Pericles

By William Shakespeare
June 1 1993
directed by Joel G. Fink

The ghost of John Gower, a fourteenth-century English poet, introduces himself as the narrator of this ancient tale. Pericles, Prince of Tyre, is at the Court of Antioch, where he is trying to solve a riddle which may win him the king's daughter. Pericles decides not to answer the riddle, but reveals that he knows its secret; the king and his daughter are sexually involved in an incestuous affair. Realizing that his life is now in danger, Pericles returns to Tyre where his advisor, Helicanus, urges him to leave Tyre until the threat from Antiochus has subsided. Pericles flees to the famine-ridden kingdom of Tarsus and is welcomed as the country's savior by its Governor, Cleon, and his wife, Dionyza. Pericles sets off to sea again and is shipwrecked at Pentapolis where King Simonides, ruler of Pentapolis, is holding a tournament for his daughter Thaisa's hand. Pericles wins the tournament and marries Thaisa. Time passes, and Pericles and the now pregnant Thaisa, embark for Tyre. They are caught in a great storm, however, in which Thaisa gives birth to a daughter, but dies in labor. Thaisa is buried at sea, and fearing that the child will not survive the long voyage, Pericles returns to Taursus and places his daughter, named Marina, in the care of Cleon and Dionyza. Thaisa's burial chest washes ashore at Ephesus, where Lord Cerimon revives her with his magical powers. Because she never expects to see Pericles again, Thaisa retreats to Diana's sacred temple. Meanwhile in Tarsus, Marina has grown into such a beautiful young woman, that she overshadows Cleon and Dionyza's own daughter. Dionyza becomes jealous and plots with her attendant, Leonine, to have Marina killed. Just as Leonine is about to murder Marina, a group of pirates kidnap her and take her to Mytilene, where she is sold to a brothel. Her virtue and grace help her escape the brothel, and earn her living as an honest woman. When Pericles returns to Tarsus to fetch Marina, he hears of her death, and once again sets off to sea. Beset by yet another storm, Pericles' ship docks at Mytilene, where he is greeted by its Governor, Lysimachus. Lysimachus learns of Pericles' grief and suggests that Marina's charms might cure his sorrow. Marina is left alone with Pericles, and in telling the story of her sad history, their relationship is revealed. Pericles is suddenly lulled to sleep by heavenly music, and Diana appears to him in a dream, telling him to go to her temple in Ephesus. At the temple altar, Pericles identifies himself and recounts the story of Marina's birth and adventures. Thaisa recognizes him, and they are united. With the marriage of Marina and Lysimachus, the story is completed, and Gower bids the audience farewell.

Date Time
Tuesday June 1 12:00 am
Closed

Pericles was the first Shakespearean play to be staged after the reopening of the theatres following the English Civil War. Thomas Betterton, a 25-year-old newcomer, was "highly applauded in the title-role" both in 1660 and 1661.

The ghost of John Gower, a fourteenth-century English poet, introduces himself as the narrator of this ancient tale. Pericles, Prince of Tyre, is at the Court of Antioch, where he is trying to solve a riddle which may win him the king's daughter. Pericles decides not to answer the riddle, but reveals that he knows its secret; the king and his daughter are sexually involved in an incestuous affair. Realizing that his life is now in danger, Pericles returns to Tyre where his advisor, Helicanus, urges him to leave Tyre until the threat from Antiochus has subsided. Pericles flees to the famine-ridden kingdom of Tarsus and is welcomed as the country's savior by its Governor, Cleon, and his wife, Dionyza. Pericles sets off to sea again and is shipwrecked at Pentapolis where King Simonides, ruler of Pentapolis, is holding a tournament for his daughter Thaisa's hand. Pericles wins the tournament and marries Thaisa. Time passes, and Pericles and the now pregnant Thaisa, embark for Tyre. They are caught in a great storm, however, in which Thaisa gives birth to a daughter, but dies in labor. Thaisa is buried at sea, and fearing that the child will not survive the long voyage, Pericles returns to Taursus and places his daughter, named Marina, in the care of Cleon and Dionyza. Thaisa's burial chest washes ashore at Ephesus, where Lord Cerimon revives her with his magical powers. Because she never expects to see Pericles again, Thaisa retreats to Diana's sacred temple. Meanwhile in Tarsus, Marina has grown into such a beautiful young woman, that she overshadows Cleon and Dionyza's own daughter. Dionyza becomes jealous and plots with her attendant, Leonine, to have Marina killed. Just as Leonine is about to murder Marina, a group of pirates kidnap her and take her to Mytilene, where she is sold to a brothel. Her virtue and grace help her escape the brothel, and earn her living as an honest woman. When Pericles returns to Tarsus to fetch Marina, he hears of her death, and once again sets off to sea. Beset by yet another storm, Pericles' ship docks at Mytilene, where he is greeted by its Governor, Lysimachus. Lysimachus learns of Pericles' grief and suggests that Marina's charms might cure his sorrow. Marina is left alone with Pericles, and in telling the story of her sad history, their relationship is revealed. Pericles is suddenly lulled to sleep by heavenly music, and Diana appears to him in a dream, telling him to go to her temple in Ephesus. At the temple altar, Pericles identifies himself and recounts the story of Marina's birth and adventures. Thaisa recognizes him, and they are united. With the marriage of Marina and Lysimachus, the story is completed, and Gower bids the audience farewell.

Shakespeare's Pericles was based on the ancient Greek romance, Apollonius of Tyre, one of the most popular stories of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The name Pericles does not appear in this original source, but Shakespeare was undoubtedly aware of him. Shakespeare would have read Pericles' biography in Plutarch's Lives. Scholars suggest that Shakespeare was impressed with the accomplishments and popularity of the historical Pericles, so he named his title character, the fictional ruler of Tyre, after the famous Athenian statesman. Pericles, c. 495-429 BC, ruled Athens from about 460 to 429, a Golden Age in the history of Athenian culture and military supremacy. Pericles is associated with significant advancements in Greek government, architecture and the arts. He implemented major democratic reforms and started the public building program which produced the Parthenon. The great Greek dramatists--Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides--were all writing during his reign. Pericles initiated the Peloponnesian War in 431 and died of the plague two years later, never to know that the war resulted in the decline in Athenian society, following Athen's disastrous defeat in Sicily in 413. Although Shakespeare's character bears little resemblance to the historical Pericles, Shakespeare incorporates a major philosophy of Greek society and Greek tragedy into the play-- that of Fate. The Greeks believed that man could not control his own existence, his own destiny. Life was a series of misfortunes, of suffering, which a person had to accept. Pericles' life is a journey of tremendous suffering, a journey of events he can not control. He, like the protagonist in a Greek tragedy, also accepts his fate passively. Early on in the play, after Pericles' ship is wrecked off the coast of Tarsus, he proclaims that he must submit to the forces of nature. Later Pericles compares himself to a tennis ball on a "vast tennis court." Pericles is played upon as fortune sees fit. Pericles suffers because of what happens to him, not because of his own behavior. He is acted upon, rather than controlling the action. Fate continues to dictate events in his life throughout the rest of the play. There is also another "fate" convention used in Greek tragedy which Shakespeare incorporates into the play--the deus ex machina. The deus ex machina is a god or goddess introduced at the end of the play who decides its final outcome. The god or goddess usually provides a happy solution to an impossible situation and thus brings an end to the protagonist's suffering. In Pericles, Diana is the deus ex machina. In a dream, the goddess, Diana, commands Pericles to go to her temple in Ephesus. He travels there, and in retelling his life of misfortune is reunited with his wife, Thaisa. Pericles is the first of Shakespeare's main characters to not openly challenge fate, a theme Shakespeare continues to explore in his final three plays: Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale and The Tempest. In these last plays, one sees Shakespeare coming to grips with his own mortality. The major characters all undergo enormous suffering, yet the plays end happily. In the end, Shakespeare seems to suggest that man has the strength to withstand life's trials. Providence always remains in balance. Good ultimately triumphs over evil.

PERICLES ON STAGE Shakespeare lived and wrote during the European Renaissance, a transition period between the middle ages and modern times which began in fourteenth-century Italy and lasted into the seventeenth century. The Renaissance was marked by a "rebirth" of interest in classical architecture, arts and literature. Elizabethans were fascinated with Greek and Roman cultures, exotic societies quite unlike that of seventeenth-century England. Therefore, it is not surprising that Pericles was extremely popular during Shakespeare's time. Venetian and French ambassadors to England attended a performance of Pericles sometime in 1607 or early 1608, and according to the Quarto published in 1609, it was acted "sundry times" by the King's Men at the Globe. Contemporary references suggest that huge crowds attended the production. George Wilkins, an English author and dramatist active between 1603 and 1608, capitalized on the play's popularity by publishing his novel, The Painfull Adventures of Pericles Prince of Tyre, in the same year. The Cholmeley Players, a travelling company, performed the work in Yorkshire in 1610, and records show two other notable productions before the closing of the theatres by Cromwell in 1641. Visiting French dignitaries were entertained by an elaborate two-part production of Pericles, which included an intermission banquet, at Whitehall in 1619. The play was produced at least once at the Globe between 1625 and 1631, judging by Ben Jonson's complaints in Ode to Himselfe, which suggests that people were flocking to "some mouldy tale, like Pericles" rather than attending his more serious works. Critics and producers during the 18th and 19th centuries regarded it as a poor play lacking in interesting characters and original thought. The action was too improbable to be dramatically effective as suggested by an editor of the period: "Pericles is little more than a string of adventures so numerous, so inartificially crowded together, and so far removed from probability . . . ." After the Restoration, the play was not produced again for nearly 80 years until George Lillo, a British dramatist best known for his play George Barnwell, staged a most un-Shakespearean-like adaptation entitled Marina at Covent Garden in 1738. Typical of the eighteenth- century attitude, Lillo felt he could do more justice to Shakespeare by rewriting the text. He added several scenes and completely removed the roles of Cleon and Cerimon while basing his three-act adaptation solely on Acts IV and V of Pericles. Victorian attitudes of the nineteenth century were even more critical of the play. The brothel scenes enraged public's moral sense. Audiences could not even relate favorably to the character of Marina. The only notable nineteenth-century production was a revival by Samuel Phelps, a British actor and producer, at Sadler's Wells in 1854. The play ran for several weeks, and like most Phelps' productions, it was quite spectacular. The set designer and machinist reproduced the rolling billows, whistling wind and tossing of the ship. The elaborate costumes, dances and banquets created a realistic Eastern flavor. Unfortunately, Gower was cut completely and the brothel scenes were condensed and heavily censored-- "disinfected of its impurities" as one reviewer put it--to accommodate Victorian tastes. Pericles was staged only three other times before World War I: two of them in Germany, at Munich in 1882 and 1904, and a reportedly unsuccessful production in Stratford in 1900 with John Coleman playing Pericles. But history is cyclical, and Pericles has gained in popularity since the 1920's. Robert Atkins produced the first textually unaltered modern staging of Pericles at the Old Vic in 1921. Two successful productions with Paul Scofield and Daphne Slater were produced at Stratford in 1947 and in London in 1950. An equally impressive production at Stratford in 1958 featured Richard Johnson as Pericles and Geraldine McEwan as Marina, who, according to a reviewer, "made the recognition as poignantly beautiful as the Lear-Cordelia scene." The last decade has also seen a number of notable American productions. Most recently, Pericles was produced at the New York Shakespeare Festival (1991) with Campbell Scott in the title role. In reaction to the play's renewed popularity, one critic alluded to "the remarkable manner in which this tale of long ago and the far away induces in the . . . spectator a semi- hypnotic state in which everything is experienced as in a dream."

Brownlow, F.W. Two Shakespearean Sequences. London: The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1977. Cahn, Victor L. Shakespeare The Playwright. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1991. Knight, G. Wilson. The Crown of Life. London: Oxford University Press, 1947. Kramm, Maggi. "The Hero Nobody Knows." American Theatre 9 (June 1992): 10-17. Marsh, D.R.C. The Recurring Miracle: A Study of Cymbeline and the Last Plays. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1962. Peterson, Douglas L. Time, Tide, and Tempest: A Study of Shakespeare's Romances. San Marino: The Huntington Library, 1973