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.
Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
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, Jonson, Chapman, and Marston, were soon apprehended and imprisoned, and for a time it was rumored that Jonson would suffer the loss of his nose and ears for satire directed against the king and his Scottish knights. A year later John Day's The Isle of Gulls resulted in similar charges, and again “sundry were committed to Bridewell.”1 When again at large, the company was reorganized as the Children of Blackfriars, but they ran into difficulty once more in 1608, this time managing to offend not only the king but the visiting French ambassador as well. A further round of imprisonments was one of the results; another was the dissolution of the company—one of the last of the boys' troupes—by order of James himself....
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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 Chorus, “auntient Gower,” opens the play by saying that he comes to sing a familiar song:
To sing a Song that old was sung, From ashes, auntient Gower is come, Assuming mans infirmities, To glad your eare, and please your eyes: It hath been sung at Feastiuals, On Ember eues, and Holydayes: And Lords and Ladyes in their liues, Haue red it for restoratiues: The purchase is to make men glorious, Et bonum quo Antiquius eo melius: If you, borne in those latter times, When Wits more ripe, accept my rimes; And that to heare an old man sing, May to your Wishes pleasure bring: I life would wish, and that I might Waste it for you, like Taper light.
(I Ch. 1-16)
He then moves into the story of...
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Criticism: Character Studies
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 Middle Ages, as the story of Apollonius of Tyre. One of the principal tellers of the story was John Gower, who appears here, in the play, as the narrator. Gower is one who sings the old song. As Andrew Welsh puts it, “He is the ancient story-teller whose job it is to pick up this echoing tale from the even more distant past and to pass it on. …”2 The song is an old, traditional song for the holy days. The song is especially good because it is old—the ancient is the good. But in latter times it is “wit” that is “most ripe.” The progress in wit is of course not a progress in goodness. The old things are to be heard, which are also the good things, sung by an old man; and, presumably, heard in the old way. Gower is...
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Criticism: Production Reviews
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 depart when the work had only just begun?
To me, the answer to these widely asked questions is linked to another question, which has been seldom asked: why has Noble, one of the world's leading Shakespeare directors of the past 20 years, directed Shakespeare so seldom in the past four years? My guess is that he has the disease that no RSC artist likes to admit to: he feels Shakespeared-out.
When Peter Hall left the National Theatre in 1988, his farewell gesture was to direct three of Shakespeare's last plays: The Winter's Tale, Cymbeline, and The Tempest, it was the gesture of an artist, and characteristic of a committed Shakespearian. I wish I could report that Noble was leaving in similar...
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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 steam-engine repair house becomes a chamber of horrors—severed heads swing like conkers on long ropes—and an Ali Baba's cave of delights, twinkling with lanterns, smelly with incense. A (sometimes overwhelming) eastern band of bouzouki, percussion and tuba thrums away. The goddess Diana dangles from the roof. In the title role, Ray Fearon swaggers like an Arabian Nights prince; his voice sounds out like a gong.
It's an externalising treatment, but Pericles is not a transporting play: its islands of bright words float in a murky sea of improbability. It was a success when first produced (Ben Jonson was apparently jealous when he described it as ‘mouldy’), but the dodgy version that's been passed down—not all by...
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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 waves, Thaisa holds her kimono around her like a chrysalis and then opens to Pericles like a lotus blossom to the sun; the dead Thaisa is resurrected, rising in her coffin until she is suspended a yard above it.
Ninagawa's resources seem endless; we seem to be watching a cast of hundreds, and the rich series of powerfully picturesque scenes is an ideal marriage of spectacle and true drama. But above all this is theatre led by its actors, and the Ninagawa Company gives us a superlative demonstration of many aspects of the actor's art. Never has the Olivier Theatre seemed so exciting. Unamplified voices call firmly across the auditorium, entrances through aisles are brilliantly theatrical, large ceremonies register...
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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 at the National Theatre makes it imperative to start, since it opens with an awesome procession of mutilated victims, who are those “poor wretches” Lear forgot in his mania to “Kill, kill, kill!”. And, as it happens, Pericles has an uncanny relation to the war of the worlds exploded in King Lear, being listed in 1619 as the only secular text taught by Jesuits in the colleges, founded by emigres like Kent, from which missionaries were later sent to Japan. This weird tale of exile, death and resurrection may have been among the earliest Western cultural exports, besides holy war, brought by the Jesuits to Nagasaki. Now the Tokyo company returns the text to sender. In Japanese, with Jacobean surtitles, Pericles...
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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, encouraging us to paint in the backdrop imaginatively—thus the staging can focus on the story, rather than becoming bogged down in circumstantial detail.
More importantly still, this austere setting allows the play's emotional story to resonate. The place could be a mental institution—a place where people broken by their misfortune reside. It could simply be the arena of the mind, where fantastical stories come alive, allowing the possibility that Pericles's journey is an interior voyage of self-knowledge. Most poignantly, it could be a hospital, a place of birth and death and resuscitation, a place where people feel all too keenly that desperate longing that courses through the play—to see dead loved ones breathe...
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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 Pericles, Prince of Tyre (1608), is here employed to patch, if never invisibly to mend, the whole.
Bartlett works within the contrivances of the plot—enjoying its quirks—and yet creates a clearing within which Shakespeare's emotional climaxes are never obscured. Take Act Three—and the horror of the opening scene in which Pericles's wife Thaisa (winningly played by Sarah Malin) dies in childbirth on a ship. Pericles has not seen her since their daughter was born nor begun to weep for her before—for health and safety reasons—his crew insist he cast her overboard. This ghastly scene is made real by the sight of his wife wheeled in to him on a high bed, her white nightdress flowering with her blood. She is...
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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 emblematic nature of the play has been well documented: Maurice Hunt has explored the structure of Pericles in the light of the emblematic imagination, Claire Preston has demonstrated the play's emblematic mode of glossing and moralising its stage pictures and the phenomenon of nature, and Alan Young has traced the sources of the knights impresas which occur in the tournament scene.1 This paper will show that another dimension of emblem material has been interwoven into the fabric of Pericles. This material is alchemical. In “Pericles and the Emblem Tradition,” Maurice Hunt elucidates Pericles's own relationship to emblematic thought, his failure to read and create emblems as the fishermen at Pentapolis can,...
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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 its original perplexity. In The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare had treated the Apollonius story with nuanced irony, and in all likelihood, he was presented with an incomplete play on the same subject in 1607. Once again, he gave the melodramatic story an ironic tone, experimenting freely on his source. Shakespeare shows as much free-ranging, collaborative playfulness as the Rose playwrights who wrote the Huntingdon plays, but he also shows some of the pathos of tragedy. This zestful complexity of tone is heavily dependent on its contemporary dramatic context, as well as the resources of a theater to complicate representation.1 This may explain why modern readers find it hard to understand why Pericles was so...
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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 “transforms truth into miracle.”
Freeh, John. “Pericles and ‘Marina’: T. S. Eliot's Search for the Transcendent in Late Shakespeare.” In Shakespeare's Last Plays: Essays in Literature and Politics, edited by Stephen W. Smith and Travis Curtright, pp. 111-35. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2002.
Compares Pericles to T. S. Eliot's “Marina,” detecting a common theme in which spiritual transcendence transforms darkness into light and absolute good.
Hart, F. Elizabeth. “‘Great is Diana’ of Shakespeare's Ephesus.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 43, no. 2 (spring 2003): 347-74.
Argues that Shakespeare...
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