Shakespeare the Playwright: A Companion to the Complete Tragedies, Histories, Comedies, and Romances

By Victor L. Cahn | Go to book overview

PERICLES

Of the thirty-seven plays traditionally included in the Shakespearean canon, Pericles was the only one not in the First Folio, which appeared in 1623. The play's authorship remains uncertain, but the consensus of scholars is that Shakespeare may have had a hand in the first two acts, and that the last three are likely his alone. The original source of the story is the Latin tale "Appolonius of Tyre," as adapted by John Gower in Confessio Amantis ( 1385-1393). The changing of the protagonist's name was perhaps made to accommodate the lines of iambic pentameter.

Even though the opening acts may be largely the work of another writer, their structure is important. The presence of the narrator Gower lends a sense of artificiality, so that we do not react as if the story were entirely realistic. In his opening address Gower provides background about the incestuous relationship between King Antiochus and his daughter (I, 25-28), then sets the plot moving by detailing the challenge the King has established: the man who solves a particular riddle will win the daughter's hand, while anyone who attempts a solution and fails will be executed (I, 37-38).

Several aspects of the initial scene are awkward. The Princess is unnamed and speaks only a few lines, so we must accept that she is worth the risk Pericles takes by falling in love with her (I, i, 12-24). Antiochus then praises his daughter's beauty (I, ii, 27-33) and clarifies the strictness of the penalty for suitors who fail:

Here they stand martyrs, slain in Cupid's wars;
And with dead cheeks advise thee to desist
For going on death's net, whom none resist.
(I, i, 38-40)

But Pericles graciously accepts the challenge (I, i, 41-55). We also note that the Princess herself hopes Pericles will win her (I, i, 59-60), and thus we accept his attractiveness, despite the lack of additional evidence.

-745-

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Shakespeare the Playwright: A Companion to the Complete Tragedies, Histories, Comedies, and Romances
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • The Tragedies 1
  • Titus Andronicus 5
  • Romeo and Juliet 23
  • Julius Caesar 47
  • Hamlet 69
  • Othello 105
  • King Lear 137
  • Macbeth 179
  • Antony and Cleopatra 209
  • Coriolanus 241
  • Timon of Athens 267
  • The Histories 283
  • The First Tetralogy 287
  • King John 381
  • The Second Tetralogy 399
  • The Comedies 525
  • The Comedy of Errors 529
  • The Taming of the Shrew 541
  • Two - Gentlemen of Verona 555
  • Love''s Labor''s Lost 569
  • A Midsummer Night''s Dream 583
  • The Merchant of Venice 599
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor 619
  • Much Ado about Nothing 629
  • As You like It 647
  • Twelfth Night, or What You Will 665
  • Troilus and Cressida 683
  • All''s Well That Ends Well 703
  • Measure for Measure 721
  • The Romances 743
  • Pericles 745
  • Cymbeline 757
  • The Winter''s Tale 779
  • The Tempest 803
  • Appendix 1 - The Two Noble Kinsmen 823
  • Suggestions for Further Reading 826
  • Appendix 2 - The Royal Figures from the History Tetralogies 827
  • Select Bibliography 831
  • Character Index 833
  • Index 847
  • About the Author *
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