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Pericles /

An Introduction to This Text: Pericles

By Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine
Editors of the Folger Shakespeare Library Editions

Pericles was first published in a quarto of 1609 (Q) as The late, and much admired Play, Called Pericles, Prince of Tyre. The printing of Q was shared between two printing houses, one of which probably employed two different typesetters. A popular play, Pericles appeared in a second edition in the same year; Q2 was printed from Q and contained a few corrections and a few new errors. From Q2 was reprinted Q3 (1611), from Q3 was reprinted Q4 (1619), from Q4 came Q5 (1630), and from Q5 came Q6 (1635, but this time the printer also made use of a second earlier printing, Q4). When what we now call the Shakespeare First Folio was published in 1623, it contained no text of Pericles, which thus stands with The Two Noble Kinsmen, published in quarto in 1634, as one of only two plays not found in the First Folio that are widely accepted today as being of substantial Shakespearean authorship. Pericles was first printed in folio in the Third Folio (1663–64), as were several plays now thought to be wrongly attributed to Shakespeare. Its exclusion from the First Folio and inclusion in the Third among plays of doubtful authorship perhaps continues to color scholarly understanding of how Shakespearean Pericles may be.

Explore the Quarto of Pericles (1609) in the Folger’s Digital Collections.

Q’s dialogue becomes unintelligible with a frequency that far exceeds that of other Shakespeare printed plays, besides those which scholars in the twentieth century called “bad quartos” (see “The Publication of Shakespeare’s Plays”). Its punctuation has also been called “chaotic” and its stage directions “vague.” In addition, almost five hundred lines of its verse are printed as if they were prose; well over a hundred verse-lines are incorrectly divided. Some prose is also printed as verse. All these problems seem to worsen as one proceeds through Q. At the same time, there is a perceived heightening of Q’s linguistic and dramatic excellence in the latter portion of the text.

A great many explanations for Q’s condition have been put forward over the hundreds of years that Shakespeare’s plays have been an object of study. Once Pericles was thought to be a very early work of Shakespeare’s, written before his talent had matured. However, it was not printed until late in Shakespeare’s career in 1609; there was no contemporary reference to its performance until sometime in the period 1606–08; and it bears many resemblances to Shakespeare’s late plays Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest. Thus scholars today place it late rather than early in Shakespeare’s career, and no longer use a putative early production date to explain the text’s condition. Other explanations trace the defects in Q’s text to the multiplicity of agents supposed to be involved in its transmission into print. One suggestion is that the text was memorially reconstructed by two different reporters, one responsible for the first two acts (where the lining of verse and prose is relatively good), the other for the last three (where line division is a more severe problem). This suggestion has been countered by another that supposes the Q text to have been compiled from memory by two actors who took a variety of roles and had access to a written text of Gower’s part (i.e., his lines). Both these suggestions must remain speculative, since we have no other text of the play to use for comparison with Q. Without such a text, it is impossible to judge if memory played a role in the transmission of the Q text or to tell which characters’ speeches are transmitted more accurately. Only if the speeches of particular characters markedly exceed in accuracy those of others can we infer that particular actors memorially reconstructed a play. Shorthand, already developed in a number of forms by the early seventeenth century, has also been invoked as a method for the transmission of Q’s text, but not persuasively.

Still other narratives of the origins of Q’s peculiarly challenging text foreground multiple authorship. Advocates of this view account for differences between the first two acts and the last three—especially the perceived qualitative differences—by giving Shakespeare’s collaborator the first two and Shakespeare all or most of the last three. Among the claimants for some or all of Acts 1–2 have been the dramatists William Rowley, Thomas Heywood, and John Day. Recently, the preferred candidate has been George Wilkins, the author of the 1608 prose work The Painefull Aduentures of Pericles Prince of Tyre, which advertises itself as “the true History of the Play of Pericles” “as it was vnder the habite of ancient Gower the famous English poet, by the Kings Maiesties Players excellently presented.” Wilkins’s novel is evidently, at least in part, a report of the play that was printed in 1609 in Q. (The weightiest presentation of the case for Wilkins as Shakespeare’s collaborator in writing the play is MacDonald P. Jackson’s Defining Shakespeare: “Pericles” as Test Case [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003].) However, in order to write the 1608 The Painefull Aduentures, Wilkins borrowed extensively and often verbatim from Laurence Twine’s The Patterne of Painefull Aduentures (1594, 1607), also a principal source for the play. (See the Appendix for Twine’s novel and John Gower’s Confessio Amantis in the play.) If Wilkins had authored the play or any large part of it, it is odd that he would have had to engage in such borrowing. Not even Jackson can refute this objection. The origins of Q’s text of the play remain, then, an intractable problem for Shakespeare scholars.

This present edition is based on the Q printing of the play.1 For the convenience of the reader, we have modernized the punctuation and the spelling of Q. Sometimes we go so far as to modernize certain old forms of words; for example, usually when a means “he,” we change it to he; we change mo to more, and ye to you. But it is not our practice in editing any of the plays to modernize words that sound distinctly different from modern forms. For example, when the early printed texts read sith or apricocks or porpentine, we have not modernized to since, apricots, porcupine. When the forms an, and, or and if appear instead of the modern form if, we have reduced and to an but have not changed any of these forms to their modern equivalent, if. We also modernize and, where necessary, correct passages in foreign languages, unless an error in the early printed text can be reasonably explained as a joke.

Whenever we change the wording of Q or add anything to Q’s stage directions, we mark the change by enclosing it in superior half-brackets ( ). We employ these brackets because we want our readers to be immediately aware when we have intervened. (Only when we correct an obvious typographical error in Q does the change not get marked.) Whenever we change either the wording of Q or its punctuation so that meaning changes, we list the change in the textual notes, even if all we have done is fix an obvious error.

We regularize spellings of a number of the proper names, as is the usual practice in editions of the play. For example, Q calls the King of Pentapolis sometimes “Simonides,” sometimes “Simonydes,” and sometimes “Symonides,” but we use the spelling “Simonides” throughout the text. We also expand the often severely abbreviated forms of names used as speech headings in early printed texts into the full names of the characters. Changes to the speech headings of the early printed texts are recorded in the textual notes.

This edition differs from many earlier ones in its efforts to aid the reader in imagining the play as a performance rather than as a series of actual events. For example, in 1 Chorus, Gower verbally gestures to the severed heads of the suitors who have failed in the contest to marry Antiochus’s daughter and forfeited their lives: “for her many a wight did die, / As yon grim looks do testify” (lines 39–40). In the fiction of the play, these heads have been placed on the palace walls, and many editors write a stage direction to accompany Gower’s words that refers to the fictional location of these heads “on the walls.” But because we wish to encourage readers to imagine the play as performance, rather than simply as fiction, we word this stage direction somewhat differently: “He indicates heads above the stage.

Whenever, as here, it is reasonably certain, in our view, that a speech is accompanied by a particular action, we provide a stage direction describing the action, setting the added direction in brackets to signal that it is not found in Q. (Exceptions to this rule occur when the action is so obvious that to add a stage direction would insult the reader.) Stage directions for the entrance of a character in mid-scene are, with rare exceptions, placed so that they immediately precede the character’s participation in the scene, even though these entrances may appear somewhat earlier in the early printed texts. Whenever we move a stage direction, we record this change in the textual notes. Latin stage directions (e.g., Exeunt) are translated into English (e.g., They exit).

In the present edition, as well, we mark with a dash any change of address within a speech, unless a stage direction intervenes. When the –ed ending of a word is to be pronounced, we mark it with an accent. Like editors for the past two centuries, we display each metrically linked line (provided the linked lines produce a pentameter) in the following way:

 Most likely, sir.
CERIMON  Nay, certainly tonight[.]


However, when there are a number of short verse-lines that can be linked in more than one way to produce a pentameter line, we do not, with rare exceptions, indent any of them.

  1. We have also consulted the computerized text of Q on the website of Michael Best, ed., Internet Shakespeare Editions, University of Victoria, Canada.