I am no viper, yet I feed
On mother’s flesh which did me breed.
I sought a husband, in which labour
I found that kindness in a father:
He’s father, son, and husband mild;
I mother, wife, and yet his child.
How they may be, and yet in two,
As you will live, resolve it you.
This is the riddle of Antiochus that signals the beginning of the tragedy and hardship that Pericles is about to face. It does not suggest a happy note yet it provides the audience with a clear picture of what may lie ahead for the protagonist Pericles. It is a tale unlike the others written by Shakespeare in that it takes on a theme that is different from the rest (DelVecchio, Dorothy and Hammond 2005). Yet like every play of Shakespeare, it has served to captivate audiences for centuries and perhaps centuries more (DelVecchio, Dorothy and Hammond 2005).
The play entitled Pericles, by William Shakespeare, is perhaps one of the more controversial plays by the renowned playwright for the reason that his authorship is in question. While there is no question that he did indeed write a portion of it, there is some disagreement over the extent of participation that Shakespeare had over this play (DelVecchio, Dorothy and Hammond 2005). Issue of authorship aside, Pericles is a very challenging play that presents every production crew and actor with the task of presenting a convincing performance night in and night out.
As with every Shakespeare play, there is always an intended audience in mind. In this case, the play was an adaptation of various sources, most notably the work of Geoffrey Chaucer in Book VIII of his Confessio Amantis (DelVecchio, Dorothy and Hammond 2005). Since drama and theater was the main source of entertainment by the public during this period, most of the plays that Shakespeare introduced were for the general public. The main draw for Shakespeare, however, was the fact that the Tudor Monarchy preferred to stay in the capital. As such, Shakespeare chose to limit the participation of the audience.
Pericles is essentially a drama. While the play ends on a joyful and perhaps harmonious note, it does not detract from the fact that it is rife with conflict and tension between the characters. The drama lies in the fact that the story revolves around the life of Pericles and the different tragedies that befall him (Edwards 1952). Unlike the other plays of Shakespeare, Pericles takes on a more somber note. It is not filled with comedic allusions or the usual antics that can be found in his more famous comedies. As a drama, it tackles the more serious issues that confound even the greatest of men, love and sacrifice (Edwards 1952).
The main plot of the story is straightforward enough. Pericles, in search for a bride, travels to Antioch to seek the hand of the princess and in doing so inadvertently discovers the incestuous relationship that is ongoing between the princess and the king (Edwards 1952). He flees for his life and eventually finds love, whose name is Thaisa, and gives him a daughter who he both loses. The play essentially covers the hardships that Pericles endures on his quest for love (Edwards 1952).
The essential part of the play is when Pericles finds out that his beloved daughter Marina has died. This is the climax of the play because it provides the final tragedy that Pericles faces in his life. The loss of many of his companions, friends and wife is magnified by the loss of his daughter (DelVecchio, Dorothy and Hammond 2005). Stricken with grief, Pericles then enters into depression and wanders around the area. Living a life of a recluse, he finally lands at Mytlilene where Lysimachus tries to comfort him. It is here that he sees that his wife and daughter are not dead. Pericles, Marina and Thaisa are all reunited at the temple of Ephesus thus providing what was seemingly a tragedy a happy ending (DelVecchio, Dorothy and Hammond 2005).
The main characters of the play are Pericles, who is the ruling prince of Tyre, Thais, the princess of Pentapolis who becomes the wife of Pericles and Marina, the daughter of Pericles and Thaisa. These main characters are crucial to the development of the theme because it is the love the Pericles has for his wife and daughter that he grows grief stricken in the end and becomes a wandering recluse (Edwards 1952). The joyful ending is made so by the existence of these three (3) main characters. Thaisa and Marina also play an important role in this play as they become the source of happiness for Pericles who can be said to have the life purpose of searching for his ultimate happiness (Edwards 1952).
The main conflict lies in the problems that besiege Pericles. His happiness was short lived as both his wife and his daughter were believed to be dead. This caused the downfall of Pericles and led him down the path of destruction (DelVecchio, Dorothy and Hammond 2005). This was resolved upon arriving at Mytlilene and discovering that his daughter is alive. He also discovers that his beloved wife is also alive and serving as a priestess at the temple of Ephesus (DelVecchio, Dorothy and Hammond 2005).
As mentioned in the earlier sections, the play Pericles has often presented the problem of being believable. Over the years, many have tried to present a lavish set with realistic props in order to create the period mood and the setting. The play, as presented, was not very creative with the settings. There were a few minor changes that had a great impact because it was not able to deliver the authenticity of the period. It would have even been better had the producer decided to go with a more minimalist setting and instead concentrated on the drama as conveyed by the actors.
While the issue on setting has been addressed over the years, the impact is still highly dependent upon the performance of the actors. The character of Pericles is a very complex character and it is difficult to convey the intense feeling of loss and eventually happiness that he feels. Casting is indeed a very difficult task and it is very difficult to find actors who not only look the part but are also able to convey the complex emotions of the characters. In this play, the actors had a difficult time getting into the character of Pericles as depicted in the original script. An actor with a stronger personality and perhaps rougher features would have done a more convincing job.
DelVecchio, Dorothy and Anthony Hammond, editors. Pericles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998: 9; Gossett, Suzanne, editor, Pericles. London: Metheun. Arden Shakespeare, 3rd series, 2004: 47-54; Warren, Roger, editor, Pericles, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004: 4-6; Werstine, Paul, editor, Pericles, New York: Pelican, 2005: lii, among others
Edwards, Philip. “An Approach to the Problem of Pericles.” Shakespeare Studies 5 (1952): 26.