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.
Love And Romance
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,...
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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 mercy of the elements and the gods. As the play moves through its recurrent rhythms of turbulence and stillness, grief and joy, the central figure can adopt only humble patience as his basic point of view, fully aware that he is involved in living a life which lies at the discretion of destiny:
We cannot but obey
The powers above us. Could I rage and roar
As doth the sea she lies in, yet the end
Must be as 'tis.
(III. iii. 9-12)
A sense of miracle and mystery informs the movement of the story, and hangs in the air around the most astonishing mystery of all, the human capacity to remember, so that the past becomes a part of...
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Language And Structure
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 While the low characters undoubtedly produce this dramatic impression, they play a more complex role in the play's design than the part suggested by Edwards. It has been widely noted that Shakespeare often comically distorts serious dramatic themes or values in order to call attention to them.2 For example, after hearing the Porter at the gate, who can be unaware of Macbeth's tendency to equivocate damnably? The dramatist—Shakespeare presumably—employs this familiar technique early in Pericles.3 One of the most amusing scenes of the play, the Prince's encounter with three rustic fishermen, burlesques and hence accentuates a motif central to several episodes and speeches that critics, for the most part, have...
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Sexuality And Tradition
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 family and particularly on women gave rise to the conflicts that shaped the tragedies. Though his understanding of the problems needing resolution differs from more traditional readings, he agrees with both traditional and with feminist and psychoanalytic critics that the last plays portray resolutions to the conflicts that torment Shakespeare's tragic protagonists.1 In this essay I will argue through a detailed comparison of Pericles to Hamlet and King Lear that the last plays do not resolve, but rather conceal the conflicts that shape the tragedies, and that the relations among these plays decisively indicate that Shakespeare was entrapped in the attitudes toward sexuality and women with which his protagonists...
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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 and the role of storytelling.
Cutts, John P. "Pericles." In Rich and Strange: A Study of Shakespeare's Last Plays, pp. 4-22. Washington State University Press, 1968.
Refutes F. D. Hoeniger's arguments concerning the Job-like nature of Pericles.
Fawkner, H. W. "Miracle." In Shakespeare's Miracle Plays: "Pericles," "Cymbeline," and "The Winter's Tale," pp. 13-56. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1992.
Discusses Pericles as a transition in Shakespeare's writing.
Hunt, Maurice. "A Looking Glass for Pericles." Essays in...
(The entire section is 408 words.)