Okay, so I have a confession: I don’t really consider myself a literary snob, per se, but when it comes to Shakespeare I have many opinions (all of them the proper opinions, of course… okay, maybe I am a little bit of a snob).
I read Pericles a long time ago, and I mostly forgot about it, until I recently had the pleasure to see a staged reading of the work. And… I think this is my favorite Shakespeare play. Maybe. Hamlet is still pretty close to my heart. And of course there’s Much Ado About Nothing…
Back to my actual point: Pericles is great. It has everything. There’s mistaken identity, ship wrecks, adultery, true love, lewd fisherman, inexplicable villainy, drowning, people coming back from the dead, and much more. Sure, at about 3 hours, it did start to feel that maybe something could have been cut, but overall it’s incredible.
Let me take you step by step through this crazy play: (Spoilers ahead!)
Prince Pericles of Tyre discovers that the King Antioch is having an incestuous affair with his own daughter (whom Pericles at one time was trying to woo; you dodged a bullet there buddy). He then has to flee Antioch to escape death, and ends up deciding he can’t stay in Tyre or risk bringing the incestuous King’s wrath down on his people. So he goes to Pentopolis, but on the way there we experience the first (and not last) storm of the play, which shipwrecks Pericles’ vessel. Pericles is the only survivor. He enters a tourney in Pentopolis, and having won he is given the Princess Thaisa in marriage, and the two end up falling in love (because of course they do). The King of Antioch having died, Pericles (and the now pregnant Thaisa) travel home to Tyre. AND THEN there is a storm on their way home to Tyre. Thaisa gives birth during this second storm, and then appears to die. Pericles puts her in an airtight coffin and sends her overboard. Then he takes his newborn daughter and LEAVES her in the care of some folks he knows in Tarsus. Meanwhile back at the ranch, Thaisa’s body washes ashore in Ephesus. She is REVIVED and taken in as a priestess. And then we get to the SIXTEEN YEAR GAP IN THE ACTION. The family that has taken in Pericles’ baby (who, by the way, is named Marina since she was born at sea) has decided that she is TOO PRETTY (or, in any case, prettier than their own daughter) and try to have her killed. Instead, she ends up a slave in a brothel, where every man who comes to have their way with her is swayed out of doing so by the goodness of her heart. The brothel then sells her to a wealthy (if also sleazy) governor named Lysismachus. Pericles goes to visit Tarsus, sees the monument built to his not-dead daughter, and falls into a misery so severe he can not eat or drink. I’ll take this time to remind you he hasn’t seen this child in sixteen years, but he’s still sad so maybe not the worst dad ever? Skipping ahead, Pericles ends up reunited with his not-dead daughter and his not-dead wife, and they all FINALLY return to Tyre so Pericles can become king. At Last. After all these years. Oh, and Lysismachus is rewarded for not sleeping with Marina by being… allowed to marry Marina. And they all live happily ever after?
It’s such a shame that it’s hardly ever performed… necessary costume changes alone could lead to some great modernization.
AND WHAT ABOUT THE MOVIE? There are several filmed version of the play, as well as one (maybe two?) films that are either based upon or adapted from the original. But remember: I’m a snob. I haven’t seen any of them.