Pericles, Day 2

*Pssst….Don’t miss the Tony Awards tonight at 8pm on CBS.

**Click here for discussion questions for Pericles.  The discussion will extend into this coming week, and the Cymbeline discussion will begin later in the week…

Antiochus, Incest, and Dr. Tiller

You would have to have been living in a cave or under a rock not to have heard about the murder last Sunday, May 31st, of Dr. George Tiller, an ob-gyn who became (in)famous over the last decade for conducting late term abortions.  NYT blogger Judith Warner covered this tragedy in her most recent post, which effectively grabbed my attention by opening with a compelling example of one of Tiller’s typically atypical patients–a 9-year old girl who was raped and impregnated by her father.  The girl was 18-weeks pregnant when Tiller performed her abortion.  Those who find fault with this case, or ones like it, should redirect all their hostile judgment to the so-called father of this poor child.  

In Shakespeare’s late romance, Pericles, (the current selection on my “Summer Reading” list) the unsavory King Antiochus has an incestuous relationship with his beautiful but unnamed daughter, whose mother implicitly died giving birth to her.  In order to preserve his sinful relationship with his daughter, Antiochus formulates a riddle that all suitors prove unable to solve, and in failing to doing so, also lose their lives. Fortunately, Shakespeare (or his co-author George Wilkins) does not add insult to injury by having this incestuous relationship yield offspring that perform an actual part in the play; however, the riddle that Pericles reads and alone solves does leave the possibility open, noting that Antiochus is “father, son, and husband mild” and his daughter is “mother, wife, and yet his child.”  Beyond act one, scene three, little more is heard of these two characters , short of the choral figure, Gower, announcing their deaths just following the dumb show at the start of act three.  What’s the significance of opening the play with this morally bankrupt royal family?  Is it just to shock or titillate? Is it to heighten/foil the value of the father/daughter relationship between Simonides and Thasia or Pericles and Marina?   Is it to parallel/foil the envious, murderous mother/daughter duo, Dionyza and Philoten?


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