Pericles (Vol. 36)
For further information on the critical and stage history of Pericles, see SC, Volumes 2 and 15.
Likely composed and first performed in the years 1606-08, Pericles is a tale of loss and reconciliation between father and daughter, based upon the classical legend of Pericles of Tyre. Despite the considerable age of this folk story—Ben Jonson once called it a "mouldy tale"—scholars have identified the primary sources that Shakespeare probably used to compose his drama as John Gower's Confessio Amantis (1385-93) and Lawrence Twine's The Paíteme of Paynfull Adventures (1576). Since the recognition of these and other sources of the work, much scholarly interest in the play has been devoted to the question of its authorship. While contention still exists, the majority opinion seems to favor the theory that Shakespeare collaborated with another author, who is said to have written the somewhat inferior first two acts of Pericles, while Shakespeare himself is generally credited with having composed the last three acts of the play. Further areas of twentieth-century critical inquiry have included an exploration of the relationship between Pericles and his daughter Marina as well as the characterization of both, and discussions of the play's imagery and treatment of sexual motifs, especially regarding the theme of incest that pervades the work.
Critical observations on the authorship of Pericles and its lesser quality typically originate from the corruption of the text as part of the 1609 quarto version of Shakespeare's works and its exclusion from the more reliable First Folio edition (1623). Still, many scholars, including Kenneth Muir, have located significant evidence of Shakespeare's authorship in the work's language and imagery. Muir and others have observed that the play represents a departure for Shakespeare, and is a transitional drama that bridges the gap between the great tragedies of his middle period, such as Hamlet and King Lear, and his later plays, including The Winter's Tale and The Tempest. Overall the work has been seen as less complex and less realistic than either group, with more simplified characters and a thinner plot. Other commentators, while accepting Muir's conclusions for the most part, have nevertheless observed the literary richness of Pericles. Andrew Welsh has noted the unifying theme of tradition in the play, and traced its classical, medieval, and folklore sources in the appearance of riddles, the Seven DeadlySins, and knightly emblems. Ruth Nevo, taking a psychoanalytic approach to the drama, has outlined its symbolic power as a dream-fantasy which meditates on the repressed subjects of death and incest.
The characters of Pericles and Marina have also attracted the attention of modern scholars. Their assessments have offered a reevaluation of the prince as a patient sufferer and analyzed the play's themes of suffering, loss, repentance, and reconciliation between father and daughter. As for Marina's character, critical estimations have typically emphasized her chastity and purity. Michael Taylor has noted the juxtaposition of innocence and wisdom in Marina, while Nona Fienberg has associated her with the value of "moral discourse." Both critics have observed that her character stands in opposition to the darker aspects of the play, including the incestuous relationship between Antiochus and his daughter, and the degradation of the brothel where she finds herself in Act IV.
Shakespeare's use of imagery in Pericles, especially as it applies to the motifs of sexuality and incest, has also provided additional topics for modern critics of the play. Alexander Leggati has commented on the riddle of incest and Antiochus's illicit relationship with his daughter, arguing that the fear of deviant sexuality informs the drama throughout. Anthony Lewis has seen the prevalent imagery of eating in Pericles as an indication of the play's theme of sustaining and nourishing oneself and others. Several commentators, including Mary Judith Dunbar and W. B. Thorne, have argued that through its symbolic devices the play presents a unified poetic, moral, and comic vision. For Thorne, the oppositions in the play, between generations and between loss and reconciliation, form the dramatic structure of the work and represent an evolution of Shakespeare's earlier comedies. Overall, these assessments of the mechanics of Pericles have demonstrated a small critical shift in the evaluation of a play that was popular in Shakespeare's time, but has since fallen into relative disregard. However, while scholars acknowledge that the work suffers from certain flaws, most agree that it offers an abundance of form and a quality of language that surpasses its weaknesses of character and incident.
Kenneth Muir (essay date 1960)
SOURCE: "Pericles," in Shakespeare as Collaborator, Barnes & Noble Inc., 1960, pp. 77-97.
[In the following essay, Muir surveys the text of Pericles, locating evidence of Shakespeare's authorship in the language, imagery, and thematic qualities of the work.]
Whether we accept Mr Philip Edwards' view that the difference between the first two acts of the play and the remainder is due to the differing skill of two reporters, or assume that Shakespeare based his play on the work of another dramatist, making few alterations in the opening acts and completely rewriting the last three, we may agree that...
(The entire section is 24108 words.)
Michael Taylor (essay date 1982)
SOURCE: '"Here is a thing too young for such a place': Innocence in Pericles," in Ariel, Vol. 13, No. 3, July, 1982, pp. 3-19.
[In this essay, Taylor explores the difference between the quality of Pericles* innocence and Marina's.]
In Shakespeare's plays the corrupt often confuse innocence with stupidity. Swayed by their reductive view of human nature (innocent and simplistic itself) these confident, pragmatic observers of human behaviour cannot acknowledge the possibility that any sensible person can (or should) act beyond his or her immediate self-interest. Such a stance helps...
(The entire section is 14901 words.)
Gerald J. Schiffhorst (essay date 1967)
SOURCE: 'The Imagery of Pericles and What It Tells Us," in Ball State University Forum, Vol. VIII, No. 3, Summer, 1967, pp. 61-70.
[In the essay below, Schiffhorst surveys the varied imagery of Pericles, offering it as evidence that the play was either entirely written or emended throughout by Shakespeare.]
Critical attention to the imagery of Shakespeare's Pericles has been almost negligible, and commentators have often been content to dismiss the play as only in part Shakespeare's. Recent scholarship has indicated that the differences between the first two and the last three acts...
(The entire section is 24842 words.)
Nona Fienberg (essay date 1982)
SOURCE: "Marina in Pericles: Exchange Values and the Art of Moral Discourse," in Iowa State Journal of Research, Vol. 57, No. 2, November, 1982, pp. 153-61.
[Here, Fienberg discusses the economic metaphors of Pericles in relation to Marina's character, arguing that by selling moral discourse instead of her body "Marina acknowledges the market system, yetremains uncorrupted by it."]
In his essay, "Of Truth" (1625), Francis Bacon distinguishes between "theological and philosophical truth" and the truth of "civil business." While he further distinguishes between the poets, whose harmless lies give...
(The entire section is 10392 words.)
Brockbank, J. P. "'Pericles' and the Dream of Immortality." Shakespeare Survey 24 (1971): 105-16.
Examines the sources of Pericles and its theme of death as illusion.
Fawkner, H. W. "Miracle." In Shakespeare's Miracle Plays: 'Pericles,' 'Cymbeline,' and The Winter's Tale,' pp. 13-56. London: Associated University Presses, 1992.
Analysis of Pericles informed by the metaphor of "muteness" and "contrasting masculine and feminine principles."
Flower, Annette C. "Disguise and Identity in Pericles, Prince of Tyre." In Shakespeare Quarterly 26, No. 1 (Winter 1975): 30-41.
Examines the motif of...
(The entire section is 442 words.)
Pericles (Vol. 51)
For further information on the critical and stage history of Pericles, see .
Pericles has enjoyed a revival in scholarly interest during the twentieth century. Once ridiculed as so poorly written and disjointed that its authorship was questionable, the drama is now garnering more attention and praise as a transitional piece in Shakespeare's career. Most scholars now ascribe Pericles as the first of Shakespeare's romances, a genre in which the woes and troubles of the protagonist are miraculously reversed during the play's conclusion. Although critics note that the play is less complex and realistic than Shakespeare's earlier works, they argue that the playwright employs a dreamlike state and exotic setting purposefully to distance the audience from the distressing subjects of incest and prostitution. The majority of scholars agree now that Shakespeare did write the third, fourth, and fifth acts while an unknown author, possibly George Wilkins, is responsible for writing the lesser quality first and second acts.
In his study of Shakespeare's romance plays, John Dean argues that Pericles, like the other plays in this genre, centers upon the nature of love and on the juxtaposition between fidelity and moral love versus evil, self-serving love. Dean states that Pericles is about contrasts between good and immoral characters and about the cost of love. He states: "Like the use of the sea in his romances, the power of love is used to establish the marvelously fluid atmosphere which helps to keep the diverse ingredients of his romance plays in balance." Other criticism dealing with issues of love and romance focus on the varying nature and symbolic roles of the three couples at the center of the drama. In her comparison of Pericles, Hamlet, and King Lear, Kay Stockholder illustrates the similarities in sexual ideals in these plays, contrasting Pericles's struggles with incest with Hamlet's contentious relationship with Ophelia. Although Pericles ends in triumph, Stockholder argues that its fairytale structure "casts doubts on its possibility, a doubt that also attaches to the emotional veracity of the envisioned restoration of love and family." The issue of adultery has sparked considerable critical attention. Elizabeth Archibald, for instance, notes the contrasts between the true, romantic love shared by Pericles and Thaisa versus the unnatural and monstrous adultery between Antiochus and his daughter. Archibald states that in contrast to earlier versions of the story, Marina is not condemned, despite her purity, to a martyr's death for her exposure to brothel life, but rather Shakespeare redeems her through marriage. However, Archibald points out that Marina never expresses any opinion about her marriage nor her intended, and thus, there is no evidence that she loves Lysimachus, the prince whom she reforms. Other scholarship focuses on the pure and chaste nature of Marina, suspected to provide counter balance to the darkness of the incest theme and her role in the restoration of her father. Although much of the scholarship on Pericles deals with other issues, Hermann Ulrici argues that the play is centered around and unified by the triumph of love.
John Dean (essay date 1979)
SOURCE: "The Theme of Love in Shakespeare's Romances," in Elizabethan and Renaissance Studies, Vol. 86: Restless Wanderers: Shakespeare and the Pattern of Romance, edited by Dr. James Hogg, Institut Für Anglistik Und Amerikanistik der Universitat Salzburg, 1979, pp. 264-77.
[In the excerpt below, Dean argues that Shakespeare contrasts healthy and immoral forms of love in Pericles.]
"Hear my soul speak."
1 Love in the Literature of Romance
Throughout all of Shakespeare's romances there is a strain of théâtre à thèse, that type of theatre which in an earlier form had all but destroyed the dramatic feasibility of Timon of Athens, The thesis which Shakespeare develops in each one of his romances is a variation on the theme of how love may be found, lost, and recovered. Each of Shakespeare's romances builds language and situation, character and tension to highlight a strong moral position, especially sexual conservatism, and to advance an argument in defense of fidelity. Whether or not Shakespeare held the views argued out by character and plot development in his romances is uncertain; it is clear, however, that certain ideas about love and human beings are the animating force in Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale and The Tempest. Like the use of the sea in his romances, the power of love is used to establish the marvellously fluid atmosphere which helps to keep the diverse ingredients of his romance plays in balance.
Reading these four romances both as a set and individually one finds Shakespeare concentrating on the masculine and feminine expression of love as two distinguishable forms of love, on love as the most powerful shaping force in the lives of human beings, the need for reciprocity and a moral attitude with regards to love, the decay and degeneration of human love as a precursor to death, a distinction between the love of youth and the love of maturity, love as a private and a social bond, and love as an element which extends beyond mortal bounds.
Love has always been a dominant strain in the literature of romance. For Homer in the Odyssey love was important first of all as a family emotion, that special circle of affection shared by Odysseus, Penelope, Telemachus, Laertes, and Antikleia. The word for this form of love in Homer is philos, by which Homer meant "that unalterable relation, far deeper than fondness and compatible with all changes of mood, which unites a normal man to his wife, his home, or his own body - the tie of a mutual 'belonging' which is there even when he dislikes them."1 It is this force of phílos which keeps Odysseus directed back towards Ithaca, which makes him long for his wife and home even when he shares the delicious sea cave of the goddess Calypso. It is also the emotion which Penelope feels for Odysseus and which helps her to stay faithful to him, an emotion which Telemachus feels for his father, and the power with which Odysseus' mother Antikleia reaches out to him in Hades. A love of sexual passion, éros, is also an important part of the love theme in the Odyssey. But Homer regards it as a far more ambiguous sentiment, one with many negative overtones. É ros is the name given to the destructive love which the suitors feel for Penelope (Od. xviii, 212), and their longing to express this kind of love with Penelope ultimately results in their death.
Love is a unifying and moral sentiment in the Hellenistic romances when expressed by the hero and heroine—especially when expressed by the heroine. It gives the wanderers the strength to endure their sufferings and carries them onwards even when they lack an immediate goal. The same basic distinction is made between philos and éros in the Hellenistic romances; all the heroines preserve their virginity and in the Aethiopica, Daphnis & Chloe, and Apollonius of Tyre the heroes preserve their virginity as well. The one exception is Clitophon in Clitophon & Leucippe who breaks the narrative tension established by the virginity theme by having sexual intercourse with the supposed widow Melitte at the end of the fifth book.2 The one female exception with regard to chastity is the heroine Chloe in Daphnis & Chloe, who, although she does not lose her virginity, still indulges in the deathbed embrace of Dorcon.3
The temper of the love expressed between the hero and the heroine in the Hellenistic romances is strictly adolescent. Apollonius of Tyre almost provides an exception here, but when the love between Apollonius and his wife matures the focus of the story shifts to his daughter's adolescent love. Also the love scenes between the hero and heroine in the Hellenistic romances are imbued with a tone of sweetness, or glukts, as the narrative slowly builds up a mood of expectation for their eventual marriage and discovery of their true identity. As noted earlier, in contrast to this strain of young, sweet, idealistic love in the Hellenistic romances there is also a strain of seasoned, sensual pleasures—a contrast of emotional sensibility which was suggested in the Odyssey only in Nausicaa's delicately expressed affection for Odysseus.
In marked distinction to both Homer's and Shakespeare's use of love is the lack of a sense of love as a family affection in the Hellenistic romances. With the exception of the second half of Apollonius of Tyre love is a sentiment expressed solely between two young lovers isolated from their families in the course of the narrative. In most cases their expressions of love are a kind of vernal phílos, a true love experienced by adolescents which is not expressed in family terms until the final reunion scene.
In Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur the theme of love matures throughout the long course of the narrative. At first it is strongly reminiscent of the adolescent affection one finds in Hellenistic romances, tempered by a more realistic approach to sensuality. But by the time the Sangrail narrative begins in Book XVII, and especially by the time of the "le Chevalier du Chariot" episode in Book XIX, the theme of love is treated in an extremely mature fashion.
Love in Malory is not normal family love, rather it is the ambiguous experience of mature passion between independent men and women. Guenever and Launcelot know what they are risking as long as they maintain their love, and they accept this risk as one of the attributes which makes their love rare and valued above all others. They act as if their love stands above human law, and the irony of Arthur's subsequent enforcement of human law is that it ends their love in as world-shattering and intense a fashion as such a rare love deserved.
The greatest sorrow of the love theme in Le Morte D'Arthur is that love does not lead the parted back together again. Until the appearance of the Sangrail and the quarrel over Guenever and Launcelot's adultery the force of love appeared to bind the Round Table fellowship. But then the Sangrail appears and offers the knights a higher, more-than-earthly love. The final exposure of Guenever and Launcelot irreparably divides the Round Table fellowship over the reality of mortal, imperfect love.
In Ariosto's Orlando Furioso love drives all human actions. Ariosto attaches love to every desire which a man or a woman may have, from a love of chastity and honour to a love of God and war. More particularly, love is important in the plot of Orlando Furioso because the rejection of Orlando's love by Angelica and her totally unreasonable preference for Medor drives Orlando temporarily insane. And thus the whole poem is built around "Orlando's acts . . . / Who fell bestraught with love, a hap most rare, / To one that erst was counted wise and stayd" (C.l, st. 1). All facets of human love are examined by Ariosto and love is rarely examined from one angle. Ariosto is careful to frame this driving motion through his distanced observations as narrator and then to return to the point of view of the individual character who is undergoing the experience of love. At times this narrative method will devalue the love which is being spoken of (as with Rodomont, Isabel, and Doralice, O.F. C.XXIX, st. l.f.), or these comments may intensify the love (as with Ariosto's comments on Bradamant's experience of jealousy, O.F., C.XXXI, st. l.f.). At the end of the whole work the many diverse forms of love are bound in the atmosphere of good will established by the love between Ruggiero and Bradamant, while the last great enemy of love, the pagan knight Rodomont, King of Algiers, is killed.
The experience of love is a very mixed brew in pre-Shakespearean romance plays. In the three romance plays which we examined at an earlier point in this study the theme of love was presented quite differently in each play. Thomas Hughes portrays love in The Misfortunes of Arthur either as an ill, sexual passion, as with the interpretation of Guenever's love for Mordred (T.M.O.A., I.ii., p. 267), or as a self-sacrificing power which great heroes can show for their country, as with Arthur's love for Britain (esp. in Arthur's death scene, T.M.O.A., V.i.). The Misfortunes of Arthur manufactures sharp theatrical dichotomies between good and evil forms of love and prefigures the same technique of sharp divisions as that used by Shakespeare in a far more sophisticated fashion in Pericles. Robert Green's portrayal of love in The History of Orlando Furioso is very reminiscent in spirit of Ariosto's depiction of love in the Orlando Furioso: once love has touched a person they are all heat and fire, suddenly quite altered from a previous state of calm self-control into a state of daemonic possession. Because Orlando takes leave of his sense in The History of Orlando Furioso it is not a faith in love which leads him back to his sanity and his beloved Angelica, but rather the workings of chance and fortune. In John Day's The Isle of Gulls the love theme is an incongruous mixture of bawdry and high sentiment, often expressed by the same characters at the same time.4 The play treats love as a robust game for courtiers and gallants, as a subject which is essentially lighthearted and offers little cause for pain.
Shakespeare's personal expression of the force of love which he showed in his sonnets portrays love as a guiding power in a changing world. As Shakespeare noted about the philos kind of love in Sonnet 116, it is not a love:
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never-shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
(St. 116, 2-8)
Whereas the eros kind of love leads to:
Th'expense of spirit in a waste of shame
. . . . .
Mad in pursuit, and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof, and prov'd, a very woe;
Before, a joy propos'd; behind, a dream.
(St. 129, 9-12)
Although Shakespeare probably wrote his Sonnets earlier than his romances,5 the ideas about love which he crystallized in the Sonnets quoted above are to be found again in the ordering principle of love which he used in his dramatic romances. In addition to what Shakespeare may have learned from earlier dramatic romances and his own ideas of love expressed in Sonnets 116 and 129, an argument for the superiority and permanence of philos love as contrasted to eros love is developed by John Gower throughout his poème à thèse, the Confessio Amantis—which served as the finest source work for Pericles. Finally in Pericles itself, which we shall now turn to, the dramatic progression is marked by a series of illustrations of the good and evil forms of love, with the plot tracing out a thematic pattern concerned with the protagonists' victimization or aid by different expressions of love.
2 Stable Pieces in A Shifting Tableau: Pericles
Pericles begins with a storm of passion as the adventurous and cocksure young prince confronts the primordial crime of incest. Shakespeare underlines Pericles' state of sexual excitement and confusion, as the young prince is portrayed as being deeply in love with the incestuous daughter of King Antiochus before he knows of her crime, while after he learns of it he regrets the loss of a love which he felt could have lasted forever (see esp. Per. I.i.76-77). Pericles notes how the Daughter of Antiochus' face is the "book of praises, where is read / Nothing but curious pleasures" (Per. I.i.15-16) and how he would give "my unspotted fire of love to you" (Per. I.i.53).
Yet while his sexual ardour is in this initial inflamed stage, his first bite into the apple of his desire shows him that it is pitted with...
(The entire section is 5553 words.)
R. S. White (essay date 1985)
SOURCE: "Shakespeare's Romances: Pericles," in 'Let Wonder Seem Familiar': Endings in Shakespeare's Romance Vision, Humanities Press, 1985, pp. 115-130.
[In the following excerpt, White defends Pericles as the most perfect example of the romance genre among Shakespeare's plays.]
Pericles is the one and only pure romance in the Shakespearean canon, and viewed as such it has a strange and moving beauty of its own. The courtly wit of the early comedies is replaced by a hushed honesty of poetic statement, and a sense of reverent awe, as a man finds himself at the...
(The entire section is 5726 words.)
Maurice Hunt (essay date 1990)
SOURCE: "Pericles, Prince of Tyre, " in Shakespeare's Romance of the Word, Bucknell University Presses, 1990, pp. 18-40.
[In the excerpt below, Hunt examines the language, dialogue, and speech patterns in Pericles.]
I shall approach my thesis about the importance of the word in Pericles by way of the play's most farcical dialogue. In Shakespeare and the Confines of Art, Philip Edwards remarks that "the uncouth fishermen who succour the shipwrecked Pericles are in the play only to show the warmth of kindness as a contrast to the previous coldness of both humanity and the elements."1...
(The entire section is 19317 words.)
Kay Stockholder (essay date 1985)
SOURCE: "Sex and Authority in Hamlet, King Lear and Pericles," in Mosaic, Vol. XVIII, No. 3, Summer, 1985, pp. 17-29.
[In the essay below, Stockholder reveals the thematic ties between Pericles, Hamlet, and King Lear, arguing that the plays reflect Shakespeare's views on gender roles, sex, and power,]
The central importance of the family to Shakespeare's plays has been discussed recently by many critics, notably by C. L. Barber who sees religious issues replacing domestic ones as the focus of meaning for Shakespeare's time. He argues that the consequent emotional pressure on the...
(The entire section is 22419 words.)
Archibald, Elizabeth. " 'Deep clerks she dumbs': The Learned Heroine in Apollonius of Tyre and Pericles" Comparative Drama 22, No. 4 (Winter 1988-89): 289-303.
Compares the treatment of Marina's liberal arts education and high level of intellect in Pericles to earlier sources of the story, arguing that they are de-emphasized in Shakespeare's Pericles.
Bishop, T. G. "Pericles; or, the Past as Fate and Miracle." In Shakespeare and the Theatre of Wonder, pp. 93-124. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Examines the literary structure of Pericles...
(The entire section is 408 words.)
Pericles (Vol. 66)
For further information on the critical and stage history of Pericles, see SC, Volumes 2, 15, 36, and 51.
Pericles, likely composed in 1607 and considered Shakespeare’s first romance, is a tale of loss and recovery based on “Apollonius of Tyre,” an ancient legend with roots in Greek and Roman antiquity. Although Pericles was extremely popular during Shakespeare’s time, and was often successfully re-staged and reprinted throughout the seventeenth century, it was neglected for two centuries thereafter. Long considered to be one of Shakespeare’s least satisfying plays, critics have cited its flawed text, controversy over the play’s authorship, lifeless characters, and shapeless plot as reasons for its marginalization. Recently, however, Pericles has enjoyed a revival in scholarly interest. Twentieth-century commentators continue to explore the play’s questionable authorship, characterization, and major themes. Pericles also has experienced a revival on the stage, as productions of the play have had much success in the twentieth century.
Questions regarding the play’s authorship continue to interest critics. Some scholars maintain that parts of Pericles are so flawed that they could not have been composed by Shakespeare. Proponents of this theory maintain that Shakespeare collaborated with another author, who wrote the somewhat inferior first two acts of the play. Other critics, such as James O. Wood (1977), contend that the play was written entirely by Shakespeare. Wood uses the theme of flattery as it appears in the second act of Pericles to support an argument for Shakespeare as the play's sole author, and as the basis for his assertion that the surviving text is an amalgam of an early draft by Shakespeare and his later revisions.
The character of Pericles as well as the other major characters in the play have also continued to attract the attention of modern scholars. John P. Cutts (1969) examines the character of Pericles, and suggests that the outer disharmony Pericles encounters reflects the inner disharmony of his own character. Annette C. Flower (1975) studies the disguises of the three main characters—Pericles, Marina, and Thaisa—and explores how the relationship between disguise and identity in Pericles reveals and defines character. Stephen J. Lynch (1993) focuses on Gower, who functions as the play’s chorus, or narrator. Lynch argues that Gower serves as a “surrogate author” of the play, claiming that Shakespeare's use of Gower “involves a double strategy: a confession of authorial limitations matched with a claim to authorial elevation and mystification.”
Just as scholarly interpretations of Pericles have proliferated, the twentieth century has seen a revival in productions of the play. J. Thomas Rimer (see Further Reading) studies Japanese productions of Pericles, showing how similar the traditional Japanese Noh and Kabuki forms are to the narrative and dramatic strategies represented in Pericles. Doreen Delvecchio and Antony Hammond (1998) trace the production history of the play from the seventeenth through the twentieth century. The critics remark on the opportunities the play offers for theatrical spectacle and musical embellishment, but find that a minimalist approach works equally well.
While some scholars still view Pericles as a dramatic failure, others, like T. S. Eliot, who called it a “very great play,” have achieved a new, more positive understanding of the work. In his 1955 essay, Derek Traversi argues that Pericles is a complex transitional work, bridging the gap between the tragedies and the last bittersweet plays of loss, miracle, and restoration. Likewise, Harold Bloom (1988) maintains that the play represents Shakespeare's first attempt to fashion a play that was neither a comedy nor a tragedy, but could incorporate elements of both. Paul Dean (see Further Reading) argues that Pericles derives its unity from being a pilgrimage tale, echoing Biblical antecedents like The Book of Jonah and medieval models like Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Critics argue, moreover, that Pericles is a play with universal themes. David Solway (1997) sees it as a “voyage through time to an atemporal destination,” whose theme is the “universal dream of retrieval and atonement.”
SOURCE: Bloom, Harold. “Pericles.” In Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, pp. 603-13. New York: Riverhead Books, 1998.
[In the following essay, Bloom presents an overview of Pericles, concentrating on the last three acts.]
Shakespeare was occupied with Pericles in the winter of 1607-8, though scholars are not able to define the precise nature of that occupation. The first two acts of the play are dreadfully expressed, and cannot have been Shakespeare's, no matter how garbled in transmission. We have only a very bad quarto, but the inadequacy of so much of the text is probably not the reason why Pericles was excluded from the First Folio. Ben Jonson had a hand in editing the First Folio, and he had denounced Pericles as “a mouldy tale.” Presumably Jonson and Shakespeare's colleagues also knew that one George Wilkins was the primary author of the first two acts of the play. Wilkins was a lowlife hack, possibly a Shakespearean hanger-on, and Shakespeare may have outlined Acts I and II to Wilkins and told him to do the writing. Even by the standards of Shakespeare's London, Wilkins was an unsavory fellow—a whoremonger, in fact, a very relevant occupation for a coauthor of Pericles, though the superb brothel scenes are Shakespeare's work.
Pericles is not only uneven (and mutilated) but very peculiar in genre. It features choral recitations by a presenter, the medieval poet John Gower, who is atrocious in the first two acts but improves markedly thereafter. The play resorts to frequent dumb show, in the manner of The Murder of Gonzago, revised by Hamlet into The Mousetrap. Most oddly, it has only a sporadic continuity: we are given episodes from the lives of Pericles, his wife Thaisa, and their daughter Marina. The episodes do not necessarily generate one another, as they would in history, tragedy, and comedy, but Shakespeare had exhausted all of those modes. After Antony and Cleopatra, we have seen the retreat from inwardness in Coriolanus and in Timon of Athens.
It would be absurd to ask, What sort of personality does Shakespeare's Pericles possess? Libraries have been written on the personality of Hamlet, but Pericles has none whatsoever. Even Marina has every virtue but no personality: there cannot be that individual a pathos in the emblematic world of Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Shakespeare was not in flight from the human, but he had turned to representing something other than the shared reality of Falstaff and Rosalind, Hamlet and Cleopatra, Shylock and Iago. Pericles and Marina are a universal father and daughter; his only importance is that he is her father, who loses her and then receives her back again, and she matters only as a daughter, who suffers separation from her father, and then is restored to him. I am not suggesting that they are archetypes or symbols, but only that their relationship is all that interests Shakespeare. Lear is everything and nothing in himself, and Cordelia, in much briefer compass, also contains multitudes. Pericles is just real enough to suffer trauma, and Marina is strong enough to resist being debauched, but both scarcely exist as will, cognition, desire. They are not even passive beings. In that sense alone, the jealous Ben Jonson was right: Pericles and Marina are figures in a moldy tale, an old story always being retold.
Both performances of Pericles that I have attended, some thirty years apart, were student productions, and both confirmed what many critics long have maintained: even the first two acts are quite playable. Except for the astonishing recognition scene between Pericles and Marina in Act V, and the two grotesquely hilarious brothel scenes in Act IV, very little in the play can be judged dramatic, and yet performance somehow transfigures even the ineptitudes of George Wilkins. This puzzles me, because bad direction and bad acting have converted me to Charles Lamb's party: it is, alas, better, especially now, to read Shakespeare than to see him travestied and deformed. Pericles is the exception; it is the only play in Shakespeare I would rather attend again than reread, and not just because the text has been so marred by transmission. Perhaps because he declined to compose the first two acts, Shakespeare compensated by making the remaining three acts into his most radical theatrical experiment since the mature Hamlet of 1600-1601. Pericles consistently is strange, but it has nothing as startling as the gap in representation that Shakespeare cuts into Hamlet from Act II, Scene ii, through Act III, Scene ii. But then what is being represented in the last three acts of Pericles?
Gower, speaking the Epilogue, tells us that Pericles, Thaisa, and Marina are “Led on by heaven, and crown'd with joy at last,” so that the play represents the triumph of virtue over fortune, thanks to the intercession of “the gods,” which must mean Diana in particular. Shakespeare, in his final phase, frequently seems a rather belated acolyte of Diana. No dramatist, though, would have understood better than Shakespeare how impossible it is to bring off a staged representation of triumphant chastity, virginal or married. Shakespeare's poem The Phoenix and the Turtle is exactly relevant on this subject:
Love hath reason, reason none, If what parts, can so remain.
Whether the heart's reasons can be staged was always Shakespeare's challenge, and kept his art a changing one. How to represent the mystery of married chastity—“If what parts, can so remain”—remained a perplexity to the end. Shakespeare's Gower and Pericles so remove us from our world (except for the whorehouse scenes!) that the play indeed answers the Bawd's rhetorical question: “What have we to do with Diana?” (IV.ii.148).
Essentially, there are only two deities in Pericles, Neptune and Diana, and Diana wins. What are we to make of that victory? Neptune has oppressed Pericles, almost in the pattern of Poseidon's operations against Odysseus. Northrop Frye, noting the processional form of Pericles, remarks that the play's manner of presenting its action makes it one of the world's earliest operas, and then compares it to Eliot's The Waste Land, and necessarily also to Eliot's “Marina.” I suppose that Diana's triumph is operatic enough, as is Marina's victory over both the staff and the clientele of the brothel. Frye's reading of the play, rather like Wilson Knight's more baroque interpretation, seems to me a little remote from Pericles's curious and deliberate emptiness, akin to much of The Waste Land and Eliot's “Marina.”
Such an emptying-out of Shakespeare's characteristic richness is a kenosis of sorts; the most sophisticated of all poet-playwrights surrenders his greatest powers and originalities—God becoming man, as it were. Frye calls Pericles “psychologically primitive,” but this is true only in the sense of Shakespeare's knowing abnegation of inwardness, not in asking the audience for a primitive response. Our participation is not uncritical; we give up the Shakespearean lifelike, but not the Shakespearean selfsame. Gower is there to keep telling us that this is a play, but so redundant a message takes us back from Pericles and Marina not to “mouldy tales” and the authority of the archetypal, but to Shakespeare himself. The audience does not attend without the foregrounding of knowledge as to who the playwright is, and how different Pericles is from the more than thirty plays preceding it. Nor can anyone now read Pericles without the awareness that the creator of Hamlet, Falstaff, and Cleopatra is giving us a protagonist who is merely a cipher, a name upon the page. Wonder is always where one starts and ends with Shakespeare, and Shakespeare himself, as poet-playwright, is the largest provocation to wonder in Pericles. One suspects that the scenario for the play originated with Shakespeare, but that he had some distaste for what was to go into the first two acts and casually assigned them to a crony, Wilkins.
Pericles begins at Antioch, where its founder and ruler, Antiochus the Great, gleefully piles up the heads of suitors for his unnamed daughter, executing them for not solving a riddle whose solution would reveal his ongoing incest with her. Getting the riddle right, Pericles of Tyre flees for his life. After making a voyage to Tharsus, to relieve starvation there, the colorless hero suffers his first shipwreck, and then finds himself ashore at Pentapolis, where he marries Thaisa, daughter of the local king. All this out of the way, Shakespeare himself takes over to start Act III. Pericles and Thaisa, who is about to deliver...
(The entire section is 3638 words.)
SOURCE: Cutts, John P. “Pericles' ‘Downright Violence.’” Shakespeare Studies 4 (1969): 275-93.
[In the following essay, Cutts argues that the outer disharmony Pericles encounters reflects the inner disharmony of his own character.]
F. D. Hoeniger, in the introduction to his edition1 of Pericles, asserts that G. Wilson Knight2 is wrong in his argument that Pericles is somehow infected by the evil of Antiochus' daughter whom he tried to woo, and that Kenneth Muir's3 suggestion that Thaisa upon suddenly marrying Pericles broke a vow to Diana is equally misleading, and that to seek for a moral cause of Pericles' troubles is...
(The entire section is 10498 words.)
SOURCE: Flower, Annette C. “Disguise and Identity in Pericles, Prince of Tyre.” Shakespeare Quarterly 26, no. 1 (winter 1975): 30-41.
[In the following essay, Flower explores how the relationship between disguise and identity in Pericles reveals and defines character.]
The paradox in Pericles, Prince of Tyre is the paradox of fantasy: that not “realism” but conscious illusion, artfully handled, can most satisfyingly interpret reality. A “mouldy tale” it may be, but such a label is not so much a charge of failure as a badge of success, for Pericles is meant to be a mouldy tale. Its mouldiness and its narrative basis are...
(The entire section is 5942 words.)
SOURCE: Lynch, Stephen J. “The Authority of Gower in Shakespeare's Pericles.” Mediaevalia: A Journal of Medieval Studies 16 (1993): 361-78.
[In the following essay, Lynch argues that Gower serves as the “surrogate author” of Pericles, claiming that Shakespeare's use of Gower “involves a double strategy: a confession of authorial limitations matched with a claim to authorial elevation and mystification.”]
The presence of so ancient a figure as Gower in so late a play as Pericles poses a series of immediate questions. Why, so late in Shakespeare's career, does he resort to a chorus? Why John Gower as chorus? Most importantly, what is the...
(The entire section is 6165 words.)
SOURCE: Delvecchio, Doreen and Antony Hammond. Introduction to Pericles, Prince of Tyre, edited by Doreen Delvecchio and Antony Hammond, pp. 1-78. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
[In the following excerpt, Delvecchio and Hammond trace the production history of Pericles from the seventeenth through the twentieth century.]
PERFORMANCE AND RECEPTION
From the beginning Pericles has been a play that has divided opinion. It is evident that it was a popular play on stage, and this success surely was at least in part owing to the opportunities it (like the other romances) offered...
(The entire section is 4143 words.)
SOURCE: Wood, James O. “Shakespeare, Pericles, and the Genevan Bible.” Pacific Coast Philology 12 (October 1977): 82-9.
[In the following essay, Wood uses the theme of flattery as it appears in the second act of Pericles to support an argument for Shakespeare as the play's sole author, and as the basis for the assertion that the surviving text is an amalgam of an early draft by Shakespeare and his later revisions.]
The singular play Pericles, Prince of Tyre, published in quarto as Shakespeare's in 1609, somehow failed to appear in the Folio of 1623. Though it is universally agreed that much of the latter half could have been written only by...
(The entire section is 3308 words.)
SOURCE: Jordan, Constance. “‘Eating the Mother’: Property and Propriety in Pericles.” In Creative Imitation: New Essays on Renaissance Literature in Honor of Thomas M. Green, edited by David Quint, Margaret W. Ferguson, G. W. Pigman III, and Wayne Rebhorn, pp. 331-53. Binghamton, N.Y.: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1992.
[In the following essay, Jordan argues that the incestuous relation of Antiochus and his daughter in Pericles constitutes a metaphoric representation of political tyranny, and that Antiochus represents Pericles's desire for absolute rule.]
Bot yit it is a wonder thing, Whan that a riche worthi king … Wol axe and...
(The entire section is 9914 words.)
SOURCE: Solway, David. “Pericles as Dream.” The Sewanee Review 105, no. 1 (winter 1997): 91-5.
[In the following essay, Solway examines the dreamlike qualities of Pericles.]
Some to the Lute, some to the Viol went, And others chose the Cornet eloquent. These practising the Wind, and those the Wire, To sing Mens Triumphs, or in Heavens quire.
—Andrew Marvell, Musicks Empire
Pericles, despite its earlier composition and disputed status, best sums up, of all the late plays, the character of Shakespearean romance. Its schematic form, its “gaps” and archaisms, its unadorned outlines and loose texture enable the...
(The entire section is 1985 words.)
SOURCE: Hart, F. Elizabeth. “Cerimon's ‘Rough’ Music in Pericles, 3.2.” Shakespeare Quarterly 51, no. 3 (fall 2000): 313-31.
[In the following essay, Hart argues that analysis of the adjective “rough” in Cerimon's phrase “rough music” points to the mother goddess Diana as the controlling deity of the play.]
Shakespeare's use of “rough” in The Tempest to describe the magic that Prospero must “abjure” (5.1.50, 51) has inspired debate over the adjective's meaning, some critics finding in it the key not only to Prospero's powers but to the play as a whole.1 A less well-studied but similarly ambiguous use of “rough”...
(The entire section is 9227 words.)
Becker, Marvin B. “A Historian's View of Another Pericles.” Michigan Quarterly Review 15, no. 2 (1976): 197-211.
Argues that for an understanding of Pericles, knowledge of the complex historical context of the play, especially with regard to the medieval idea of “spiritual education through misfortune,” is essential.
Dean, Paul. “Pericles' Pilgrimage.” Essays in Criticism 50, no. 2 (April 2000): 125-44.
Explores Pericles as a pilgrimage tale with Biblical and medieval antecedents.
Fawkner, H. W. “Miracle: The Muteness of Pericles.” In Shakespeare's...
(The entire section is 502 words.)
Pericles (Vol. 79)
Pericles (ca. 1607), Shakespeare's first romance, has been considered by some critics to be one of his least satisfying works. In this play, introduced by the choric narrator Gower, Shakespeare used a fairy-tale style to recount the misfortunes of Pericles, prince of Tyre, who is exiled and separated from his wife and daughter. Pericles is grief-stricken and wanders at sea until he is happily reunited with his loved ones at the play's end. Scholars have identified several causes for their dissatisfaction with Pericles: its disjointed, episodic construction; its weak characters, inconsistent dialogue, and implausible plot twists; and—perhaps most vexing—its suspect heritage. Critics have long questioned whether Shakespeare is the sole author of the play, with the general consensus being that he wrote most of the final three acts whereas other writers were responsible for the first two. Despite these long-standing aesthetic and textual concerns, Pericles has received a substantial amount of attention in the last century. Indeed, recent critics have been drawn to the play for some of the same reasons that it was once scorned. In addition to debating the extent to which Shakespeare was involved in creating the drama, critics have analyzed the stylistic deviations in Pericles for clues to larger shifts in the literary, religious, and political landscape during Shakespeare's lifetime.
Several literary scholars have examined the playwright's narrative technique and distinctive mode of presentation in Pericles. Many of these discussions center on the play's choric narrator, Gower—a fictional recreation of the fourteenth-century English poet John Gower—who frequently addresses the audience and comments on the story. Walter F. Eggers (1975) identifies Gower as an “authorial presenter” who serves to distance the audience from the illusion of the play. Eggers maintains that Gower's limited viewpoint of the dramatic events allows the audience to place the representational aspect of the play in its proper perspective and instead focus on the basic story. Similarly, Kenneth J. Semon (1974) demonstrates how Gower's archaic moral perspective influences the dramatic events of Pericles. Semon speculates that Shakespeare intentionally underscored Gower's strict moral opinions in an effort to persuade the audience to identify more closely with the wonder-filled reactions of the other characters in the play. F. David Hoeniger (1982) asserts that Gower's archaic observations and language are a means for Shakespeare to ridicule literary styles which he considered to be outdated, a technique that previously had been employed by Geoffrey Chaucer. Richard Hillman (1985) is less concerned with the character of Gower than with the work of the real-life poet. It has long been acknowledged that Pericles was inspired in part by a tale related in Gower's Confessio Amantis (1385-93); Hillman points out additional links between the two works.
Though popular with audiences during Shakespeare's time and well into the seventeenth century, Pericles later fell into disfavor and was almost completely absent from the stage during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. However, the play experienced a revival in the twentieth century. D. J. R. Bruckner (1998) notes that Pericles is a play that has everything, including “murder, kidnapping, drowning, lost children, resurrections, political intrigue, divine vengeance, a bordello redeemed by a virgin, admired rulers whose sex lives would arch Satan's eyebrow, pimps, homicidal jealousy, labor induced by a hurricane, birth onstage and eternal love.” Bruckner gives high praise to the Kings County Shakespeare Company production of the play, directed by Jonathan Bank, for its ability to pull all the elements of the play together and create “irresistible entertainment.” Charles Isherwood's 1998 review of the Joseph Papp Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival production, directed by Brian Kulick, is not so favorable. The critic faults the weak cast and stylistic treatment, and contends that the production lacked a “humanizing touch”; however, the critic grants that the “convoluted saga” presented in the play contributed to the production's failure. Also reviewing Kulick's production, John Simon (1998) strongly criticizes virtually every aspect of the play, especially the director's staging of the play as a farce. Lois Potter (2002) gives a positive review of the Royal Shakespeare Company production of Pericles, directed by Adrian Noble. The critic praises both the cast and the production's visual and musical splendor.
In recent years, a number of critics have maintained that Shakespeare imbued Pericles with a subtle commentary on the compelling social, political, and religious issues that England faced in the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. Margaret Healy (1999) suggests that Pericles can be interpreted as a veiled criticism of the efforts of King James I to arrange marriage links between the English and Spanish royal families. Caroline Bicks (2000) detects references in Pericles to the tension surrounding the practice of traditional Catholic rituals in the Anglican church decades after the Protestant Reformation of the mid-sixteenth century. In particular, Bicks points out dramatic episodes that echo the controversy over church ceremonies involving women after childbirth. Peter Womack (1999) asserts that Pericles shares similarities with earlier dramas that venerated saints, most notably the play Mary Magdalen. The critic discusses the two plays in the context of the changing critical, political, and religious sentiment in England during the 1500s and 1600s, which denigrated improbable and miraculous stories because of their connections to Catholicism. Heather Dubrow (2002) analyzes the dynamic involving parents and children in Pericles, positing that Shakespeare's treatment of familial relationships reflected a widespread apprehension about parental loss in Elizabethan and Jacobean society. According to Dubrow, Shakespeare manipulated the anxiety surrounding this cultural issue not merely to dramatize the emotional toll that parental loss took on children, but also to expose a flawed social convention in which unscrupulous guardians of orphaned children took advantage of the process of inheritance.
SOURCE: Hoeniger, F. David. “Gower and Shakespeare in Pericles.” Shakespeare Quarterly 33, no. 4 (winter 1982): 461-79.
[In the following essay, Hoeniger outlines the plot of Pericles, noting the play's appeal to live audiences and paying special attention to the figure of Gower. The critic maintains that at certain points in the play, Shakespeare attempted to create a burlesque that mocked antiquated literary conventions.]
In this essay I wish to propose an entirely new approach to Pericles which arises from the conviction that critics have not yet grasped the play's highly unusual character and technique. Because large parts of the play, particularly its first two acts, seem to critical readers so obviously defective and crude, both in style and in dramaturgy, we may be surprised by the evidence that in Shakespeare's own time and for a generation after, the play was highly popular. The First Quarto of 1609 speaks of it as “The late, And much admired Play … diuers and sundry times acted by his Maiesties seruants, at the Globe on the Banck-side.” Other references from the time tell us of large crowds flocking to see it, and of both the Venetian and French ambassadors watching an early performance. Between 1610 and 1631 it was revived several times, not only at the Globe, but on one occasion at Whitehall before distinguished guests; it was also performed by a traveling company in the country. Moreover, the Quarto text was reprinted no less than five times, thus confirming the unusual interest in the play. By 1635, the date of the Sixth Quarto, very few other plays had appeared as often in print. We know, of course, that in Shakespeare's time other plays of little dramatic subtlety and of far less literary merit than the best scenes in Pericles could produce a great stir. Yet it does seem strange, especially in view of the play's fate on the stage from Dryden's time to the 1920s and even later, that a work which appears so dismally written and undramatic in its first two acts could experience such a success on stage, and that there was so much demand for it by readers.
But what should surprise us most is that after producers hardly ever risked staging the play for centuries, and then only in major adaptations, several impressive revivals of it during the past thirty years have demonstrated that Pericles can hold modern audiences throughout—and more, that watching it can be an enchanting experience. If these audiences had been prepared simply to accept, for better or worse, the opening parts for the sake of the Shakespearean scenes in the later acts, we could understand this response quite easily. But the audiences were those that go to Stratford-upon-Avon and Stratford, Ontario, or the summer festival at Ashland, Oregon, and their like. A large proportion of them did not know the play or any criticism of it before seeing it. They were eager to see a work by Shakespeare that until then they had only vaguely heard about. Moreover, several people who experienced these productions told me, when I questioned them, how much they enjoyed the play from Gower's first appearance on, and that they were not particularly conscious of a marked change in the third act when Shakespeare's voice, with its rich and lively resonance, is first heard in Pericles' address to the storm on board ship. Readers at this point may well exclaim “Shakespeare, at last,” but audiences of a good production evidently do not, though surely the poetry and increased life of the characters make them prick up their ears. These productions have also made us more fully aware than before how much the choric presenter, John Gower, contributes to the play's atmosphere and overall effect, besides confirming how deeply moving the scene of Pericles' reunion with Marina can be.
This new knowledge of how well the whole play works in the theatre should make us reflect on whether the traditional negative explanations that seek to account for the marked incongruity in quality of the play's scenes are at all convincing. We may well doubt that part of the play is the product of a very inferior collaborator; or that the printed text of the Quarto, the only form through which the play has reached us, was so badly corrupted by reporters that in large sections the Shakespearean original was obscured beyond recognition. The questions I will raise about both of these views familiar in criticism are not meant to ignore the clear evidence that the Quarto was badly printed, contains many manifest errors, and at points is so seriously corrupt that editors cannot hope to restore the true text with assurance. Some of the defects must be blamed on the compositors, others on their inability to understand clearly a difficult manuscript copy, which moreover was itself imperfect and evidently unauthorized by either Shakespeare or his company. Nor is it essential to my interpretation to rule out entirely the idea of collaboration.
But the notion that late in his career Shakespeare collaborated with such a hackwriter as George Wilkins (or even Wilkins together with the slightly more gifted John Day) is, on the face of it, difficult to credit. And the suggestion that a rough play composed by Wilkins and associates landed on Shakespeare's desk, and that as he perused it he became so fascinated by the possibilities of the story in the later parts that he largely redrafted them (but only them) before the whole was successfully staged, should be ruled out as preposterous. Could one imagine a Mozart or a Brahms responding to an inferior composer's quartet by rewriting only parts of its third and fourth movements, and then be happy to see the work performed?
As for the theory of extreme corruption of the text by reporters, one trouble with it is that we can infer the extent of corruption only from the Quarto itself, since no better and authorized text is available for comparison, as is the case of all other Shakespearean bad quartos, for instance those of Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. Not knowing what the original was like, how can one deduce with any assurance the extent of a reporter's desperate improvisations? We need to remind ourselves that the only times we are on really safe ground in concluding that a text is corrupt is when it either does not make sense or errors are manifest. Clearly, for instance, something has gone very wrong in the text and even in the order of events in the first half of the second scene of Pericles, and also in the opening dialogue of V.i. But the idea that a reporter resorted to complete improvisation in most of the first two acts, as well as in parts of later scenes, is difficult to reconcile with the evidence of how they work on the stage. Moreover, if textual corruption was extreme, then the play's early printing history furnishes an instance unique in Jacobean drama. We do know, of course, that Heminge and Condell chose not to include the play in the First Folio, but we do not know why, and as the King's Men revived the play more than once, they must have owned a text that they were sufficiently satisfied with. But we also know that the First Quarto text was reprinted five times over a period of twenty-six years, without any move by Shakespeare or his company to replace it by a more reliable text, as they did every previous time when an unauthorized and corrupt version of a Shakespearean play appeared—with the sole exception of The Merry Wives, which, however, was printed only once, and was followed by the authentic version in the First Folio. All of these considerations encourage me to assume that in spite of some evident defects and corruptions, the text of the First Quarto does in essence convey the original with some justice even in its first two acts. In short, although the original has been badly distorted in some places, the Quarto does not obscure for us the very character and style of large parts.
The play opens with Gower's extraordinary appearance and speech. Comparison between Gower and the Chorus of Henry V merely serves to emphasize their unlikeness. The Chorus of Henry V operates as a spokesman for his company and is dressed in their garb. He speaks vigorous Shakespearean blank verse that whets our appetite for the heroic action of the history play. He strives to infect us with his nationalistic enthusiasm and urges us to assist the actors with our imagination. Pleasing as he is in his vigor of expression, there is yet nothing about him particularly unusual, at least in a Shakespearean drama. But if we have not been prepared for it by reading Pericles before seeing it, we are surprised by the very sight of the medieval poet John Gower, with his quaint, archaic, moralizing lines. The effect he produces will not be forgotten, for in the course of the play he reappears seven times. Even when the play's action seems to be over, he enters once more, in order to summarize it, moralize in his characteristic manner about the characters, and wish the audience joy before announcing that the end of the play has really come. There is no parallel for such a character or effect anywhere else in Shakespeare.
Fortunately, we know from a contemporary woodcut in Wilkins' Painful Adventures, a prose narrative based on the play, what Gower probably looked like on stage during the play's first performance. Evidently old, with a dark and graying beard, he appeared stout and rather short, dressed in a long plain coat, an old-fashioned cap protecting his head against raw weather, and wooden shoes. In one hand he held a staff, in the other a branch of laurel marking him as a renowned poet. Gower's stiff figure has stepped out of a world of long ago. The Elizabethans knew him as “moral” Gower, and contrasted him with his more lighthearted contemporary, Chaucer. He tells us in his opening lines that he has returned “From ashes … Assuming man's infirmities” for the sake of narrating once more a “song” that many generations ago regaled “lords and ladies” who “read it for restoratives.”1 He expresses his hope that it may still be found acceptable by his new listeners, “born in these latter times, / When wit's more ripe.” But of course he introduces it in his own archaic style and verse. He speaks with the conviction of a poet who is accustomed to be listened to with rapt attention:
The purchase is to make men glorious Et bonum quo antiquius eo melius.
(I. Chorus 9-10)
Gower was a learned poet, as the audience knew, and the Latin befits his authority. The line confirms that the story too is antique. Probably only a few members of the audience knew that it forms part of Gower's own Confessio Amantis. But this is unimportant, since the speech clearly conveys that he is the story's teller. We gather that the very idea of reviving the medieval poet on the stage and having him present his own ancient story was meant to appeal to an audience that had developed a liking for things old-fashioned and antiquarian. It was the time of Camden and the Society of Antiquaries. The audience could thus relish the quaint humor of the logic that the older a good thing is, the better it must be.
The effect of the opening chorus is not only striking but splendid. We become enchanted with Gower's poetry. That is attested to by our eagerness to learn at least part of the speech by heart. However heavily moral and stiff Gower appears, the impression is lightened by his songlike rhythm and by the very air of telling a story, which endow his lines with their peculiar charm. In his other seven speeches, the style and manner remain fundamentally consistent, even if not entirely uniform. I once wrote that
The predominantly end-stopped tetrameter lines of the first two choruses yield to a freer handling of the verse, with more pentameter lines and lines of nine or eleven syllables, and with significantly more syncopation and variation in the use of caesura. … The change in style is accompanied by a difference in attitude towards the audience. The later choruses, especially that of IV.iv, remind us more of the Chorus in Henry V. Gower no longer merely presents the scenes to our eyes and judgment: he asks us to cooperate imaginatively with the actors.2
But while this description may be sound in detail, it requires strong qualification if it is not to produce a misleading impression. The changes in some of Gower's later speeches amount, it should be stressed, to no more than small adjustments in his characteristic manner of speech. Once the audience had become accustomed to the reincarnation and manner of speaking of the medieval poet, the playwright wisely introduced a little more freedom into his lines. But he took care not to depart from Gower's initial manner and rhythm, and in the chorus of V.ii he even returned to the stiff tetrameter rhymes of Gower's opening speeches. Gower's archaic style was allowed to vary only enough to ensure that it would remain interesting. And as sheer poetry, Gower's opening speech is certainly no less impressive than the rest.
When audiences first see and hear Gower, they readily accept the illusion that indeed “from ashes ancient Gower is come”; in fact they relish the very conception. But seated as they are in a theatre, they are not surprised when after a brief introduction Gower calls upon actors to present the story. Yet the impression never leaves us as the scenes develop that he controls the presentation of the whole play, which merely presents his own narrative in the adaptation suitable for a revival in a theatre. The actors merely serve him as appropriate tools and aids, and not even all the time, for Gower returns again and again to narrate pieces of the story mixed with moral commentary. Further, in the acted episodes themselves, the mode only now and then becomes fully dramatic—and, as we know, more fully in the later than in the early acts, but even then not consistently. All the way through, the mode and impression remain those of a consciously episodic adaptation of narrative to stage representation.
This method of dramatization, so very unlike that of any other Shakespearean drama, is confirmed by our realization that Shakespeare, or whoever designed the play, chose to follow the order of Gower's original narrative and his characters most of the time with singular subservience. We know that Shakespeare usually took great liberties when he used a story for the plot of his comedies and romances, and that he even did so in his English chronicle plays. Thus, for the first part of Henry IV he changed the Percy of history into a youth no older than Hal himself, and found a place in the action for the totally original character of Falstaff. For Pericles, on the other hand, Shakespeare decided to maintain the pattern of numerous short episodes that follow one another, with frequent changes in locale as the tale hops from one Aegean island to the next. The result is anything but concentrated drama. It is rather a series of “adventures” and spectacles, more like Dekker's Old Fortunatus or even Marlowe's Tamburlaine than like any other Shakespearean play. Only near the end are we given slightly more complex and drawn-out episodes: the final scene of nearly 200 lines in the Mytilene brothel, and the famous scene of 262 lines showing Pericles' reunion with Marina in V.i. But even these scenes are much shorter than the longest of any other Shakespearean play. And after them, the manner reverts to its loose episodic design, true to Gower's original tale. The structure of the whole play has thus been fitted to the dramatist's conception of Gower's character and role. The story takes the form of a show of colorful episodes, introduced and linked by narrative with commentary.
We are now ready to consider Gower's effect on the play in greater detail, but I will begin with the final act, where by general consent Shakespeare's own voice is much in evidence, and only then turn to the opening scenes, where Shakespeare appears hardly present. Act V opens, like the previous acts, with Gower:
Marina thus the brothel 'scapes, and chances Into an honest house, our story says. She sings like one immortal, and she dances As goddess-like to her admired lays.
A great deal has happened to Marina since the ending of the previous scene. The story has moved on rapidly, as so often before, from extreme predicament and crisis to happiness. “Our story says”: we are once more reminded that what we are watching and hearing is Gower's own tale. He continues:
Here we her place And to her father turn our thoughts again, Where we left him on the sea.
(V. Chorus 11-13)
His ship, he tells us, is now anchored off the port of Mytilene, and as the following scene opens we learn from the dialogue that Lysimachus, having sailed with companions on a barge to the vessel, has asked for permission to step on board. In the Quarto the speech headings and text of this opening dialogue are so unclear that editors have found it difficult to sort it out. But fortunately we can trust most of the rest of the scene, which presents Marina's reunion with her father, the play's most famous episode, often praised for being in Shakespeare's best late manner. The scene reminds one both of Lear's reunion with Cordelia and of reunion scenes in the later romances. But the reader need not be told how deeply moving this episode becomes. I will merely observe how its effect is ensured by the way the episode is drawn out, with Pericles at first not reacting at all to Marina's song. Only very slowly as she persists in speaking to him does it begin to dawn upon him that she must be the daughter he had been led to believe was dead. This strategy—and of course the Shakespearean poetry—achieve the effect. But the scene concludes rapidly after Pericles' vision of Diana. When he awakes he announces that, after brief refreshments, he will proceed to Ephesus at the goddess' command. When Lysimachus asks for the hand of his daughter, he assents immediately.
We are not shown the happy celebration and meal at Mytilene. Instead Gower enters once more to tell us:
Now our sands are almost run; More a little, and then dumb.
His speech has reverted to tetrameters very much like those of his opening choruses. He asks us to imagine
What pageantry, what feats, what shows, What minstrelsy, and pretty din, The regent made in Mytilin To greet the king.
“What minstrelsy”: the entertainment is typically medieval, of a kind Shakespeare's audience had read about in stories of old, not what they were familiar with in Jacobean England.
The final scene of Pericles' reunion with Thaisa at Ephesus follows. While the language seems Shakespearean, this second recognition can hardly be expected to move us as deeply as the first. Rather, the audience sits back, watching how the story concludes. The dramaturgy of the double recognition has therefore often been criticized, especially by contrast with how boldly and effectively Shakespeare solved the problem in the final scenes of The Winter's Tale. But any inference that Shakespeare was not aware from the beginning of how to make a double recognition more dramatic seems surely unwarranted. Once more, the order of events in Gower's original narrative was deliberately allowed to override considerations of immediate dramatic effectiveness. In fact this whole final episode is conveyed with notable perfunctoriness. I have noted how in the earlier scene Marina, ignorant that her patient is her father, has to persist for quite a while before Pericles begins to stir, and how long it then takes Pericles before he becomes convinced that Marina must really be his daughter. At Ephesus, on the other hand, Thaisa as high priestess recognizes Pericles as soon as he speaks, and it then takes only another twenty-five lines for Pericles to have proof that she indeed is his lost wife. We are very much aware that the play's story is close to conclusion, and the playwright avoids distracting us with further drama. When Pericles speaks his last lines, they appear to conclude the play in the characteristic manner of Shakespearean comedy:
Yet there, my queen, We'll celebrate their nuptials, and ourselves Will in that kingdom spend our following days. Our son and daughter shall in Tyrus reign. Lord Cerimon, we do our longing stay To hear the rest untold: sir, lead's the way.
We would feel prompted to applaud as the actors leave the stage had Gower not once more appeared. For the play really to conclude, the teller of its tale needs also to take his leave. Once more he makes us see this story from his own perspective, driving home the moral, though with merciful brevity:
In Antiochus and his daughter you have heard Of monstrous lust the due and just reward.
His summary account of what the action and characters represent even includes a reference to Helicanus, a minor character whom the audience only faintly remembers, since he has had no part in the action since the second act: “A figure of truth, of faith, of loyalty.” Nor do we really care about Cleon and Dionysa's fate, but Gower evidently feels that we should know how they are punished for their crimes. When he wishes us goodbye, “our play” really “has ending.”
This description of the development of Act V shows how much its structure and overall effect depend on the interplay between Gower and Shakespeare. Gower enters three times. And as in the rest of the play, so here only part of the action is staged. Much of it continues to be narrated in Gower's archaic rhymes. The writing of the two staged scenes is wholly or largely Shakespearean, but the dramaturgy betrays Shakespeare's brilliance more in the first scene than the last. The characters, especially Marina and Pericles, come to life as individuals far more than they do in either the source story or the play's opening acts. We become, in the first scene, absorbed with their immediate experience and feelings with an intensity we are accustomed to in Shakespeare, though less so in the scene of Pericles' reunion with Thaisa. There is therefore some real drama, not merely story and a series of pictorial effects accompanied by stylized dialogue and a sense of patterned experience representative of our essential human condition. Yet the play's pattern insists on reasserting itself, as does Gower with a perspective that is his own, quaint in its oldfashionedness and simplicity, stodgy yet charming. Such an interplay produces a unique effect in Shakespearean drama.
What we have learned from our study of the fifth act may help us as we turn back to consider Acts I and II. But there, of course, we face a different style. One cannot speak here of an interplay between Gower and Shakespeare. Neither the crude dramaturgy nor the quality of writing would warrant it, with the possible exception of some of the prose by the fishermen in II.i. The humdrum verse of the play's opening scene, and indeed of most of the two acts, does indeed smack of a hackwriter: as drama the scene is singularly weak. And yet the early scenes work much better in the theatre than critical-minded readers of the text have assumed. The main reason, I think, is that Gower's opening chorus prepares us for a manner and style in the staged episodes which follow that are quite unlike those we are accustomed to in Shakespeare. After Gower's introduction of his ancient story in quaint archaic rhymes, the audience does not expect the characters who enter to speak like those in Antony and Cleopatra or Twelfth Night. If the staged episodes between Gower's opening chorus and his second speech had been conveyed in Shakespeare's characteristic blank verse and splendid dramatic manner, the effect, I think, would have been jarring. When the dramatist thought about how to fit the whole technique and manner of writing of the play to the unusual device of its archaic narrator, it appears that he concluded that in the early scenes the adjustment needed to be extreme; only when the audience had become completely used to the play's peculiar mood and style could he afford to compromise in the interest of liveliness. At first, Gower as presenter largely had to determine the play's style. Yet of course, it would hardly have been sensible to make the characters of the acted scenes speak in Gower's own pseudo-Middle English and sing-song rhythm—the Jacobean audience at the Globe would rapidly have wearied of it. Rather, a form of speech and dialogue was needed that was old-fashioned and in some ways similar to Gower's, yet more familiar and normal for the actors. And we know the form it took.
The chief differences between the verse of Gower's opening chorus and that by the characters in the play's first staged episode, at Antiochus'...
(The entire section is 10362 words.)
SOURCE: Semon, Kenneth J. “Pericles: An Order Beyond Reason.” Essays in Literature 1, no. 1 (spring 1974): 17-27.
[In the following essay, Semon argues that Pericles conveys a world where moral rules do not apply and where most of the characters respond to events with a sense of unexplained wonder. According to the critic, the only exception to this rule is Gower, who offers a strictly moral perspective that is inadequate in explaining the play's unusual events.]
Like the tragedies, Shakespeare's last plays work toward evoking the dramatic effect of admiratio, or wonder.1 But the effect of wonder in the tragedies depends upon the...
(The entire section is 5514 words.)
SOURCE: Eggers, Jr., Walter F. “Shakespeare's Gower and the Role of the Authorial Presenter.” Philological Quarterly 54, no. 2 (spring 1975): 434-43.
[In the following essay, Eggers focuses on the character of Gower as an “authorial presenter,” a dramatic role common during late 1500s and early 1600s. The critic suggests that this convention gives the play authority by linking it to the past and by providing the audience with a different perspective on the story.]
In 1606, the prologue to a private-theater play declared, “Inductions are out of date, and a Prologue in Verse, is as stale as a black Velvet Cloak, and a Bay Garland.”1 These lines...
(The entire section is 4122 words.)
SOURCE: Hillman, Richard. “Shakespeare's Gower and Gower's Shakespeare: The Larger Debt of Pericles.” Shakespeare Quarterly 36, no. 4 (winter 1985): 427-37.
[In the following essay, Hillman compares Pericles to John Gower's Confessio Amantis. The critic maintains that the character of Pericles shares many traits with the character Amans in the Confessio and undergoes a similar journey of self-discovery.]
Shakespeare's Gower used to embarrass with his quaintness; nowadays, as often as not, he dazzles with his theatrical savoir faire. His choric role is increasingly recognized as an effective part of Pericles' dramatic...
(The entire section is 5019 words.)
SOURCE: Bruckner, D. J. R. “Hopscotching from Hilarity to Mourning, with Groundlings in Thrall.” New York Times (19 August 1998): E5.
[In the following review of the Kings County Shakespeare Company production of Pericles, directed by Jonathan Bank, Bruckner praises the wide range of emotional responses that the play elicited from the audience and notes the “disorderly” nature of the plot.]
If it's not in Pericles, maybe it isn't possible in theater. This wonderful old bag of tricks has everything—murder, kidnapping, drowning, lost children, resurrections, political intrigue, divine vengeance, a bordello redeemed by a virgin, admired rulers...
(The entire section is 535 words.)
SOURCE: Isherwood, Charles. Review of Pericles. Variety 373, no. 1 (16-22 November 1998): 42-3.
[In the following review of the Joseph Papp Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival production of Pericles, directed by Brian Kulick, Isherwood faults the weak cast and stylistic treatment, but grants that the “convoluted saga” presented in the play contributed to the production's failure.]
Shakespeare's late romance Pericles is a kind of hymn to the cycles of life, in which wrongs are miraculously righted, wounds healed, demises undone, so it's a pity indeed that Brian Kulick's new production at the Public Theater is so deadly. A chilly...
(The entire section is 868 words.)
SOURCE: Simon, John. “Parlous Pericles.” New York 31, no. 45 (23 November 1998): 87-8.
[In the following review of the Joseph Papp Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival production of Pericles, directed by Brian Kulick, Simon strongly criticizes the director's staging of the play as a farce.]
Pericles is so imperfect a play that scholars postulate either a collaboration with a lesser dramatist responsible for the first two acts or, likelier, a revision of a lost earlier play by a hack, to which Shakespeare warmed only in the latter part as his involvement grew. It is based presumably on a likewise lost Hellenistic novel about Apollonius,...
(The entire section is 543 words.)
SOURCE: Potter, Lois. “Songs of Excess.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5180 (12 July 2002): 19.
[In the following excerpted review of the Royal Shakespeare Company production of Pericles, directed by Adrian Noble, Potter praises both the cast and the production's visual and musical splendor.]
Eminent theatre directors who turn from Shakespeare to musical comedy, like Trevor Nunn and Adrian Noble, have an obvious precedent in Shakespeare himself. Pericles was a famous crowd-pleaser in its own time: scholars and directors, baffled by its uneven, possibly collaborative, text, have usually concentrated on the themes that it shares with other “late...
(The entire section is 633 words.)
SOURCE: Womack, Peter. “Shakespeare and the Sea of Stories.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 29, no. 1 (winter 1999): 169-87.
[In the following essay, Womack asserts that Pericles shares similarities with earlier dramas that venerated saints, most notably the play Mary Magdalen. The critic discusses the two plays in the context of the changing critical, political, and religious sentiment in England during the 1500s and 1600s, which denigrated improbable and miraculous stories because of their connections to Catholicism.]
It was long ago discovered, by the industry which neglects no conceivable Shakespearean...
(The entire section is 7964 words.)
SOURCE: Healy, Margaret. “Pericles and the Pox.” In Shakespeare's Late Plays: New Readings, edited by Jennifer Richards and James Knowles, pp. 92-107. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press, 1999.
[In the following excerpt, Healy asserts that in Pericles Shakespeare presented a veiled criticism of the efforts of King James I to wed his children to members of the Spanish royal family.]
Louis MacNeice's poem Autolycus (1944-7) gives aptly magical expression to the dominant apprehension of Shakespeare's late plays in our century. Autolycus evokes a picture of the Bard at the sunset of his career mysteriously moving away from the...
(The entire section is 6348 words.)
SOURCE: Dean, Paul. “Pericles' Pilgrimage.” Essays in Criticism 50, no. 2 (April 2000): 125-44.
[In the following essay, Dean contends that Pericles is a pilgrimage tale, and outlines several literary works that may have influenced Shakespeare's creation of the drama, including two from the Bible: the tale of Jonah and the Acts of the Apostles.]
Had it been printed in the First Folio, Pericles (1608) might well have appeared among the comedies, with The Winter's Tale and The Tempest, rather than among the tragedies, with Cymbeline, which was perhaps placed there out of a feeling that it was more akin to the Roman plays or to...
(The entire section is 6886 words.)
SOURCE: Bicks, Caroline. “Backsliding at Ephesus: Shakespeare's Diana and the Churching of Women.” In Pericles: Critical Essays, edited by David Skeele, pp. 205-27. New York: Garland Publishing, 2000.
[In the following essay, Bicks detects references in Pericles to the tension surrounding the practice of traditional Catholic rituals as practiced in the reformed Church of England in the early 1600s. In particular, Bicks points out dramatic episodes that echo the controversy over church ceremonies involving women after childbirth.]
Our lodgings, standing bleak upon the sea, Shook as the earth did quake; The very principals did seem to rend, And all to topple....
(The entire section is 10386 words.)
SOURCE: Hopkins, Lisa. “‘The Shores of My Mortality’: Pericles' Greece of the Mind.” In Pericles: Critical Essays, edited by David Skeele, pp. 228-37. New York: Garland Publishing, 2000.
[In the following essay, Hopkins considers the treatment of geographical locations in Pericles, concluding that the travels depicted in the play are symbolic of an exploration of the characters' identities.]
In Pericles, Prince of Tyre, the eponymous hero undertakes a convoluted series of travels which take him from Tyre to Antioch, back to Tyre, thence to Tarsus, next to Pentapolis, back to Tarsus again (en route for Tyre), to Mytilene, where he meets his...
(The entire section is 4558 words.)
SOURCE: Dubrow, Heather. “‘This Jewel Holds His Building on My Arm’: The Dynamics of Parental Loss in Pericles.” In In the Company of Shakespeare: Essays on English Renaissance Literature in Honor of G. Blakemore Evans, edited by Thomas Moisan and Douglas Bruster, pp. 27-42. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002.
[In the following essay, Dubrow analyzes the dynamic involving parents and children in Pericles, positing that Shakespeare's treatment of familial relationships reflected a widespread apprehension about parental loss in Elizabethan and Jacobean society.]
Festschriften and romance are...
(The entire section is 7526 words.)
Abraham, Lyndy. “Weddings, Funerals, and Incest: Alchemical Emblems and Shakespeare's Pericles, Prince of Tyre.” Journal of English and German Philology 98, no. 4 (October 1999): 523-49.
Argues that Pericles is a non-Christian miracle play that conveys its meaning through the use of alchemical emblems.
Arthos, John. “Pericles, Prince of Tyre: A Study in the Dramatic Use of Romantic Narrative.” Shakespeare Quarterly 4, no. 3 (July 1953): 257-70.
Analyzes the construction of Pericles to determine how Shakespeare was able to combine romantic material with the dramatic...
(The entire section is 261 words.)
Pericles (Vol. 90)
For further information on the critical and stage history of Pericles, see SC, Volumes 2, 15, 36, 51, 66, and 79.
Most literary scholars agree that Shakespeare wrote Pericles between 1606 and 1608. Along with Cymbeline (1609-10) and The Winter's Tale (1610-11), it is considered one of Shakespeare's late romances. Borrowing from such sources as John Gower's Confessio Amantis (1385-93) and Laurence Twine's prose romance The Pattern of Painful Adventures … That Befel Unto Prince Apollonius (1576), Pericles features many conventional characteristics of the romance genre: stock characters, an episodic plot, and absurd situations made believable through spectacle. Early on, Ben Jonson acerbically dismissed the play as “a mouldy tale,” but later critics have asserted that it represents a sublime departure from the clichéd romance tradition. According to these commentators, perhaps the most striking innovation was Shakespeare's invention of the overarching theme of the divided family. The travails of Pericles, his wife, Thaisa, and their daughter, Marina, provide a powerful theatrical device that serves as a matrix for conflict and interaction and that ultimately gives the play a rough unity. Critics have also argued that the lost child motif in Pericles serves as a metaphor for the protagonist's lost soul and that the climactic reunion of father and daughter brings about healing, redemption, and the restoration of order.
The paramount issue surrounding Pericles is that of authorship. Indeed, the 1623 Folio does not include the romance, prompting some scholars to question Shakespeare's involvement in the play from the outset. However, while most modern commentators concur that the last three acts belong to Shakespeare, they cannot agree on the author of the first two acts. Most critics have discarded the traditional view that George Wilkins—author of the novel The Painful Adventures of Pericles, Prince of Tyre (1608)—was a collaborator, but no viable alternatives have been offered. Modern critical studies of Pericles have been hampered by the corruption of the text, and much effort has been expended in attempting to justify the integrity of the work. Interestingly, despite the prevailing belief in collaboration, many modern scholars have detected a unity of design and overall structure. One supporter of this perspective, Barbara Mowat (2003), asserts that Shakespeare cleverly integrated and innovated, within the dramatic design of his romance, the imitatio tradition of transforming authoritative sources into a new and distinctly original literary work. Michael Baird Saenger (2000) also argues for the structural integrity of the work, insisting that the “flaws” of the play are really not flaws at all, but rather Shakespeare's adroit ability to manipulate the burlesque genre. According to Saenger, Shakespeare employed the figure of Gower as a meta-theatrical vehicle which subtly integrates and energizes the play with burlesque action. F. Elizabeth Hart (see Further Reading) weighs in for the integrity of the setting in Pericles, arguing that the exotic and metropolitan city of Ephesus is pivotal in communicating theme. According to the critic, the city was historically significant for being the home of Diana's temple, a device useful in highlighting the feminist issues implicit in the characters of Marina and Thaisa. The choice of Ephesus is also important, Hart contends, because the association with Diana indicates the credibility of positive female characters. For Hart, Ephesus therefore reconciles the powers of the virginal and the maternal both embodied in the figure of Diana.
Perhaps the most startling aspect of Pericles is the theme of incest, which motivates much of the play's action. Mowat suggests that Shakespeare utilized this theme not for its shock value, but to provide a structural balance between the beginning and the end of the play. The critic asserts that while the earlier versions of the Pericles tale describe a father who violently rapes his daughter, Shakespeare opted for a mutual seduction, with Antiochus and his daughter acting as willing partners. Mowat speculates that such a change allowed Shakespeare to create an indelible thematic link that unifies the play: the incestuous union of Antiochus and his daughter at the beginning contrasted with the glorious father-daughter reunion of Pericles and Marina at the conclusion. John Freeh (see Further Reading) provides a close analysis of the purity embodied in Marina, comparing Shakespeare's character to the heroine of T. S. Eliot's poem, “Marina” (1930). Within each of these works, Freeh maintains, Marina represents a kind of spiritual transcendence that transforms darkness into light. The critic further contends that, thematically, the action in both “Marina” and Pericles progresses from partly living in a temporal existence to a spiritual area of absolute good. Constance Jordan (see Further Reading) focuses on the political implications of Pericles, analyzing Shakespeare's dramatic treatment of good versus bad rulers. Whereas the incestuous Antiochus is the stark epitome of a tyrant, Jordan avers, the playwright fused Pericles's political leadership skills with Marina's humane, redemptive qualities to create a consummate ruler. However, Jordan concludes that while Shakespeare's play offers a reflection on two forms of government, it stops short of endorsing either model.
Many commentators have pointed out that the tale of Pericles is synonymous with journey, as the protagonist wanders the eastern Mediterranean ostensibly in an attempt to avoid Antiochus's vengeance but, in reality, to run from himself. Further, the episodic nature of the plot aligns Pericles with classical wanderers such as Odysseus and Aeneas as the physical journey serves as a metaphor for the passage through life. Such a view presents Pericles as a victim of circumstance, experiencing one ordeal after another as a cruel fate batters him. John P. Cutts (see Further Reading) challenges this traditional assumption, however, viewing Pericles as actively engaged in determining his own fate. According to Cutts, Pericles displays a brash confidence at the beginning of the play despite the danger that pervades Antiochus's court. Furthermore, he possesses a certainty of character that convinces him that he can be a son to Antiochus where other men have failed. Cutts insists that these are not the thoughts and actions of a man passively pulled to his fate. W. I. D. Scott (see Further Reading) is less sure of Pericles's strength of character. Scott provides a psychoanalytic interpretation of Pericles, determining that the protagonist enters a prolonged schizophrenic state due to his fear that he will commit incest like Antiochus. The critic contends that Pericles's conduct after learning of the incestuous relationship between Antiochus and his daughter is irrational and that his flight from Antioch is really a flight from himself. Scott maintains that the reasons and rationalizations that Pericles gives for his flight show a personality disintegrating due to shock. It is only the reconciliation with Marina and Thaisa that restores Pericles's psychic harmony. The divided psyche—or soul—is the paramount aspect of Pericles's character, avows Leo Paul S. de Alvarez (2002). In Alvarez's view, Pericles's journey represents a spiritual pilgrimage as he searches for beauty and goodness. Alvarez insists that the conjunction of good and beauty cannot be recognized without the intellective part of the soul, the knowing, and that Pericles recognizes, within Marina, that perfect combination. The coming together of the three aspects of the soul—the appetitive, the spirited, and the intellective—move the protagonist toward absolute harmony. Alvarez offers, as proof of this position, the fact that Pericles alone hears the music of the spheres.
Despite the dilemma of authorship and the complexity of its themes, Pericles continues to entice modern stage directors and actors with its potential for spectacle and profound insight. In 2002 Adrian Noble and the Royal Shakespeare Company staged Pericles at Stratford-upon-Avon in a production which evoked an exotic Middle Eastern milieu. In addition, Noble infused the production with an enormous amount of music, employing the talents of Shaun Davey and ten other musicians, who performed live accompaniment to the dramatic action. Critics generally agreed that this emphasis on music suitably elicited the romantic, sentimental tone of Pericles, although some reviewers admitted that Noble relied too heavily on this device. Commentators also praised the performances of the ensemble cast, particularly applauding Ray Fearon's Pericles, Kananu Kirmi's Marina, and Brian Protheroe's Gower. Critics were even more impressed with Yukio Ninagawa's touring production of Pericles, which premiered at London's Royal National Theatre in 2003. Reviewers generally agreed that this presentation combined imaginative directing, visual spectacle, and superb acting to interpret the romance as a metaphor for Japan's progression from a feudal state to a modern industrial power. They noted that Ninagawa employed such stylized images as dangling severed heads, multi-colored billowing silk waves, and water taps that streamed upon the stage to recreate an affecting, nightmarish mood that captured the melancholy essence of Shakespeare's romance. That same year, critics were equally enamored of Neil Bartlett's austere staging of Pericles at London's Lyric Hammersmith which—in stark contrast to Ninagawa's spectacle—evoked the monochrome clinical atmosphere of a hospital or a mental institution. Commentators agreed that Bartlett's uncluttered vision of the play worked brilliantly, with Sarah Hemming (2003) arguing that “this austere setting allows the play's emotional story to resonate.” Reviewers also admired the concept of presenting Gower as a janitor at the institution who guided the audience through the cumbersome narrative with the aid of a blackboard. All of the principal actors in Bartlett's production received critical approbation, including Bette Bourne as Gower, Will Keen as Pericles, Pascale Burgess as Marina, and Sara Malin as Thaisa.
SOURCE: Mullaney, Steven. “‘All That Monarchs Do’: The Obscured Stages of Authority in Pericles.” In The Place of the Stage: License, Play, and Power in Renaissance England, pp. 135-51. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.
[In the following essay, Mullaney argues that Pericles represents a dramatic experiment in which Shakespeare attempted to dissociate the dramatic art form from its popular context and instead re-imagines it as a “purely aesthetic phenomenon, free from history and from historical determination.”]
In 1605, the Queen's Revels Children performed Eastward Ho! at Blackfriars. The authors,...
(The entire section is 7616 words.)
SOURCE: Mowat, Barbara. “‘I tell you what mine Authors saye’: Pericles, Shakespeare, and Imitatio.” Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen und Literaturen 240, no. 1 (2003): 42-59.
[In the following essay, Mowat discusses Shakespeare's authorship of Pericles, maintaining that the dramatist integrated and innovated, within the dramatic design of his romance, the imitatio tradition of transforming authoritative sources into a new literary work.]
Near the beginning of Pericles, the Chorus introduces a shocking story of father-daughter incest with the apologetic line, “I tell you what mine Authors saye.”1 This...
(The entire section is 8817 words.)
SOURCE: de Alvarez, Leo Paul S. “The Soul of the Sojourner: Pericles, Prince of Tyre.” In Shakespeare's Last Plays: Essays in Literature and Politics, edited by Stephen W. Smith and Travis Curtright, pp. 197-215. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2002.
[In the following essay, Alvarez argues that Pericles's journey to understanding moves from external to internal as he realizes that the harmony of the soul is achieved through the union of three parts: the “appetitive, the spirited, and the intellective.”]
The story of Pericles1 is one that, like the story of Troilus and Cressida, was very popular in the...
(The entire section is 9755 words.)
SOURCE: Macaulay, Alastair. “The Valedictory Play That Wasn't.” Financial Times (10 July 2002): 16.
[In the following review, Macaulay maintains that Adrian Noble's Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) production of Pericles was flawed, citing Noble's uninspired vision, Ray Fearon's Pericles, and the musical accompaniment.]
Behind all the Royal Shakespeare's muddles, there lies the single mystery of Adrian Noble himself. Even if you accept that both the RSC's London and Stratford sites needed changing, why did Noble decide to by uprooting the company in both London and Stratford at the same time? And why did he commit the company to such major upheaval but then...
(The entire section is 589 words.)
SOURCE: Clapp, Susannah. Review of Pericles. Observer (14 July 2002): 10.
[In the following excerpt, Clapp maintains that Adrian Noble's Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) production of Pericles downplayed the unevenness of the play and notes that its setting reflected exotic absurdity in the juxtaposing of a chamber of horrors with Ali Baba's cave.]
Adrian Noble may be leaving the RSC in a mess, but he's brought a sparkle to its season at the Roundhouse. His production of Pericles is the liveliest thing seen there so far.
The exotic absurdity of Shakespeare's play is indulged to the hilt. In Peter McKintosh's design, the old...
(The entire section is 357 words.)
SOURCE: Macaulay, Alastair. “Epic Tradition for Epic Tale.” Financial Times (1 April 2003): 15.
[In the following review, Macaulay hails Yukio Ninagawa's staging of Pericles at London's National Theatre, asserting that the director utilized rich theatrical imagery to paint the odyssey of Shakespeare's protagonist.]
Yukio Ninagawa's staging of Shakespeare's Pericles is sensational. Telling its epic tale—often employing one Japanese idiom or another—it moves through one thrilling effect after another. Severed heads hang in the air, streams of water pour from taps all round the stage, Pericles swims desperately through perspectived rows of painted...
(The entire section is 510 words.)
SOURCE: Wilson, Richard. “Patterns of Impatience.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5219 (11 April 2003): 21.
[In the following excerpt, Wilson comments on Yukio Ninagawa's thematic fusion of Western and Japanese cultures in his interpretation of Pericles's odyssey, stressing its spiritual component as the protagonist rediscovers his soul.]
“Shakespeare leaves the sorting-out for later”, Unwin writes. One reason he remains our contemporary is certainly that the problems he poses are the unfinished business of today. His own attempts to sort them out in the late romances only confirm how hard this will be, but Yukio Ninagawa's Japanese reading of Pericles...
(The entire section is 938 words.)
SOURCE: Hemming, Sarah. Review of Pericles. Financial Times (26 September 2003): 19.
[In the following review, Hemming endorses Neil Bartlett's staging of Pericles at London's Lyric, Hammersmith, particularly noting the sparsely appointed stage which invited the audience to focus on the actors' fine performances.]
At first sight, Neil Bartlett's design for his own production of Pericles looks startlingly sparse. Shakespeare's late romance zig-zags across the Mediterranean, yet Bartlett gives us just an empty monochrome and rather clinical room. But very soon the setting makes sense. Rather than try to give us everything, Bartlett gives us nothing,...
(The entire section is 399 words.)
SOURCE: Kellaway, Kate. “Pericles and his Pulsating Pyjamas.” Observer (12 October 2003): 9.
[In the following excerpt, Kellaway applauds the audacity of Neil Bartlett's artistic vision in his Lyric, Hammersmith, staging of Pericles, noting that the sparse hospital-like setting foregrounded the vivid drama of each episode.]
Neil Bartlett's audacious treatment of Pericles suits it to perfection. This is a stunning production of a play that survives only in fragments—much of it not Shakespeare's handiwork. It would be good not to have to accept any substitutes—but necessary liberties have been taken: George Wilkins's The Painful Adventures of...
(The entire section is 545 words.)
SOURCE: Abraham, Lyndy. “Weddings, Funerals, and Incest: Alchemical Emblems and Shakespeare's Pericles, Prince of Tyre.” JEGP: Journal of English and Germanic Philology 98, no. 4 (October 1999): 523-49.
[In the following excerpt, Abraham argues that Pericles embodies emblems of alchemy in the treatment of its two romance themes: the difficult quest and loss and restoration.]
Pericles, Prince of Tyre is presented primarily by means of narrative and spectacle rather than through drama. Many of the play's enacted episodes, as well as the dumbshows interpolated in Gower's narrative chorus, take the form of three-dimensional emblems and tableaux....
(The entire section is 9040 words.)
SOURCE: Saenger, Michael Baird. “Pericles and the Burlesque of Romance.” In Pericles: Critical Essays, edited by David Skeele, pp. 191-204. New York: Garland Publishing, 2000.
[In the following essay, Saenger argues for the dramatic integrity of Pericles, insisting that the “flaws” are not really flaws, but rather Shakespeare's ingenious manipulation of the burlesque genre.]
Pericles has always been a play which is equally enthralling and perplexing. Some perplexity certainly comes from its status as a poorly transmitted collaboration. However, in this reading I explore the thesis that the play makes dramaturgical sense, partly because of...
(The entire section is 6050 words.)
Cutts, John P. “Pericles: ‘downright violence.’” In Rich and Strange: A Study of Shakespeare's Last Plays, pp. 4-23. Pullman: Washington State University Press, 1968.
Maintains that Pericles is an active protagonist whose rash behavior sets into motion the harmony/disharmony motif in Shakespeare's romance.
Fawkner, H. W. “Miracle.” In Shakespeare's Miracle Plays: Pericles, Cymbeline, and The Winter's Tale, pp. 13-56. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1992.
Advocates a semiotic approach to exploring Pericles's “muteness” as a negative speech act that...
(The entire section is 359 words.)