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.”
Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
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...
(The entire section is 3638 words.)
Criticism: Character Studies
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 to assume the role of Job's comforters. On the contrary I think that to take Hoeniger's own position that Pericles is the plaything of Fortune and the gods, that he is “an impeccably good man, man without defect,” is to make of Pericles an unnecessary Job. From the totality of the play's structure one must be very uncomfortable with Pericles as a Job as I hope to be able to show by modifying, elaborating upon and adding to both Wilson Knight's and Muir's arguments.
The play's opening, couched in medieval terminology, would surely have us consider “man's infirmities” (I.ch.3) to teach “frail mortality to know itself” (I.i.43) as a restorative. Any estimate of the play's total impact will certainly have to allow...
(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 deliberately exploited. Even the structure of the play depends upon its kinship with narrative fiction, for Gower appears as presenter in order to tell the story, mediating between play and audience like a narrative persona; he interprets, manages, directs the play as we watch it.1 The presence of Gower contributes to “that identification without sympathy, that detachment without irony”2 which transforms Pericles' fantastic adventures into something we respond to as archetypal.
Pericles exploits narrative techniques, fairy-tale motifs, and dramatic conventions so as to call attention to these elements and thus present them in a new light. The fatal riddle, the bride's tournament, Snow White...
(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 relationship between the choric Gower and the text of the play?
The first two questions can be addressed with a few brief, though tentative, remarks. A chorus seems requisite in part because of the very nature of the material as Shakespeare received it. The story of Apollonius of Tyre in Gower's Confessio Amantis (Book VIII) is structurally episodic, as well as temporally and geographically diverse—a sprawling and fragmented narrative requiring a framing devise in order to secure some measure of cohesion. Gower himself resorted to a type of choric framing throughout the Confessio by interjecting Latin headings between episodes of the stories.
John Gower serves as chorus primarily as an...
(The entire section is 6165 words.)
Criticism: Production Reviews
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 for theatrical spectacle and musical embellishment. The implications for staging found in the quarto text are quite elaborate, though often ambiguous. Many of them are discussed in the Commentary, but this is a good place to remark on their scope.
The opening scene, with the grim display of severed heads, is one. Act 2 presents many challenges for staging, such as the location of King Simonides and Thaisa during the parade of the Knights and presentation of the impresas (2.2), and how exactly the stage was disposed for that scene. The royal party ‘withdraws’ at the end of the scene while the tilting takes place offstage and the main stage is set for the banquet in 2.3, an elaborate scene requiring torches and...
(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 Shakespeare, his total authorship has found only sporadic acceptance. Full attribution would significantly affect our view of the poet, for it would enable us to know him as the only begetter of his closing quaternion of magnificent romances, not a mere shaper of another man's creation, much less a pupil of Beaumont and Fletcher. While some may demur to T. S. Eliot's phrase, “that very great play Pericles,”1 all will agree that the stone which the builders rejected, if the editors of the Folio did indeed exclude it, is the cornerstone of a new Shakespearean wing.
Opinion about the authorship has altered appreciably since mid-century. In 1930 E. K. Chambers asserted, regarding the two distinct parts of...
(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 cleyme proprete In thing to which he hath no riht, Bot onliche of his grete miht.
(Confessio amantis III)
This essay begins with a question: Is there any basis for reading Shakespeare's last plays—focused as they are on monarchs caught up in familial strife, often expressed as inter-generational rivalry between males—in light of the contemporary debate on the proper form of government and specifically of the monarchy? In some measure we already have an answer. As the perceptive criticism of such scholars as David Bergeron and Leonard Tennenhouse has demonstrated, these plays refer allusively and sometimes directly to political or social conditions that obtained during the reign of James I....
(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 spectator to observe with minimal distraction the tragicomic Muse at work. Its subject then appears not as any peculiar or local set of circumstances—misunderstandings, departures, reconciliations—but as nothing less than the universal dream of retrieval and atonement. The romance may be regarded as a dream not only in its unrealistic or improbable character—the comedies would answer to this description too—but in its particular themes of the recovery of self and the domestication of time as well as in the curious structure which it exhibits.
If we consider Pericles sympathetically, resisting the temptation to dismiss it as partially spurious or inferior, we see that it resembles a kind of “thought...
(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” occurs in the 1609 quarto of Pericles (Q1), where it modifies the “Musick” that precedes Cerimon's revival of Thaisa, Pericles's presumed-dead wife and queen (sig. E4r).2 Owing to the questionable status of Q1 Pericles, however, “rough” in this case has frequently been emended to “still” in important editions, including the Arden; the Cambridge; the Penguin; and, most recently, the Oxford, from which the word “still” has been adopted for mass pedagogical use by the Norton Shakespeare.3 While rough music does present interpretive difficulties in the context of a dire medical emergency, I will argue here that its emendation is not necessary. Rough music may, in fact, be critical...
(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 Miracle Plays: Pericles, Cymbeline, and The Winter's Tale, pp. 28-34. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1992.
Analyzes the role and significance of muteness in Pericles.
McJannet, Linda. “Genre and Geography: The Eastern Mediterranean in Pericles and The Comedy of Errors. In Playing the Globe: Genre and Geography in English Renaissance Drama, edited by John Gillies and Virginia Mason Vaughn, pp. 86-106. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1998.
Traces the factual bases for Shakespeare's historical and geographical settings in The Comedy of Errors and Pericles.
McManaway, James G. Introduction...
(The entire section is 502 words.)