- Blackbeard’s portrayal in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides doesn’t accurately reflect the real-life historical pirate, including his age, family, and treatment of his crew.
- Blackbeard encouraged myths about himself to instill fear in others and protect his reputation as a formidable pirate, but Disney’s version of him in the movie goes beyond historical accuracy.
- Despite the inaccuracies, Blackbeard remains one of the most enduring and iconic figures in pop culture’s representation of piracy, inspiring numerous on-screen portrayals and captivating readers with his deeds and trickery.
According to pirate expert Iszi Lawrence, Pirates Of The Caribbean‘s Blackbeard is a wrong representation of the historical pirate. The feared real-world pirate was portrayed by Ian McShane in the 2011 sequel Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides — the fourth installment in the Disney franchise adapted from one of the most notable theme park rides. In Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Blackbeard is seeking out the famed mythical Fountain of Youth in hopes of cheating death after being terrified by his own prophesied demise, leading him to cross paths with Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp).
In a recent History Hit accuracy breakdown of piracy movies, Lawrence explores how Disney’s take on Blackbeard from Pirates of the Caribbean compares to the real-life history of Edward Teach. While the majority of McShane’s costume and chosen ship’s name met Lawrence’s approval, Blackbeard’s family, treatment of his crew, and age were heavily scrutinized as not aligning with what records detail about the pirate’s life, even with the reported myths and legends that the captain encouraged to boost his reputation in life. Check out Lawrence’s full explanation below:
“Now I’ve portrayed Blackbeard as in his cabin a lot because he was ill, however, Blackbeard was 38 when he died, and life has not been kind to Ian McShane here, he is far too old here… He has wonderfully got his hair in braids, that is accurate. He is all wearing black, which also is accurate… He has not got the brace of pistols on, which is fair enough. But he would have had a brace with four loaded pistols on him to be as scary as possible. Also, he had red ribbons in his beard as well, to be ultra scary.
The Queen Anne’s Revenge was a real ship, and Blackbeard managed to get it simply because, when he found La Concorde, it was adrift pretty much because the crew was sick… The Reason Blackbeard was successful was he was incredibly good at commanding his men, he had the respect of his men, so much so that they literally died for him.
We don’t know if Blackbeard had a daughter. There’s references to the fact he did. He certainly had more than one wife because he’d have a wife in each port, so the likelihood is that he’d have kids, whether he acknowledged them or not is another matter. But I don’t think this is quite the right age range because he’d have been about 38 when he died, and I don’t think he was having kids when he was ten years old…
Once again, Blackbeard is seen as being treacherous, and that’s what kills him, so he deserves it really. When actually Blackbeard nearly destroys the man who came to kill him in his boat, and jumps aboard thinking that the crew he’s just broadsided are dead, but actually are hiding. So actually it’s Maynard who was the treacherous one in the capture of Blackbeard, and he fought nobly to the death and then had his head cut off.
Blackbeard certainly encouraged myths about himself, so, I don’t think he encouraged myths that he could strangle people with his own rigging, but he certainly didn’t want people to think that he was a pushover. The last thing he wanted was a merchant vessel to see his flag and his fleet bearing down on them and think “I’ll be alright, I’ll outrun him.” Because he wanted them to fear him, once they feared him, then he could easily take all their stuff and they wouldn’t put up a fight. So fear was used, and that was why he dressed so elaborately in all black with like a brace of pistols, and set fire to his beard and that sort of thing.”
Why Is Blackbeard Pop Culture’s Most Enduring Pirate Beyond Pirates Of The Caribbean?
As one of history’s most notable pirates, Blackbeard has been a mainstay of pop culture’s view of piracy both long before he appeared in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and long after. The character’s earliest noted on-screen appearance was in 1952’s Blackbeard the Pirate, portrayed by Robert Newton. Soon, actors, including James Purefoy, Jim Howick, John Malkovich, Hugh Jackman, and Ray Stevenson, would take on the role across various television and movie projects ranging from historically accurate to highly fantastical. The most notable recent example of the pirate being brought to the screen is Taika Waititi’s Blackbeard in Our Flag Means Death.
While more recent projects have turned to other pirates, including Stede Bonnet, Anne Bonny, and Zheng Yi Sao, Blackbeard is still a revisited figure for both focus and inspiration. While not even the most financially successful pirate of his time, early accounts of Blackbeard’s deeds captured readers’ imagination and set him apart. Tales of his trickery to inspire fear in the hearts of his foes, including weaving lit matches into his bear, also allowed him to stand out among others. As such, while Pirates of the Caribbean may have leaned heavily into fantasy, the pirate’s own fiction and deceptions in life helped solidify his legacy.
While Blackbeard may have had his own myths he used in life, it is clear why Disney chose to alter the pirate for his Pirates of the Caribbean appearance. In On Stranger Tides, Blackbeard is a direct antagonist to Sparrow and his allies, meaning that the studio hoped to make the character more of an intimidating threat to the hero through his cruelty. As such, even without his magic, this Blackbeard version is a clear departure from one of history’s most noted pirates.