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Pericles /

Further Reading: Pericles

Abbreviations: Cym. = Cymbeline; Err. = The Comedy of Errors; MM = Measure for Measure; Per. = Pericles; Temp. = The Tempest; WT = The Winter’s Tale


Archibald, Elizabeth. “ ‘Deep Clerks She Dumbs’: The Learned Heroine in Apollonius of Tyre and Pericles.Comparative Drama 22 (1988–89): 289–303.

Education and learning are important themes in the earliest extant version of the Apollonius of Tyre story, the basis of Shakespeare’s Pericles. Tarsia, the counterpart to Shakespeare’s Marina, preserves her chastity in a brothel by proclaiming “Habeo auxilium studiorum liberalium, perfecte erudita sum” (“I have the benefit of a liberal arts education, I am fully educated”). Subsequent versions of the story, such as Gower’s Confessio Amantis and Laurence Twine’s Patterne of Painefull Aduentures, also emphasize the heroine’s education. Shakespeare, however, plays down Marina’s intellectual skills by giving Gower only half a line on her brains, in contrast to three and a half lines on her sewing (5 Chor. 5–8). Marina herself never boasts of her education, and her encounter with Pericles in 5.1 is less intellectual and more emotional than in the earlier works. By celebrating stereotypical feminine skills—i.e., weaving, sewing, and singing—Pericles seems more old-fashioned on the topic of female education than its medieval and Renaissance sources and analogues, thereby fitting well with Lisa Jardine’s account of the “ambivalent attitudes to learned women in the Renaissance” (“Cultural Confusion and Shakespeare’s Learned Heroines,” Shakespeare Quarterly 39 [1987]: 1–18).

Barber, C. L. “ ‘Thou That Beget’st Him That Did Thee Beget’: Transformation in Pericles and The Winter’s Tale.Shakespeare Survey 22 (1969): 59–67.

In Barber’s psychoanalytic reading, the final recognition scenes in Pericles and WT become “epiphanies of something sacred[,] . . . arrived at by a dramatic movement” that contrasts with the trajectory of the earlier, festive comedies. In those plays, where the emotional center resides in young lovers, the movement is toward the creation of new family units; in the two romances, because the center of feeling inheres in the older generation, the action moves “through experiences of loss back to the recovery of family relations in and through the next generation.” Central to Barber’s thesis are the sacredness of the initial union between mother and infant and the emotional repercussions for the male protagonist of the traumatic break with the maternal. Through the recovery of the daughter, which leads to the recovery of the wife, those lost become “ikons for a pious love which finds in them the mysterious powers which create and renew life.” As a result, family ties are freed from the threat of sexual degradation explicitly manifested at the outset of Pericles in the incestuous relationship between Antiochus and his daughter.

Brockbank, J. Philip. “Pericles and the Dream of Immortality.” Shakespeare Survey 24 (1971): 105–16.

Shakespeare’s late plays address the question of personal survival in a life to come by reminding us that doctrines of immortality cannot do what they are meant to do. As the last pages of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus state, the “solution of the riddle of life in time and space lies outside space and time,” or, put another way, “the solution to the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of the problem.” Through the false deaths and miraculous resurrections of the romances, Shakespeare intimates “some solace of immortality” by way of metaphor and rhythm rather than through dogma or a conclusion reached by systematic thought. The play’s informing metaphor, the sea, is elemental and the “old tale” told is “elementary. We are fashioned from the elements, we are exposed to them, and we revert to them”: hence Marina’s birth at sea, the many voyages, and Thaisa’s apparent death. “The reawakening and restoring of the life of the affections after desolating loss is the continuing mystery, delight, preposterousness and satisfaction of [Pericles],” a play that reassures through its creation of a world in which “death is an illusion and the dream of immortality is appeased without the postulate of an after-life.”

Greenfield, Thelma N. “A Re-Examination of the ‘Patient’ Pericles.” Shakespeare Studies 3 (1968 for 1967): 51–61.

Greenfield takes issue with critics who describe Pericles as patient, silent, and unrebellious. Thinking that the portrait of Pericles as a patient man should be supplanted by that of “a wise and learned one, the Renaissance descendant of a wily Greek traveler”—along the lines of Plutarch’s Pericles, Homer’s Odysseus, and Sophocles’ Oedipus—Greenfield contends that Pericles reacts to the storm at 2.1.1–11 not submissively, as some have suggested, nor with imperatives like the contentious Lear, but like a scholar disputing with the elements: “[M]an must yield to you powers of nature; I am a man; therefore I obey you.” Just as he does in his encounter with Antiochus, Pericles relies on wit and retreats in the face of overwhelming odds. To those who claim that Shakespeare made Pericles less violent and therefore more patient than he appears in earlier versions of the Apollonius story, Greenfield responds that the text’s lack of stage directions renders the degree of the title character’s onstage grief uncertain. In short, the play emphasizes Pericles’ “avoidance of and retreat from misfortunes rather than his patient endurance of them.” If there is anyone in the play who demonstrates patience, it is Marina.

Healy, Margaret, “Pericles and the Pox.” In Shakespeare’s Late Plays: New Readings, edited by Jennifer Richards and James Knowles, pp. 92–107. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999.

Healy attends to the “medico-moral politics” of Pericles in order to counter critical claims that the play should be read as a retreat into pure aestheticism or a celebration of royal absolutism. In the early seventeenth century, syphilis (popularly known as the pox) was an untreatable, much feared, and highly contagious sexually transmitted disease allegorically associated in English polemic with the Church of Rome. The emphasis in the brothel scenes on the diseased bodies of the exploited sex workers suggests strongly that Lysimachus, a regular customer, is likewise contaminated. Pericles’ decision to marry his daughter to the governor of Mytilene makes him appear both tyrannical and self-serving. His abuse of power as a father and king speaks in turn to the controversial efforts on the part of James VI (James I) to strengthen English diplomatic relations with Spain through the marriage of his children to the Infanta and the Duke of Savoy. The conjunction of kingship, marriage, and syphilis in Pericles thus functions as an oblique criticism of English state politics in the first decade of the seventeenth century.

Helms, Lorraine. “The Saint in the Brothel: Or, Eloquence Rewarded.” Shakespeare Quarterly 41 (1990): 319–32.

Helms traces the motif of the Prostitute Priestess (i.e., the virgin who is sent to a brothel) from the declamations of Seneca the Elder through Christian hagiography and the romance sources and analogues of Pericles to the play itself. In the Senecan version, the woman kills her would-be rapist, thereby setting up a forensic argument on the issue of whether the killing or even the very time spent in the brothel disqualifies her from joining the order of vestal virgins. The open structure of the declamation format, with its improvised arguments, suggests that a woman can survive the worst circumstances devised by a man. As found in the story of St. Agnes, the motif depicts a virgin protected from the brothel’s customers by angels until God allows her to achieve martyrdom; the closed structure of the saint’s life implies that when a woman is placed in a whorehouse, her only alternative is death. Marina, the virginal heroine of Pericles, resorts to neither martyrdom nor murder when brought to a brothel but instead preserves her chastity through rhetorical eloquence. Like the silence of Isabella in MM, another eloquent Shakespearean virgin, Marina’s silence at the end of the play when marriage is imposed on her must be negotiated theatrically. That silence, which is closer to the theatrical ellipses of the Senecan declamations than to the authorial closure of narrative hagiography and romance, leads Helms to conclude that Marina “reanimates the figure of the Prostitute Priestess, as the Shakespearean playtext reenacts the Senecan rhetoric of rape.”

Hillman, Richard. “Shakespeare’s Gower and Gower’s Shakespeare: The Larger Debt of Pericles.Shakespeare Quarterly 36 (1985): 427–37.

In his reappraisal of the Chorus, Gower, the most “sustained literary allusion in Shakespeare,” Hillman claims that the importance of the Confessio Amantis goes beyond the story of Apollonius found in book 8. When taken as a whole, the Confessio forms a precedent for Shakespeare’s “use of love themes as a means of exploring larger issues of human spirituality and self-realization.” From Gower’s first words in the play, which combine “the conquering of death and the resuming of mortality,” through passages like 2 Chor. 5–8, the Chorus assures us that “transcendence is possible” and that suffering can be redemptive. Such a moral and spiritual context, within which capricious fortune is contained and a point given “to growth, change, and response,” is absent from the tale of Apollonius but part of the Confessio’s framework, thus making it a suitable source for the first of Shakespeare’s romances.

Hoeniger, F. David. “Gower and Shakespeare in Pericles.Shakespeare Quarterly 33 (1982): 461–79.

In an attempt to reconcile the poor critical reputation of Pericles with its success on the stage in several mid-twentieth-century revivals, Hoeniger contends that those parts of the play usually dismissed as defective and even crude were “deliberately adapted to an ‘inferior art,’ ” and may indicate that Shakespeare is winking at his audience. In setting out to “recreate old tales” in the romances, the mature Shakespeare apparently determined that it would be desirable to begin by imitating the old-fashioned techniques of early storytellers. In the plays that followed, he would discover “ways of creating a new art entirely his own.” Hoeniger finds a similarly purposeful use by an author of a style considered unworthy of him in Chaucer, who assigns himself the jingling “Rime of Sir Thopas” and follows it with the mirthless “Tale of Melibeus,” two burlesque efforts that contrast with the splendid artistry of the other Canterbury Tales.

Kurland, Stuart M. “ ‘The Care . . . of Subjects’ Good’: Pericles, James I, and the Neglect of Government.” Comparative Drama 30 (1996): 220–44.

Kurland examines Pericles in the context of early Jacobean politics. The title figure, a prince who seems uninterested in the fate of his kingdom, encounters similar royal indifference to good government in the other rulers he meets in his travels: “the incestuous and cruel Antiochus, the ineffective but kindly Cleon, the ‘good Simonides’ [aware of inequities in his kingdom but unable or unwilling to correct them], and the licentious but miraculously transformed Lysimachus.” Pericles’ travels convey an overall sense of purposelessness and drift, and his “remoteness and general passivity” mirror James I’s much-observed “disinclination to stay in London . . . to govern and to be seen governing.” Topical misgivings about the king’s apparent indifference to the business of government animate the politics of the play. One must look to Marina, not Pericles, for “a model of initiative and principled resourcefulness.”

McJannet, Linda. “Genre and Geography: The Eastern Mediterranean in Pericles and The Comedy of Errors.” In Playing the Globe: Genre and Geography in English Renaissance Drama, edited by John Gillies and Virginia Mason Vaughan, pp. 86–106. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press; London: Associated University Presses, 1998.

Because of their association with myth and fairy tale, the romances, with the exception of Temp., are not usually examined for Shakespeare’s “handling of geography, history, or other markers of cultural otherness.” Even when “real places” are involved, they are usually considered decorative, having little or no regard for geographic or historical accuracy. Despite anachronisms in Pericles and Err. (McJannet includes the latter because of its romance framing plot and the setting of Ephesus), the treatment of geography and cultural otherness in these two plays merits attention for several reasons. First, setting operates in both texts as a “literal and symbolic marker”; Pericles, for example, mentions the six locales of the action—Tyre/Tyrus, Tharsus, Mytilene, Ephesus, Pentapolis, and Antioch—seventy-five times. Second, a comparison of the early play (with its many Christian allusions and several Italian names) to the later one reveals a greater effort by Shakespeare in Pericles to maintain historical and geographic coherence; such consistency can be seen in Pericles’ travels, which reflect the navigational practices of ancient times, and in the political nomenclature that is more consistent with the reign of the Seleucid monarchs in the third and second centuries B.C.E. Third, the relatively benign view of the East (which McJannet finds) in these plays suggests a “paradoxical relation between humanist veneration for ancient Greek culture and Christian hostility to the Muslim Turks.” Over time, the humanists’ effort to assimilate the Hellenized East to their own moral universe may have contributed to the demonizing of infidels who, from the perspective of early modern Christians, had usurped the most revered sites of the ancient world. The cities alluded to in the two plays would have been known to Shakespeare’s audiences, in part, through a supplement to later editions of Ortelius’s Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, which included a map detailing places in the eastern Mediterranean visited by St. Paul.

Mowat, Barbara A. “ ‘I tell you what mine Authors saye’: Pericles, Shakespeare, and Imitatio.Archiv 240 (2003): 42–59.

Mowat points out that the phrase “mine author” (or, to use its older variant, “mine auctor”) had a “variety of resonances” in Shakespeare’s time, most notably as (1) a source or literary authority, and (2) an authoritative writer whose work both served as a model for others and had become the subject of scholarly commentary. Gower’s citation of his “authors” to introduce the story of father-daughter incest (1 Chor. 20) carries both meanings, thereby shifting the authority for the story “from the orally transmitted song to the written text” and, at the same time, transforming the representation of the narrator himself from the “singer of old songs to a scholar whose books and manuscripts provide him with the materials from which he draws.” By thus citing the authority of its literary models, Pericles “announces its own constructedness and its rhetorical grounding in imitatio,” a precept central to pedagogical and literary theory in early modern England. Mowat describes this pattern of construction as “an interweaving of material from two versions of the Apollonius story [Gower’s Confessio Amantis and Twine’s The Patterne of Painefull Aduentures] with elaborations from other traditions,” along with Shakespearean innovations that sometimes echo his earlier plays and sometimes prefigure those yet to come. She singles out two scenes for special attention: the scene of Thaisa’s death (3.1), which carries implications of the Mary Magdalene legend as disseminated in the Golden Legend and the Digby Mary Magdalene (a medieval saint’s play); and the scene of Pericles’ reunion with Marina (5.1), which includes among its authorities the tradition of Marian rhetoric and the mater et filia topos. As an exercise in imitatio, Pericles typifies the compositional practice Shakespeare uses throughout his career. Without question, he interweaves and transforms his authors so as to make what results his own creation, but “it is, at core, imitatio that is the ground of his invention, imitatio that he manipulates and transcends.”

Mowat, Barbara A. “ ‘What’s in a Name’: Tragicomedy, Romance, or Late Comedy.” In A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works, edited by Richard Dutton and Jean Howard, 4:129–49. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2004.

While it is a given in current Shakespeare studies that Per., Cym., WT, and Temp. belong to the same genre, there is less agreement about what the plays should be called. The cause of this “impasse,” Mowat suggests, may arise “from problems inherent in the generic names themselves,” especially the two most frequently used: romance and tragicomedy. Although it has proved the most “durable” (beginning with Dowden in the late nineteenth century), romance was not a recognizable category of Jacobean drama and even today seems more at home in the narrative form. The problem with tragicomedy is that Shakespeare’s late dramas (despite shared features) appear different in kind from Fletcherian tragicomedy and the tragicomic vision of Guarini. Drawing on Wittgenstein’s “theory of family resemblance,” Mowat proposes an inherited generic DNA that renders both romance and tragicomedy “truly useful names for Shakespeare’s late plays,” in that both point to the family to which these plays belong. Her review of sixteenth-century dramatic romances from Clyomon and Clamydes through Mucedorus reveals a native (rather than Italianate) tradition of tragicomedy compatible with romance stories of journeys, loss, resonant family reunions, and improbable events. In their transformations of older forms, Shakespeare’s “sophisticated ‘mouldy tales’ ” may best be understood as “tragicomic romances.”

Pitcher, John. “The Poet and the Taboo: The Riddle of Shakespeare’s Pericles.Essays and Studies 35 (1982): 14–29.

Contesting the orthodox view that the first two acts of Pericles are negligible, Pitcher claims a continuity between the early and later acts that “is related to the danger, or periculum in Pericles himself.” Behind what he concedes to be an unsophisticated development of the incest motif in Acts 1 and 2, Pitcher discerns an intelligence that shapes the narrative so as to “signal . . . the keynote of incest in Antioch, extrapolate . . . it in Tarsus, and leave . . . it provocatively unresolved in Pentapolis.” No matter where Pericles travels, and whatever the precipitating cause of his adventures, the incestuous relationship “reassert[s] itself, in varied forms, until it is extirpated” in his marriage to Thaisa (2.5). But even as late as Act 4, the danger of incest remains in the purposeless drifting of the prince who, believing his daughter to be dead, may chance upon her in a brothel and consummate a sexual union, thereby locking the pattern begun in Antioch “into a tragic symmetry.” Tragedy does not ensue because of the permutations Pericles works on what Northrop Frye calls the “comic Oedipus situation” at the heart of Menandrine New Comedy. Figured and refigured in the imagery of the early acts, the prolonged threat of an incestuous encounter in the later acts creates a “continuity of attention” to the theme of incest.

Relihan, Constance C. “Liminal Geography: Pericles and the Politics of Place.” Philological Quarterly 71 (1992): 281–99. [Reprinted in New Casebooks: Shakespeare’s Romances, edited by Alison Thorne, pp. 71–90. Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.]

Attending to the “geopolitical implications of Shakespearean topography” in Pericles, Relihan examines the play’s Greek, North African, and Aegean cultures as “liminal” sites, i.e., “thresholds connecting the European West and the Asiatic/African East.” When taken with Pericles’ own abdication of his political responsibilities, the dysfunctional governments found in the play’s other locales reflect similar problems in the court of James I. In contrast to McJannet, Relihan finds in Pericles a hostile view of the Islamic East, which she attributes to the problems early modern Christians had in distinguishing between a past associated with classical Greek and New Testament traditions and a present connected with the threat posed by the infidel, non-European Ottoman empire. By using liminal locations and by emphasizing the drama’s Otherness through the distancing mechanism of Gower’s narrative control, Shakespeare “undermines interpretations of the play that see it affirming James I’s reign and time’s ability to heal and restore.” To illustrate her critical rather than pro-Jamesian reading of the play, Relihan cites a 1581 tale by Barnaby Rich about a devil who assumes the shape of a gentleman, marries, flees London because of his wife’s profligate spending, and goes on to inhabit the body of Scotland’s James VI before ultimately returning to hell. When republished in 1606, in response to James’s ascension to the English throne as James I, “the Turk” and “Constantinople” were substituted for references to “James” and “his court.” Identifying Turks with the devil posed no cultural difficulties, and the easy substitution suggests an unconscious sense in which both the infidel and the king represent what is alien in English culture. The sense of both ‘us’ and ‘them’ inherent in the liminal cultures of Pericles parallels “similar anxiety over the liminal nature of James I.”

Skeele, David. Thwarting the Wayward Seas: A Critical and Theatrical History of Shakespeare’s Pericles in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Newark: University of Delaware Press; London: Associated University Presses, 1998.

With an eye to both critics and directors, as well as the cultural forces within which they operate, Skeele chronicles the journey of Pericles from its vilification in the nineteenth century to its “gradual acceptance and even glorification” in the twentieth. Among the oft-cited reasons given for the play’s controversial status—the question of authorship, the uneven quality of the writing, the bawdy nature of much of the material, and the choppy, episodic structure—Skeele singles out the last. The play’s fragmented structure—condemned in the nineteenth century, denied by modern critics in their quest to impose unity on the play, and reaffirmed without censure by postmodern critics and directors—serves as the “linchpin” of his study. Specific chapters are titled “Pericles Meets the Victorian Critics,” “Pericles on the Victorian Stage,” “The Unified Pericles,” “Simplicity and Unity,” and “Pericles Deconstructed.”

Skeele, David, ed. Pericles: Critical Essays. New York: Garland, 2000.

The first part of this anthology (following an introductory overview of the scholarship and performance history related to Pericles) provides twenty-one critical commentaries spanning the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries; the second part is devoted to accounts of theater productions between 1854 and 1994. Along with selected passages from Jonson (“Ode to Himself ”), Lillo (his eighteenth-century adaptation Marina), early editors such as Malone and Steevens, and such nineteenth-century commentators as F. G. Fleay, W. W. Lloyd, George Brandes, and Swinburne, Skeele reprints excerpts from the following: G. Wilson Knight, The Crown of Life (1947); Howard Felperin, Shakespearean Romance (1972); C. L. Barber and Richard Wheeler, The Whole Journey (1986); Coppélia Kahn, “The Providential Tempest and the Shakespearean Family” (1980); Steven Mullaney, The Place of the Stage: License, Play, and Power in Renaissance England (1988); Janet Adelman, Suffocating Mothers (1991); and Skeele’s critical and theatrical history annotated above. In addition to reprinted essays by Phyllis Gorfain (“Puzzle and Artifice: The Riddle as Metapoetry in Pericles,” 1976) and J. R. Mulryne (“ ‘To glad your ear and please your eye’: Pericles at the Other Place,” 1979), the volume includes eight new essays: Marianne Novy, “Multiple Parenting in Pericles”; Lisa Hopkins, “ ‘The Shores of My Mortality’: Pericles’ Greece of the Mind”; Caroline Bicks, “Backsliding at Ephesus: Shakespeare’s Diana and the Churching of Women”; Michael Baird Saenger, “Pericles and the Burlesque of Romance”; Thomas Rimer, “The Longest Voyage of All: Shakespeare’s Pericles in Japan”; Melissa Gibson, “Pericles at the Royal National Theatre [1994]”; Paul Nelsen, “Shot from the Canon: The BBC Video of Pericles”; and Dale Moffitt, “Pericles and the Prospect Theatre.” Samuel Phelps’s 1854 Pericles at Sadler’s Wells is the subject of two reviews and one essay; other productions reviewed include those of John Coleman (1900), Robert Atkins (1921), the Boston Shakespeare Company (1983), and the Hartford Stage Company (1987).

Womack, Peter. “Shakespeare and the Sea of Stories.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 29 (1999): 169–88.

An odd resemblance between the romance Pericles and the fifteenth-century miracle play Mary Magdalen is explained by tracing both to a common repertory of stories shared among ancient Greek romance and early mystery religions such as Christianity. These stories, according to Womack, were the real object of the attacks and defenses of the stage mounted in the sixteenth century by the likes of Stephen Gosson and Philip Sidney. Both sides of the debate sought to “decatholicize” the stage, either by banning theater altogether or by allowing dramatic illusion but not pseudo-miracle. Pericles, however, with its emphasis on storytelling and improbabilities of plot, and drawing heavily on miracle and withdrawal (gests typical of saints’ legends), frustrates Sidneian theories of theater by harking back to pre-Reformation theater practices, a technique that prompted Jonson in turn to dismiss the play as a “mouldy tale.” It is unnecessary to argue that Pericles is a cloaked Catholic play or to assume that Shakespeare had Catholic sympathies in order to understand how “a Catholic audience [could] reconnect with sacred drama just by the way it watched” this secular drama.