Monday, November 5, 2012

Shakespeare Study: Pericles, Prince Of Tyre

This is the third year of my Shakespeare study. I read one play each month, and then watch as many film versions as I can get my hands on, and read as many books about the play as I'm able. October 2012 was Pericles, Prince Of Tyre.  There was only one film version that I could get, and not a whole lot of books on this play.

Related Books:

- Pericles: The Rise And Fall Of Athenian Democracy  by Hamish Aird  -  This is a children's book about the historical Pericles, who has basically nothing whatsoever to do with Shakespeare's play. Shakespeare might have chosen the name of his title character because of this historical figure, but it is more likely that the name came from Pyrocles, the hero of the romance The Countesse Of Pembroke's Arcadia.  Still, I thought I should read about him just in case.

- Godless Shakespeare by Eric S. Mallin  -  This book (part of the Shakespeare Now! series), which discusses Shakespeare's work from an atheist perspective, includes a short chapter on Pericles.  In that chapter, Mallin writes, "But when she seemingly identifies Antiochus as 'father, son, and husband mild,' the incest identification stumbles. If the daughter refers to Antiochus here, she has no explanation whatsoever for 'son.' (Except as a creepy anticipation of the salvational daughter, Marina, who as Pericles says 'beget'st him who did thee beget' (5/1.195).) In what way is the father the same as the son? the riddle compels us to ask, and in this context, the immediate, worldly answer comes: he is not. Her sleeping with him can in no way transform the father into her son. But in another way, the solution is evident: father and son are effectively identical in hypostatic union, when the father is God, and the son is Christ. The curious solution to the more-curious riddle is not sexual, but theological" (page 19). He then continues, "Because I am concerned to write about a godless Shakespeare, the reader should not think that I am recommending this solution as key to the play. Quite the opposite. Buried in the riddle is a perfect image for the kind of thing religion always does, the thing that Job comes to realize: it leaves seekers of the truth helpless to understand, because it either buries much-needed answers in riddles, or pretends that there are much-needed answers" (page 19).  Mallin also writes, "Clearly, several perspectives on the spiritual world are available here, including an ironic one. Perhaps most ironic is the name of the wife, for 'Thaisa' is twice contaminated by illicit sexuality: 'Thaise' was a legendary courtesan of Alexander the Great; and 'Thaise' is the daughter of the Pericles figure in Shakespeare's source text" (page 20).
There are a few notes regarding other plays that are interesting enough to include here. Regarding Measure For Measure, Mallin writes, "Look at Isabel's knee-jerk endorsement of the Duke's bed trick, her willingness to sacrifice someone else's sexual and ethical integrity to avoid sacrificing her own. And compare that assent to her refusal to stand in for Claudio - her absolute denial of the commensurability of her physical virginity (which she interprets as her soul) for his life. She endorses in one context a transgression - covert fornication between Angelo and Mariana - that she reviles in another - namely Claudio's punishable sex with Juliet. The theology and politics of substitution have baffled her. The bed trick to which she contributes (setting up Angelo to think he's sleeping with her, while he's actually having sex with Mariana) shows her in unflattering light, reflecting as it does the same charge she had aimed at her brother: 'Thy sin's not accidental, but a trade./Mercy to thee would prove itself a bawd/'Tis best that thou diest quickly' (3.1.148-50). Her notion of erotic sacrifice goes only so far: her sexuality is the vanishing point of her charity" (page 31).
Regarding King Lear, Mallin writes, "You don't have to be gay and Antonio to be a disappointed Chistlike figure in Shakespeare; you simply have to be a sacrificial sufferer who meets and distributes a sorry fate. Cordelia, in King Lear, offers the best example. She is supposedly one 'Who redeems nature from the general curse/Which twain have brought her to' (4.6.206-7) - the classic definition of Christ's repair of Adam and Eve's bungled job. And she herself says: 'O dear father,/It is thy business that I go about' (4.4.23-4), quoting Jesus' own childhood query, 'Know ye not that I must go about my father's business?' (Luke 2.49). So, there you have her: Christ figure. But although she's 'a soul in bliss' (4.7.45), she remains fully unable to redeem her father, whom even she calls 'poor perdu' (4.7.34) - lost sentry, doomed soul. Cordelia not only fails spectacularly, and makes the end of Lear's life heartcrackingly intolerable, but also becomes the subject of an outrageous, accidental jest; Albany actually loses track of her: 'Great thing of us forgot!/Speak, Edmund, where's the King? and where's Cordelia?' (5.3.237-8). The loudest 'oops' in Shakespeare, these lines grant Cordelia all the dignity of a pet abandoned in a kennel" (page 47).
And then regarding Macbeth, Mallin writes, "And then, another oscillation: the text insinuates, from his exits and entrances, that Seyton likely kills Lady Macbeth. And his last line in the play - 'The Queen, my lord, is dead' (5.5.16) - sparks Macbeth's astonishing 'To-morrow and to-morrow' soliloquy" (page 95).  Then, regarding Macbeth's fearful reaction to the Witch's line "All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be King hereafter," Mallin writes, "The frightening thing is not 'King;' it is 'hereafter.' Banquo's question shows us the effect of the idea on his friend. 'Hereafter' could mean 'later, eventually;' but it does not. The word at this moment in the play takes on the force of 'forever.' All hail Macbeth, king of eternity! The idea of his reigning 'hereafter' explains the pernicious effect of the prophecies, the contradictions of which Macbeth deliberately fails to interpret; their meanings would be transparent to one who did not already half-believe in his own invulnerability. We are far now from the humor that animates much of the supernatural in the story, and far too from the religious perspective that poisons an insight into kingship. By the end of the story, the shattering oppressive word clarifies his otherwise baffling response to his wife's death: 'She should have died hereafter.' Catch the bitterness of that pronouncement, the self-mockery of his mortal recognition. He does not mean she should or would have died 'later' or 'eventually;' he means that she, like he, ought to have received what they were virtually promised: never to have died. Then, to be sure, 'There would have been a time for such a word.' (5.5.18)" (page 99). Published in 2007.

- Shakespeare, Co-Author: A Historical Study Of Five Collaborative Plays  by Brian Vickers  -  In this book, author Brian Vickers presents extensive internal evidence that Shakespeare had co-authors on five of his plays: Titus Andronicus (George Peele), Timon Of Athens (Thomas Middleton), Pericles (George Wilkins), Henry VIII (John Fletcher) and The Two Noble Kinsmen (John Fletcher).  In the chapter on Pericles Vickers writes, "Spiker listed other corrupt passages in the play which were clarified by Wilkins's full treatment in the novel (pp. 553-4), and showed that the play-text contained verbal errors (mishearings or misreadings) which could be corrected from the novel. In the play Pericles vows to keep his hair 'unsistered', while the novel has 'uncisserd'; in the play Dionyza accuses her husband of playing 'the impious Innocent', where the novel correctly reads 'pious'; in the play Cleon describes the plague in Tarsus as affecting 'Those pallats who not yet too sauers younger', where the novel reads 'two summers younger'" (page 306). The novel he refers to is George Wilkins' The Painful Adventures Of Pericles, Prince Of Tyr, which was arguably written after the play.  Later in that chapter, Vickers writes, "But all of Wilkins's works appeared in 1606-08, exactly contemporary with Pericles, and Hoeniger found the many parallels in phrasing and use of rhyme presented by H.D. Sykes completely convincing" (page 316).  Published in 2002.

Film Version:

- Pericles, Prince Of Tyre (1984) with Mike Gwilym, Patrick Godfrey, Patrick Allen, Juliet Stevenson, Clive Swift, Amanda Redman, Trevor Peacock, Lila Kaye, Patrick Ryecart; directed by David Jones.  This is an incredible production, with an excellent cast, including Mike Gwilym as Pericles, Patrick Allen as King Simonides, Juliet Stevenson as Thaisa, Clive Swift as Lord Cerimon and Trevor Peacock as Boult.  This production has good sets and an eye to details that really sell  specific scenes. Also, this production takes chances.  This is definitely one of the best of the BBC Shakespeare productions.  During Gower's first speech, on his line "With whom the father liking took," we actually see the incest between Antiochus and his daughter -  a passionate kiss that she seems to enjoy just as much as he.  The Daughter is seriously beautiful, as she must be.  When Pericles realizes the truth of the matter, he turns to look at the Daughter (after the line "If this be true, which makes me pale to read it"), he sees them kiss again (in his mind). On "Good sooth, I care not for you," Pericles reaches to touch the Daughter's face. Antiochus rushes into his daughter's arms after ordering Pericles' murder. She closes her eyes, showing plainly that she is a true partner in the incest.  Robert Ashby as Thaliard is wonderful, making me laugh several times.  This production does a good job of establishing the misery in Tarsus even before Cleon's first line (in Scene iv).
In Act II Scene ii, King Simonides has a few added lines, translations of some of the knights' mottos. For example, after Thaisa reads, "Piu por dulzura que por fuerza," Simonides says, "May gentleness, not force, win me the day." And after Thaisa reads Pericles' motto, "In hac spe vivo," Simonides says, "A pretty moral; in this hope I live."  "A pretty moral" is in the text, but the translation is not.  Juliet Stevenson is wonderful, as always. And Patrick Allen as King Simonides is delightful, particularly in the scene where he brings Pericles and his daughter together (II v). He's hilarious at the beginning of that scene too, when he dismisses the lords. The dance scene (II iii) is also done really well.
Attention to detail is excellent in this production. Check out the scene when Lord Cerimon (Clive Swift) revives Thaisa (Act III Scene ii) - the way he attends to her, and the man fanning the incense toward her, and the reaction shots. Her point-of-view show when she wakes is wonderful. And the production takes its time too, which is nice. Nothing is rushed.
Another excellent detail (and wonderful moment) is when Boult (Trevor Peacock) startles a supposedly blind beggar in Act IV Scene ii (after he says, "I'll go search the market"). There are so many nice touches like that.  Lila Kaye is also excellent as Bawd. I love how she gently runs her finger along Marina's arm on "Come, you are a young foolish sapling" and then grabs her in a more overtly sexual way on "men must stir you up."  This production also does a grab job of changing Pericles' appearance after he learns of the supposed death of Marina.  Act IV Scene vi is an amazing scene, with fantastic performances by Amanda Redman as Marina, Patrick Ryecart as Lysimachus, and Trevor Peacock as Boult, when Marina convinces first Lysimachus and then Boult not to use her.  And Bawd's reaction - "O! abominable" - is hilarious.
Act V Scene i, the reunion of Pericles and Marina, nearly had me in tears. Her song is pretty (it's not the one recorded by Twine), but it's the dialogue between those two that really moved me.  My only complaint about this production, and it's minor, is that Diana should be more beautiful and soothing in Pericles' vision. She comes across as rather austere, and that doesn't work, for, after all, she's guiding him back to his love. In Act V Scene ii, at Diana's temple, Pericles says, "She at Tarsus/Was nurs'd with Cleon, whom at sixteen years/He sought to murder."  In the text it is "fourteen years."  (177 minutes)

Miscellaneous Books:
- Performing Shakespeare's Tragedies Today: The Actor's Perspective  edited by Michael Dobson  -  This book is a collection of pieces by actors focusing on how they tackled some of Shakespeare's best roles. The four plays that are focused on are Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth and King Lear. Greg Hicks, in his piece on playing The Ghost, writes, "From what's said in the Gravediggers' scene, 5.1, I imagine Hamlet's relationship with Yorick would have been very important, an escape from the discipline of his father - it would have been such a relief to knock around instead with the local clown. It's very striking that Hamlet remembers Yorick carrying him on his shoulders, and habitually at that, 'a thousand times' (5.1.182) - clearly this wasn't something his father ever did, and that memory seems like a glimpse of exactly the sort of easy local intimacy prince and king never had. Nor do they achieve it or anything like it in the play; the ghost doesn't come to Hamlet to listen, he comes with one violent imperative, and he isn't going to take 'no' for an answer" (page 23). Later, in the same essay, he writes, "He had Meg Fraser, who played Ophelia, double the Second Gravedigger, too, so that it was as if she helped to dig her own grave" (page 25). Interesting.  Imogen Stubbs, in her piece on playing Gertrude, writes, regarding her silence, "Trevor and I found ourselves thinking much more about why Gertrude does not speak more in some of those scenes, with him suggesting that she is not a highly educated woman and perhaps not even blessed with a very sophisticated intelligence, however much instinctive guile she may sometimes display in her management of people around her. Why is she silent, when she is silent? The answers are significantly different, I think, as the play goes along: increasingly she dares not articulate what is going on inside her head, and after a certain point there is an element of knowing, but not knowing, about what Claudius is doing and is planning to do" (page 37).  Amanda Harris writes, regarding Emilia, "The audience had already seen Iago failing to finish off Cassio in the previous scene because he was obsessively trying to castrate him first (hence his wound being in the leg, which is otherwise suprising), and now his loathing, as if of sexuality itself, drove him to stab Emilia, as Montano held back Othello from trying to kill him, not in the heart but upward between the legs" (page 80).  John Normington, in his piece on Lear's Fool, writes, "And the Fool's last line in the play turns out to be prophetic: 'And I'll go to bed at noon' (3.6.43). Is this a man recognizing that his career has come to a premature end, saying he will retire before it's time? I walked over to Poor Tom at the end of that scene and I gave him my cap and bells and walked away into the darkness" (page 128).  David Warner, in his piece of playing King Lear, writes, "So then at the end of Lear's last speech, on 'Look there, look there' (5.3.286), I was indicating not Cordelia, but somewhere offstage, beyond the audience, as if Lear thought there might still be somewhere where he might find help, where everything might be all right, and on my knees I tried to lift Cordelia up; and tried again; and couldn't; and that's what caused the heart attack that left me collapsed across her body. Again, this seemed perfectly logical in terms of the lines; there has to be some actual cause of death, and that was it" (page 141). Published in 2006.

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