 17th century in particular, to describe the conditions under which participants were expected to join expeditions or raids. The phrase describes a remuneration arrangement similar to a commission.
Silver: Return to Treasure Island, is a novel by former British Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, published by Jonathan Cape on 15 March 2012. The book follows Jim Hawkins, son of the character of the same name in Robert Louis Stevenson's 1883 novel Treasure Island, as he and Nat, daughter of Long John Silver, also a character in Treasure Island, return to the island visited by their fathers to claim abandoned bar silver.
The Angel's Command is a 2003 novel by Brian Jacques, author of the popular children's series Redwall, and the sequel to Castaways of the Flying Dutchman. It follows the adventures of an immortal boy and his dog as they face pirates and other dangers from the high seas to the mountains.
Walking the plank was a method of execution practiced on special occasion by pirates, mutineers, and other rogue seafarers. For the amusement of the perpetrators (and the psychological torture of the victims), captives were bound so they could not swim or tread water and forced to walk off a wooden plank or beam extended over the side of a ship.
Although forcing captives to walk the plank is a motif of pirates in popular culture in the 19th through 21st centuries, few instances are documented, so the frequency of the practice is uncertain.
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