Shakespeare's Labored Art: Stir, Work, and the Late Plays

By Maurice Hunt | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
Pericles

At the beginning of Pericles, when Antiochus likens his Daughter to "this fair Hesperides,/ With golden fruit, but dangerous to be touch'd" (I. i. 27-28), he identifies the myth that the Prince of Tyre has used to express his desire for her:

You gods that made me man, and sway in love,
That have inflam'd desire in my breast
To taste the fruit of yon celestial tree
(Or die in th' adventure), be my helps,
As I am son and servant to your will,
To compass such a boundless happiness!
( I. i. 19-24)

To win Antiochus' Daughter, suitors must solve a riddle; an incorrect answer condemns them to death. Antiochus focuses the gravity of Pericles' task by comparing it to one of the twelve labors of Hercules. The mythic embellishment suggests that the intellectual exercise of trying to solve the riddle amounts to heroic work. Undertaking the solution of the riddle requires courage of the magnitude that Hercules expressed when he fought and killed the dragons guarding the Hesperidean garden where the golden apples grew. Antiochus extends the myth to cover the impaled skulls of suitors who failed to solve the riddle; they are the "death-like dragons" who ought to "affright" Pericles "hard" ( I. i. 29).1 Secretly committing incest with the Daughter, Antiochus has no intention of releasing her to the successful riddle solver. The ominous skulls almost certainly include some that once contained minds sufficiently shrewd to solve the riddle--it is, after all, rather transparent--but not clever enough to devise a quick defense against Antiochus' knife. Playgoers familiar with the transmitted story of Pericles realize that the Prince is in a no-win situation. The heroic labor

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Shakespeare's Labored Art: Stir, Work, and the Late Plays
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Table of Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Chapter 1 - Work and Shakespeare's Age 1
  • Notes 22
  • Chapter 2 - From Hamlet to Timon of Athens: Work in Shakespeare's Later Plays 27
  • Notes 63
  • Chapter 3 - Pericles 71
  • Notes 91
  • Chapter 4 - Cymbeline 95
  • Notes 130
  • Chapter 5 - The Winter's Tale 135
  • Notes 159
  • Chapter 6 - The Tempest 163
  • Notes 193
  • Chapter 7 - King Henry VIII 199
  • Notes 227
  • Chapter 8 - The Two Noble Kinsmen 231
  • Notes 255
  • Chapter 9 - Shakespeare's Labored Art 259
  • Notes 276
  • Works Cited 279
  • Index 305
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