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Shakespeare & Beyond

Shakespeare's late romances on summertime stages

Ron Chapman as Pericles and Leontyne Mbele-Mbong as Thaisa in Episode 2 of San Francisco Shakespeare Festival’s Free Shakespeare in the Park production of Pericles, Prince of Tyre.

As we looked with excitement at the plays our Shakespeare theater partners across the country were staging this summer, we noticed something: an unusual number of Shakespeare’s late romances. The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company just closed its production of Pericles in Ellicott City, MD, while the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival and Utah Shakespeare Festival’s productions of that play continue into September. Cymbeline is onstage now at both the Utah Shakespeare Festival and the American Players Theatre. If you missed the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s staging of The Tempest in Boston earlier this summer, you can still catch the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s production in Garrison, NY.

Shakespeare wrote the romances—a set of plays that includes Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, and The Two Noble Kinsmen—roughly between 1607 and 1614. Shakespeare’s colleagues didn’t call these plays “romances” when they compiled the First Folio: Cymbeline is listed as a tragedy, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest are comedies, and Pericles and The Two Noble Kinsmen don’t appear at all. In the late 1800s, the critic Edward Dowden noted their similarities and grouped them together into a genre: the “romances.” The term stuck. The romances often feature epic stories, which sometimes take place over long periods of time. They show the influence of the court masques, which was becoming increasingly popular in Jacobean England, and were written with the indoor theater in mind. Perhaps most important, the romances frequently feature incredible reunions.

What inspired this summer’s productions, and what can these plays tell us about the summer of 2021? We asked some of the people who worked on them.


I’m just having my first browse through Folger Shakespeare, and enjoying it very much. Thank you.

René Buhler — August 25, 2021

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