Act Five, Part Two
By Dennis Abrams
“Marina – Mistress of the Arts.
Nature’s own shape of bud, birth, branch, or berry,
That even her art sisters the natural roses.
where ‘sisters’ is used for the only time by Shakespeare as a verb. [MY NOTE: I find it fascinating this stuff on Shakespeare’s language; how often he uses (or doesn’t use) a word.] ‘Absolute Marina’ indeed (IV Gower 31). These last plays are much concerned with familial relations, and an art actively serving as a ‘sister’ to nature is as important as a daughter who can act like a mother to her father – as we are about to see. And for once, Gower does not tell us what is to happen, taking us back to Pericles, now on his ship, and leaving us with – ‘what is done in action…Shall be discovered. Please you, sit and hark’ (V Gower 230-4). What follows will be ‘discovery’ rather than illustration – for the characters, but also for the audience. And indeed, after Gower has drawn the curtain for the act to begin, almost immediately we have a character drawing another curtain to reveal the prostrate, seemingly petrified Pericles – a spectacle within a spectacle. (There will be other curtains to be drawn, veils to be lifted.) It is almost as if Pericles is becoming an abstract exemplar of a condition, a fate. This feeling of characters becoming like figures in allegory – ‘allegorized’ as it were – is an important part of the atmosphere of the extraordinary scene to follow.
Behold him. This was a goodly person
Till the disaster that, one mortal night,
Drove him to this.
Heliacnus is about to tell the story of Pericles to Lysimachus – the play is full of narrators, narratives, narration, when –
Sir, sir I will recount it to you.
But see, I am prevented.
Marina enters. She will both stop, and come before, the spoken narrative, as though to give us the unmediated thing itself – ‘better than reportingly.’
She is asked to draw on her ‘sacred physic’ to cure Pericles, and promises to ‘use/My utmost skill in his recovery/ (V.i.76-7). But as she attempts to address Pericles, he rudely pushes her away. Her reaction starts the cure – and the magic.
I am a maid,
My lord, that ne’er before invited eyes,
But have been gazed on like a comet. She speaks,
My lord, that, may be, hath endured a grief
Might equal yours, if both were justly weighed.
Though wayward fortune did malign my state,
My derivation was from ancestors
Who stood equivalent with mighty kings:
But time hath rooted out my parentage,
And to the world and awkward casualties
Bound me in servitude.
The scene that ensues is peculiarly moving because we are all the time in possession of a knowledge toward which we watch the main characters falteringly, incredulously, and finally ecstatically move. Pericles is the main beneficiary; Marina, with her apparently scarce-credible stories, draws him back into speech, and brings him psychic healing. Her opening, gently reproachful, speech cracks his aphasia, and, as if awakening from a death (for this is another resurrection), he gropes disjointedly for words:
My fortunes – parentage – good parentage –
To equal mine – was it not thus? What say you?
Her answer, given what we know to be their actual relationship, is exquisitely poignant:
I said, my lord, if you did know my parentage,
You would not do me violence.
He starts to press her with questions – a dormant mind galvanized into activity – ‘what countrywoman?/Here of these shores?’ (V.i.103-4). She answers with a riddle (like Helena in this, as in her healing gifts):
No, nor of any shores.
Yet I was mortally brought forth, and am
No other than I appear.
Those last six words are of crucial importance both for the play, and for Shakespeare as a whole. Many more Shakespearean characters than Duncan have found that ‘there’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face’ (Macbeth, I.iv.11-12), a discovery made to their pain, if not to their horror (as when Pericles realizes that the ‘glorious casket’ of the daughter is ‘stor’d with ill’). Evil people are not what they seem – the word which echoes and re-echoes throughout the whole of Shakespeare. It is one of the felicities afforded by romance that the good people are as they ‘appear’ (while the evil figures, here Antiochus and his daughter, Cleon and Dionyza, duly come to a bad end). If this play does act as a ‘restorative,’ it is perhaps in part because it restores our faith in at least some appearances. Marina can make you want to trust the world again.
The mounting urgency of Pericles as he moves closer to what, for him, is an entirely impossible truth, communicates itself to us, even though we are ‘in the know,’ and the wonder begins to rise. It is a seamless process, but two ways he addresses Marina deserve special note:
Falseness cannot come from thee; for thou lookest
Modest as Justice, and thou seemest a palace
For the crowned Truth to dwell in.
yet thou dost look
Like Patience gazing on king’s graves, and smiling
Extremity out of act.
He is seeing Marina, not yet as a daughter, but allegorically – almost abstractly – as Justice and Truth personified; and architecturally – a palace, and a funerary statue of Patience ‘gazing,’ in effect, on his grave. For, lying there unwashed, hairy, and dumb, Pericles must resemble, at the start, an unburied corpse. And this is the Patience which really matters. We have encountered it before:
She sat like Patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief
(Twelfth Night, II.iv.115-16)
His face still combating with tears and smiles,
The badges of his grief and patience
(Richard II, V.ii.32-3)
patience and sorrow strove
Who should express her goodliest
(King Lear, IV.iii.17-18)
Viola, Richard II, Cordelia – there is something of all of them in Marina. The figure of Patience is an image found in tomb sculpture and other art, as well as in emblem books. Claire Preston has written admirably and enlighteningly about how ‘the culture of emblems and their dialectic of word and figure’ – emblems contained a picture and, underneath, an epigrammatic moral to be drawn from it – helps to explain some of the unusual and distinctive features of the play, its ‘statis, formality, and inaction.’ In connection with Pericles’ words to Marina, Preston comments: ‘The exterior emblem motto implied by the play as a whole and by this scene especially is something like Patienta vincit omnia.’ ‘Extremity’ we may take to cover every sort of calamity (including the extreme act of suicide). Shakespeare uses the word quite frequently, but only here with a capital E, thus personifying it into an actual entity to be confronted and somehow bested. This play, like other Last Plays, certainly contains ‘a sea of troubles’ but, rather than taking arms against them, Marina – Patientia ‘smiles’ them away – a beautiful image which perfectly embodies the irenic, even beatific, atmosphere the Last Plays manage to distil.
As Pericles’ memory begins to stir, he breaks out of his catatonic depression, and frozen feelings begin to flow again, finally bursting into full flood:
O Helicanus, strike me, honored sir!
Give me a gash, put me to present pain;
Lest this great sea of joys rushing upon me
O’erbear the shores of my mortality.
The ‘tempest’ has turned ‘kind,’ and metamorphosed into a metaphor for joy. The restoration of Pericles both to his daughter and to psychic sanity is accompanied by a request for ‘fresh garments’ and the playing of music (as in King Lear, but where the cure is short-lived). Only Pericles can hear the music – ‘rarest sounds!’ – and he declares it to be ‘the music of the spheres’ (V.i.232). It puts him into ‘thick slumber,’ during which he has his vision of Diana. While listening to Marina’s seemingly impossible story, Pericles declared:
This is the rarest dream that e’er dulled sleep
Did mock and fools withal. This cannot be…
Now, he dreams a goddess, who finally instructs him – ‘Awake, and tell thy dream’ (V.i.251). In this atmosphere, the dream to be told is true, and ‘cannot be’ gives way to ‘has to be.’ Accelerating unstoppably towards the total revelation and completed miracle of the conclusion, the play finally reunites father and daughter with the wife and mother, Thaisa, ‘supposed dead and drowned’ (V.iii.35). Wonder on wonder.
The central restoration is that of the proper relationship between father and daughter, so monstrously inverted at the start of the play. When Pericles is finally convinced that Marina is his long-lost, thought-dead, daughter, he cries:
O, come hither,
Thou that beget’st him that did thee beget
Anthropologists tell us that incest and riddles are closely associated, perhaps the apparently impossible (the riddle) standing in for the actually unthinkable (incest). Here, with the image of his daughter giving him (new) life, as he once gave her life, Pericles is pointing to a metaphorically good ‘incest’ which puts the family to rights. And that is very satisfying and reassuring. Though there is possibly a shadow of the story not told, or avoided – the Oedipal story of a man who sets out on his travels to avoid incest, only to discover that that has been his destination. Widowed Pericles – another travelling man – might have married the gifted nurse in a foreign land who cured him, if the unimaginable truth had not emerged. It is, arguably, a close thing. Terrence Cave calls this ‘the hidden other face of recognition.’ And there is just the faintest shadow of something else, which I think is an important part of the play’s rich conclusion. At one point, as the weepingly incredulous Pericles is listening to her story, Marina, tentative and reticent throughout, says ‘It may be/You think me an imposter’ (V.i.180-81). It is a word Shakespeare seldom used, and, interestingly, the only other person who defends herself against the possible imputation is Helena, another daughter with miraculous-seeming healing powers – ‘I am not an imposter’ (All’s Well II, i. 157). Of course Marina is the true Marina; of course she is. However, perhaps just a little bit more evidence:
this is Marina!
What was thy mother’s name? Tell me but that,
For truth can never be confirmed enough,
Though doubts did ever sleep.
She names Thaisa and he is convinced. But the italicized line cuts exactly two ways – you can never have too much confirmation; but on the other hand, you can never have enough confirmation. This is also just hinted in the reunion of Pericles and Thaisa. He is following the instructions of a goddess, and when Thaisa names herself he gratefully acknowledges ‘Immortal Dian’ (V.iii.36). However, it’s just that bit more reassuring when she recognizes his ring as a gift of her father. ‘This, this! No more,’ he cries out happily (V.iii.39). Well, perhaps just a little more. This man coming in –
Can you remember what I called the man?
I have named him oft.
She names him correctly – names have an almost talismanic quality in this play, and it is important to get them right – and Pericles is even more pleased – ‘Still confirmation’ (V.iii.53). Shakespeare is clearly not suggesting in any way that Marina and Thaisa are imposters. He is just blinking once at the fact that they just, just, could be. In these matters there never can be perfect proof, complete ‘confirmation,’ absolutely certain knowledge. And in this play there are so many ‘gaps.’ Indeed one of Gower’s functions is to ‘stand I’ th’ gaps to teach you/The stages of our story.’ (Iv.iv.8-9). Put another way (and I supposed this is Cave’s point), a chancey recognition scene – and nothing more chancy-looking than the reunion of Pericles and Marina – might awaken in us a dim sense of all that we (they) might not have recognized; unexposed impostors, or undetected incest. Rather than decreasing our sense of wonder at the end of this play, such considerations, stirring only at the very periphery of thought, should enhance it. It might so easily have all been otherwise.
The theologian, Richard Hooker, writing in the 1590s, said of the celebration of the birth of Christ at Christmas: ‘The love and mercy of God towards man which this way are become a spectacle as neither men nor angels can behold without a kind of heavenly astonishment.’ Intending no disrespect for Hooker’s theology, I wish to borrow a phrase from him for a more secular occasion, since I think we can hardly do better than to say that we behold Shakespeare’s spectacle, too, with ‘a kind of heavenly astonishment.’”
And you think Tony Tanner is a fan of this far-too-often snubbed play, let’s finish up with G. Wilson Knight:
“The play’s last movement starts on ‘God Neptune’s annual feast’; an occasion, that is, of propitiation to the controlling powers. Pericles arrives on a ship with ‘banners sable, trimm’d with rich expense,’ recalling former imagery of riches and textile art. Malone provides an exquisitely appropriate direction:
On board Pericles’ ship off Mitylene. A pavilion on deck, with a curtain behind it; Pericles with it, reclines on a couch. A barge lying beside the Tyrian vessel.
The contrast of peace with our earlier storm-scenes is strong. Pericles, who has not spoken for months, is in sack-cloth, with hair unshaven, fasting; a figure of grief, perhaps, in some undefined fashion, of remorse, for the fact of mortality in a universe that has robbed him of wife and child. Lysimachus sends for Marina, now famed in Mitylene for her arts and charm, to see if she can restore him.
The following action is another pinnacle of Shakespeare’s art. Marina is brought to cure Pericles, as Helena cures the King in All’s Well That Ends Well. Though she is no intentional magician, we are pointed, as with Cerimon, to a blend of divinity and art: she is to pit both her ‘sacred physic’ and ‘utmost skill’ against Pericles’ stonelike, frozen immobility, his living death. She sings.
When Pericles awakes from his trance, she touches on her own sufferings, saying how she herself has ‘endur’d a grief’ that might well equal his; how she is descended from a kingly stock, though brought low by ‘wayward Fortune.’ Pericles, half-awake, stammeringly repeats her strange phrases. He looks in her eyes; something he half recognizes, but breaks off. We watch a re-enactment of Lear’s waking to music into the presence of Cordelia. Questioned, Marina asserts that no ‘shores’ (i.e. land) can claim her birth, though she was ‘mortally brought forth’ (V.i.104); an assurance dramatically serving to emphasize her momentary function of enacting, like Cordelia, a super-mortal presence (cp. ‘Thou art a soul in bliss…’ King Lear, iv.vii.46) invading mortal grief. Pericles’ interest is roused:
I am great with woe, and shall deliver weeping.
My dearest wife was like this maid, and such a one
My daughter might have been: my queen’s square brows;
Her stature to an inch; as wand-like straight;
As silver-voic’d; her eyes as jewel-like,
And cased as richly; in pace another Juno;
Who starves the ears she feeds, and makes them hungry,
The more she gives them speech.
Such riches-imagery (‘silver’ and ‘jewel’) we have already discussed; the last lines descend from Antony and Cleopatra.
Marina incorporates both the poetic worth of Thaisa and the sacred magic of Cerimon; she is, as we have seen, all but art personified. She is that to which all art aspires, which it seeks to express:
Falseness cannot come from thee, for thou look’st
Modest as justice, and thou seem’st a palace
For the crown’d truth to dwell in.
How finely is limned for us this spiritualized royalty, one with that delicate power, or beauty, lying behind all Shakespeare’s royalistic tonings and reaching its subtlest flowering in his last works. Marina incorporates an internal essence of personified Truth and Justice, able to awake belief in things elsewise ‘impossible’; for she is herself, as Pericles observes, an image of one formerly ‘lov’d,’ but now miraculously, it would seem, alive.
Our lines have already suggested a painting, or, more probably, a statue, a work of still, yet pulsing, intellectual, life; Yeats’ ‘monuments of unaging intellect’ in Sailing to Byzantium. Monumental art is Shakespeare’s normal approach to eternity, though his earlier use of it has been sparing and tentative. We have already had two statues here; one to honor Pericles and another with an inscription of ‘glittering golden characters’ in memory of Marina, both at Tarsus. Yet more potent was the heart-seizing transference of ‘monument’ and ‘aye-remaining lamps’ to the glimmering ocean depths of Thaisa’s burial. And now comes the supreme and final expression:
Tell thy story;
If thine consider’d prove the thousandth part
Of my endurance, thou art a man, and I
Have suffer’d like a girl; yet thou dost look
Like Patience gazing on kings’ graves, and smiling
Extremity out of act.
We remember Viola’s ‘Patience on a monument smiling at grief’ (Twelfth Night, II.iv.116), but these lines hold a greater penetration. The whole world of great tragedy (‘kings’ graves’) is subdued to an over-watching figure, like Cordelia’s love by the bedside of Lear’s sleep. ‘Extremity,’ that is disaster in all its finality (with perhaps a further suggestion of endless time), is therefore negated, put out of action, by a serene assurance corresponding to St. Paul’s certainty in ‘O death, where is thy sting?’ Patience is here an all-enduring calm seeing through tragedy to the end; smiling through endless death to ever-living eternity.
And yet there is nothing inflexible, inhuman, about Marina: she remains at every instant a natural girl. Learning her name, Pericles, again like Lear, thinks he is being mocked, fears lest some ‘incensed god’ aimed to make the world ‘laugh’ at him. The paradox grows more intense. This amazing presence is yet human, a living girl:
But are you flesh and blood?
Have you a working pulse? and are no fairy?
Motion! – Well; speak on. Where were you born?
And wherefore call’d Marina?
Life, as in Hermione in The Winter’s Tale, breathes from the statued calm. There is more talk of her birth at sea,. Pericles thinks it all a deceitful dream (like that described so poignantly by Caliban in The Tempest):
O! Stop there a little.
This is the rarest dream that e’er dull sleep
Did mock sad fools withal; this cannot be.
My daughter’s buried…
[MY NOTE: Or like Bottom’s dream?]
He controls himself; asks her to continue; tries, with an effort, to talk reasonably. She recounts the attempt to murder her and her subsequent adventures. Her survival is, of course, given a perfectly water-tight realism. On the plane of logical statement nothing unique has occurred, but such logic has at best a secondary importance in drama. It is what we momentarily live, not what we remember, that counts. Here the experience dramatized is one of a gradual unfurling; an awakening to discovery of life where death seemed certain. The plot has been manipulated specifically to generate this peculiar experience, which next quite bursts its boundaries, and, expanding beyond, automatically clothes itself in semi-transcendental phraseology. The story is, anyway, a fiction; its threaded events, even less than in most stories, count for little; all depends on what the poet makes of them. The most realistic tension in the whole play comes at these moments of amazing tragic reversal, at the restoration of Thaisa by Cerimon and the amazing impact of Marina’s survival. In both we attend the unveiling of death from off the features of life: that is what generates the unique excitement. The discovery is elaborately delayed, expanded, played upon, allowed to grow more and more certain until no doubt remains:
O Helicanus! strike me, honour’d sir;
Give me a gash, put me to present pain,
Lest this great sea of joys rushing upon me
O’erbear the shores of my mortality,
And drown me with their sweetness. O! come hither,
Thou that begett’st him that did thee beget;
Thou that was born at sea, buried at Tarsus,
And found at sea again. O Helicanus!
Down on thy knees, thank the holy gods as loud
As thunder threatens us; this is Marina.
The sea is now a ‘sea of joys’; and notice the triple reference of birth, death, and
restoration ‘at sea;’ while we may recall that our action is set on a barge, in calm water, on the occasion of Neptune’s feast. The new joy is proportional to the tragedy (‘as loud…threatens us’) being reversed.
Marina’s self-discovery has clearly something divine about it. In all her words she has ‘been god-like perfect’; she has brought Pericles ‘another life.’ Pericles calls for his garments; notices Lysimachus for the first time; and, after somewhat perfunctorily greeting him, returns to his joy:
Give me my robes. I am wild in my beholding.
O heavens, bless my girl! But, hark! what music?
Tell Heliacnus, my Marina, tell him
O’er, point by point, for yet he seems to doubt,
How sure you are my daughter. But, what music?
My lord, I hear none.
The music of the spheres! List, my Marina.
It is not good to cross him; give him way.
Rarest sounds! Do you not hear?
My lord, I hear.
Most heavenly music!
It nips me into listening, and thick slumber
Hangs upon mine eyes; let me rest.
The scene closes, as it started, in sleep, or trance; there is a double awakening, from sleeping to waking and from waking to some yet higher apprehension; we attend a dramatized awakening which culminates, beyond discovery and recognition, in the hearing of those heavenly harmonies which were contrasted, in The Merchant of Venice, with the ‘muddy vesture of decay’ (V.i.64) preventing their reception. The scene enacts the breaking of those boundaries, an adventure into that music, or the irruption of that music into human life.
Pericles’ sleep leads on to a direct theophany, or divine appearance, the first (except for Hymen and Hecate) in Shakespeare. Diana appears to Pericles as in a vision, and directs him to Ephesus, where he is to sacrifice with her ‘maiden priests’ before all the people and recount his wife’s death ‘at sea’ – the emphasis persists – and all his and his daughter’s sufferings:
Perform my bidding, or thou liv’st in woe;
Do it, and happy; by my silver bow!
Awake, and tell thy dream!
Pericles starts up, crying:
Celestial Dian, goddess argentine,
I will obey thee!
He immediately gives directions for the next, and final, voyage.
There follows first much ‘pageantry’ and ‘minstrelsy’ at Mitylene, and then they all sail for Ephesus:
In feather’d briefness sails are fill’d,
And wishes fall out as they’re will’d.
The couplet neatly drives home the old metaphoric equivalence, almost identity, of sea and soul.
Malone’s final stage direction is:
The Temple of Diana at Ephesus; Thaisa, standing near the altar, as high priestess; a number of Virgins on each side.
Cerimon is present. Pericles formally presents his account to Diana, with the usual emphasis on death and birth ‘at sea.’ Marina, he says, ‘wears yet thy silver livery,’ a phrase recalling Diana’s ‘silver tow’ and blending with earlier imagery of rich metals.
Hearing his account, Thaisa, now called a ‘nun’ by strange Christian transference, faints, and Cerimon explains her identity to Pericles, recounting ho he himself opened her coffin filled with ‘jewels.’ Thaisa recovers:
O! my lord,
Are you not Pericles? Like him you speak,
Like him you are. Did you not name a tempest,
A birth, and death?
How precise and yet with what generalized, universal reverberations is this ringing of the changes on birth and death in tempest. Our second reunion works up more swiftly than the first to its climax. Pericles recognizes the hand of divinity, crying ‘Immortal Dian!’ and even half-wishing, as did Othello before him, to dissolve at this high moment:
This, this: no more, you gods! your present kindness
Makes my past miseries sport: you shall do well,
That on the touching of her lips I may
Melt and no more be seen. O! come be buried
A second time within these arms.
All old questions of fortune and the gods are caught up into this miraculous reversal which, glancing back, makes tragedy in its short illusion a game, melted in the sun of union.
Marina, her ‘burden at the sea’,’ is introduced to her mother: ‘Bless’d, and mine own’ says Thaisa. The phraseology throughout these reunions is saturated in religious suggestion: this, our final scene is aptly staged outside a temple, with Thaisa as high priestess. Cerimon, too, is regarded as a divine instrument, functioning very precisely as Christ Himself in the Christian scheme.
‘The gods,’ ‘great miracle’ ‘power’ a ‘god’: the impressions are piled on. WE are directed to feel that a dead person ‘relieves,’ and though Cerimon promises, as does Paulina in The Winter’s Tale, an explanation, we do not hear it, in either play. We are left with a sense of wonder.
One should not, however, regard Pericles as a completely new departure. We rather feel as present fact those miracles already hinted by Kent’s ‘nothing almost sees miracles but misery’ and by Lear’s dying ‘Look there! look there!.’ The dim shadowings of King Lear are turned to the light. The new play follows naturally on Timon’s ‘nothing brings me all things’; and on Romeo’s dream of reunion beyond death and Cleopatra’s of the universal. Nor is the use of a happy ending to a serious purpose wholly new: the earlier comedies, more serious works than is usually supposed, dramatized stories of error dispelled, mistaken identity set right, reunion after separation, generally in direct relation to tempests, as in The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night. The two farces, The Taming of the Shrew and The Merry Wives of Windsor, show strong morality endings. The Merchant of Venice is a parable on life and money. As You Like It has a ceremonial conclusion, with Rosalind for miracle-worker and Hymen for theophany, and in Much Ado About Nothing the supposedly dead girl, Hero, is found alive after all, her supposed death and return being organized by a Friar functioning as a weak forecast of Cerimon in Pericles and Paulina in The Winter’s Tale. Cerimon’s miraculous powers are clearly also akin to those of Helena in All’s Well that Ends Well (a late play that has never been satisfactorily dated and which may even have followed Pericles). The conclusion of The Comedy of Errors is acted before a monastery, with Aemilia discovered as an abbess by her husband precisely as Pericles discovers in the high priestess of Diana’s temple his long-lost Thaisa. The structural elements in Pericles are not all new; but the treatment gives them fresh, and explicitly transcendental, meaning. Instead of a happy-ending romance, or ritual, in the tradition of Lyly, with whatever validity such fictions can be considered to hold – and it is probably that they hold more than we normally supposed – we are here confronted by some extra dimension of validity. The depth and realism of tragedy are present within the structure of romance. The two extremes, happy and sad, of Shakespearean art coalesce to house a new, and seemingly impossible, truth; as though the experiences behind or within the composition of King Lear and Timon of Athens were found not necessarily antithetical to the happy ending but rather reached therein their perfect fulfillment. Hence the sense of breath-taking surprise, of wonder and reverence, in the reunions, and the cogent presentation of the miracle-worker, Cerimon.
Pericles might be called a Shakespearean morality play. The epilogue asserts as much, though it does not justice to the more important scenes, which so tower above the rest and which it would be a great error to relate too sharply to any known type of drama. These, whatever we think of them, are spontaneous, new creations. And yet, in spite of their superiority, they cannot be isolated: Pericles is too thoroughly organic a play for that, with all its running coherences of idea, image, and event…
Pericles is the result of no sudden vision; it is Shakespeare’s total poetry on the brink of self-knoweldge.”
…Shakespeare’s drama is aspiring towards the eternal harmony and the eternal pattern.
The new excellences are bought at a cost. Pericles himself is a passive figure, quite unlike Shakespeare’s usual dynamic protagonists. He himself does nothing crucial; his fall is purely an awareness of evil, like Hamlet’s, his good acts are perfunctorily set down, his repentance in sack-cloth and unshaven hair a repentance for no guilt of his own but rather for the fact of morality in a harsh universe. He is here for things to happen to and forges little or nothing for himself; his most original actions are a series of escapes or departures; he is too humble to press his suit for Thaisa. He is, indeed, less a realized person than man, almost ‘every man,’ in the morality sense, as the epilogue suggests. We can, however, improve on the epilogue by seeing the whole as a panorama of life from adolescent fantasy and a consequent fall, through good works to a sensible and fruitful marriage, and thence into tragedy, with a reemergence beyond mortal appearances into some higher recognition and rehabilitation. The medium is myth or parable, supposedly, of course, realistic; we must not expect death to be totally negated; Thaisa’s father dies; Cerimon cannot restore everyone. But, as in parable always, it is the central person, or persons, that count; and here the deaths of Thaisa and Marina are shown, in the fiction, as false, though with an intensity surpassing fiction.
Having worked through the play like this, we may well question whether it is not as authentic as any of Shakespeare’s works. The bad lines may be due to a bad text, or lack of revisions (as one suspects at Timon of Athens, III.v.24-59 where the mixture of broken metre and gnomic rhyme provides a closely similar problem). The weaker rhymed passages, so closely resembling those in All’s Well that Ends Well, may be a record of Shakespeare writing a tentative play and falling back on rhyme for stability and inspiration, while also searching for a new formality to suit his growing itch for static design, until his normal manner starts to take control with staggering results. It is, indeed, possible, that he would always have regarded his blank-verse colloquialisms, in both vocabulary and rhythm, his virile growth of spontaneous, hurtling speech, as a rough dramatic expedient, with a far greater approval than we should grant accorded to his own rhymed couplets and formal, gnomic, sequences, which, though we tend to ignore them, are sprinkled fairly thickly throughout the plays. In Pericles a stiff formality clearly serves a purpose in Marina’s epitaph at Iv.iv.34; as does, too, the obviously intended quaintess of Gower, whose speeches are often rich enough in content however queer the form. If we accept, as we must, such passages, it is hard to know where to stop; for the worst things one can always blame a copyist or compositor – especially that most dangerous workman who remedies some obscurity or hiatus by drawing on his own poetic resources. The main problem is not confined to Pericles: Prospero’s epilogue in The Tempest has something of the accent of Gower at V.ii, and Shakespeare’s divine beings regularly speak a semi-formal but clearly authentic verse over which it is nevertheless hard to enthuse; as though there were some artistic intention to which our ears are not tuned. Against the argument for complete, or almost complete, authenticity we can observe: (i) the extreme badness of certain passages in the earlier scenes; (ii) that the bad text, if bad text it is, tends to improve whenever Shakespeare’s voice is unquestionably being heard, though faulty lines occur in the final scene; and (iii) the almost unbearable fact that the Folio editors, who alone were in a position to know the truth, rejected the play.
The obvious conclusion is that some much earlier play, either of Shakespearean or other authorship, shows through, mainly in the first half, but that it has been so modified by incorporation that we need not, from an interpretative view, be seriously disquieted. Pericles was published under Shakespeare’s name during his life. The high standard of authenticity demanded by the Folio editors is witnessed alike by their own preface and the massive and detailed coherence of the material they published: such things do not happen by chance. But neither can the internal coherence of Pericles, far more precise than that of many a more famous Shakespearean work, be dismissed. Nothing is here forgotten: Antiochus’ wickedness, Pericles’ relief of the famine, the crime of Dionyza and Cleon, all are exactly remembered long after their purpose in the narrative sequence has been fulfilled; from first to last the Gower speeches have the whole action in mind; the various imagistic correspondences, cutting across divergences of style, knit the narrative into a unity. Every line, good or bad, serves a purpose: there are probably less extravagant irrelevancies than, say, in Hamlet or King Lear. The play appears to be carefully and critically composed: witness Gower’s labored apologies for the disrespect shown to the unities and even for the employment of a single language for different places. Whatever we think of certain parts, the whole, as we have it, is unquestionably dominated by a single mind; that mind is very clearly Shakespeare’s; and Shakespeare’s, too, in process of an advance unique in literature.”
And with that…we come to the end of Pericles. So what did you all think? Is the play as much of a mess as Bloom and others seem to think or, like Tanner and Wilson Knight (and Garber) believe, is there something else going on here? (Or are they trying to come up with reasons it’s a good play just BECAUSE it’s Shakespeare?) Did the recognition scenes live up to their build-up? Let us know!
For me, the play was a lot better than I expected – maybe because my expectations were fairly low. I agree with Wilson Knight that in the end, the play’s origins really don’t matter, because it is all recognizably “Shakespeare.” My take on it is similar to the one I had for Timon: It’s an interesting play, a good play, and well worth our time (I’d love to see a production of it), and it’s interesting, in no small part, because in it (as in Timon) one can see Shakespeare trying things out and working through things that lead to greater works. As Timon (I think) helped Shakespeare get to Lear; Pericles helped him get to the greater glories that are Cymbeline and The Winter’s Tale.
But let us know what you think.
My next posts Sunday evening/Monday morning, Sonnet #141; Tuesday evening/Wednesday morning, my introduction to our next play, Coriolanus.
Enjoy. And enjoy your weekend.