Pericles (Vol. 79) - Essay


(Shakespearean Criticism)


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.

Criticism: Overviews And General Studies

(Shakespearean Criticism)

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.

(ll. 6-9)

“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.

(Epilogue 1-2)

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'...

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Kenneth J. Semon (essay date spring 1974)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

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...

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Walter F. Eggers, Jr. (essay date spring 1975)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

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.)

Richard Hillman (essay date winter 1985)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

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.)

D. J. R. Bruckner (review date 19 August 1998)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

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.)

Charles Isherwood (review date 16-22 November 1998)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

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.)

John Simon (review date 23 November 1998)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

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.)

Lois Potter (review date 12 July 2002)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

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.)

Peter Womack (essay date winter 1999)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

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.)

Margaret Healy (essay date 1999)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

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.)

Paul Dean (essay date April 2000)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

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.)

Caroline Bicks (essay date 2000)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

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.)

Lisa Hopkins (essay date 2000)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

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.)

Heather Dubrow (essay date 2002)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

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.)

Further Reading

(Shakespearean Criticism)


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.)