Summer Shakespeare III

Bruce A. McMenomy, Ph.D. for Scholars Online
2023: Wednesdays, 1:00-3:00 p.m. Eastern Time
June 14 - Aug. 16

June 14:
Troilus and Cressida

June 21:
Titus Andronicus

June 28:
Pericles, Prince of Tyre
Fantasy and Allegory

July 5

July 12:
King John
Outlying Histories

July 19:
Timon of Athens

July 26:
Two Gentlemen of Verona
Villainy and Purity

Aug 2:
Prejudice and Metaphor

August 9:
King Henry VIII
Contemporary Politics

August 16:
Pastoral and Romance

Pericles, Prince of Tyre

This is one of the late plays that are sometimes categorized as comedies and sometimes put into the distinct category of romances. It is useful to bear in mind what makes up a romance in literary tradition: those who did Western Literature to Dante have already encountered it in the likes of Chrétien de Troyes (and, by extension, Dante). The story is based (proximately) on a fragment of John Gower’s Confessio Amantis, though there are many other versions going back to ancient times; Gower himself is brought on stage as the narrator. Curiously, he even speaks a conspicuously archaic form of English — not strictly Middle English, but Shakespearean English adorned with a variety of Middle English forms (like participles beginning in y-, and old forms like “eyne” or “eyen” for “eyes”).

The thing to keep in mind about romance is that it takes place in a chiefly internal landscape. It’s not about physical realism (which is a good thing, since this elevates improbability to a high art) or even realism of character or psychology. In a sense, all the characters are aspects of the self — they may be at war, or separated, or at odds, but the ultimate resolution of their story must of necessity entail their final harmonization and reconciliation. If one looks at the play this way, it is (even in the midst of its most sordid stretches — and there are a few) a strikingly beautiful piece of work.

The play has never been hugely popular, but there have always been those who have been fond of it. T. S. Eliot (who, as you may recall, scorned both Titus Andronicus and Hamlet) apparently found something in it to which he could respond, and wrote a poem “Marina” based on the story.

Things to consider while reading Pericles, Prince of Tyre

The nature of the romance structure. What gives it its own particular spin?

What does purity mean in this context, and why is it important? What is the role of morality and retribution here? Does justice emerge from the situation, from human interaction, or by fate or divine intervention? What does that do for you?

Pericles, Prince of Tyre and what has come before

Shakespeare’s Sources

Themes that emerge in the play (only a few of the many)

Symmetries in the play

Problems in the play