Pericles, Day 4
It is not everyday that you get to see a live performance of a play that you are reading, so I am very excited that I will have the opportunity to attend a production of Pericles this summer. If you live in the Tampa Bay area, this coming August, Jobsite Theatre Company is staging an edgy musical adaptation of Pericles at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. I will be writing a review article of this production and the flurry of other recent college and regional productions of Pericles for Shakespeare Bulletin.
The Genre Question
Critics do not agree on how to classify Pericles: some consider it a tragicomedy, others consider it a romance, and still others prefer the looser label, “late play.” Those who read the play as a tragicomedy see connections between it and some of Shakespeare’s earlier festive comedies and “problem plays” that move from problem to resolution, often in the form of reconciliation and marriage. Those who read the play as a romance point to its overall portrayal of good versus evil and its many conventions of this genre, such as a wandering hero, a virtuous heroine, shipwrecks, storms, pirates, separations, and reunions. And those who group Pericles with the other plays Shakespeare wrote at the end of his career, (eg. The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest) emphasize the play’s concern with death, rebirth, and progeny.
Women in Pericles
There is Antiochus’ nameless daughter, who utters only two lines; Pericles’ wife Thasia, who is absent most of the play; their daughter, Marina; her nurse, Lychorida, who dies; and the conniving and competitive Dionyza and her daughter, Philoten. The only truly memorable woman in this bunch is Marina. She alone serves as the moral compass for the play. While her father may be reticent regarding important matters, she speaks out eloquently and persuasively, and unlike so many of her female counterparts in the rest of Shakepseare’s canon, she does not cross-dress or disguise herself in order to achieve a voice. Just before the famous brothel scene in act four, she has escaped actual death thanks to the intervention of pirates (Dionyza enlists Leonine to murder Marina in order to eliminate competition for her daughter, Philoten), only to then face the potential death of her virginity, chastity, and reputation. Marina endures this experience by summoning the aid of the Diana (goddess of the hunt and poster-goddess of chastity) and using rhetoric effectively. She converts the men she meets at the brothel who are initially amazed “to hear divinity preached there” and in turn preserves her virginity. Her power of articulation affords her a privilege typically restricted to the other gender, which may perhaps explain her father’s remarks to her during the reunion scene: “Tell thy story; if thine considered prove the thousandeth part of my endurance, thou art a man, and I have suffered like a girl.”
Shakespeare and Twitter
I don’t know how I missed this…perhaps it’s because of my persisting reluctance to tweet…but a few months back someone started a movement on Twitter to synopsize each of Shakespeare’s plays into 140 word tweets. Here is a link to the entire list. The one for Pericles is a bit too bland, benign, in my opinion: “A prince on the run is separated from his young daughter in dangerous circumstances. Wise and virtuous, they are reunited in time.” How about this: “Perverted king and princess die. Hero suitor flees, weds, loses wife, outsources their kid who takes on pirates, pimps. Regains both and son-in-law.” Okay, maybe this isn’t as easy as it looks.