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.