[Please note: All line references are from the act and scene under discussion, except where otherwise indicated, and follow the Arden 1963 edition of Pericles-.]Gower 1
Upon a background of the gate of Antioch crowned with the heads of unsuccessful and decapitated suitors the medieval poet John Gower steps forward to present his tale. Unlike the chorus in Henry V and the epilogues in numerous other plays, Gower does not speak anonymously, on behalf of a company of actors, but as an individual. He introduces a tale rather than a play, and as its author; the playwright has deferred to Gower to the extent that not only the story's events but also its style and text belong to the resurrected poet."If you, born in these latter times
When wit's more ripe, accept my rimes,
And that to hear an old man sing
May to your wishes pleasure bring
I life would wish, and that I might
Waste it for you like taper-light." (11-6)
Gower's own "rimes" are octosyllabic couplets (except at the beginning of Act 5, when the rhyme is alternate), and this is the most obvious archaic feature of his speech, which also includes lexical archaisms (e.g., "wight" in line 39, meaning "man") and close imitations of Gower's own lines in Confessio Amantis, for example "But custom what they did begin / Was with long use account'd no sin" (29-30) echoes "And such delit he tok thereinne, / Him thoghte that it was no Sinne" (CA 345-6). Shakespeare often uses other writer's texts as sources, for example Robert Greene's Pandosto in The Winter's Tale, but he does not usually acknowledge the other author, and certainly does not put him on the stage as "the author" as he does here.
Having negotiated the terms of his own presence on the stage with the audience ("If ... you accept my rimes") Gower goes on to give the background of the story: Antiochus, seduced by the beauty of his own daughter "her to incest did provoke", and to keep her from the many princes that came to seek her "as a bed-fellow / In marriage pleasures play- fellow", devised a test for the suitors: if they could solve his riddle they would win his daughter, if not they would die. The heads on the gate prove his ploy to have been successful, and serve to transfer the audience's attention from Gower's narrative to the spectacle on the stage."So for her many a wight did die
As yon grim looks do testify
What now ensues, to the judgement of your eye
I give my cause, which best can justify." (39-42)
This transfer from chorus to stage becomes more sophisticated in the last three acts of the play and as Gower begins to call upon the audience's imaginative participation in his tale, making them co-producers of the action.Act 1.1
Pericles accepts Antiochus' challenge; music strikes up, Antiochus calls for his daughter. He prepares her entrance with fervid praise; she is a bride fit for Jove himself. When she does enter, "apparell'd like the spring... Her face the book of praises" (13-7), Pericles is overcome by her beauty and eagerly calls upon the gods to help him win "the fruit of yon celestial tree" (22), as he calls her (Antiochus' daughter is never given a name).
Antiochus continues the image, warning Pericles of the "death-like dragons" that guard "this fair Hesperides" (Hercules' final labour was to pick the apples from a tree in the garden of Hesperus that was guarded by a dragon). According to him, because Pericles does not deserve her, her face "like heaven" only entices him to his death; he should listen to the "speechless tongues" of his predecessors, "martyrs slain in Cupid's wars", dissuading him from the attempt. Pericles is not daunted. He thanks Antiochus for teaching "his frail mortality to know itself", "For death remember'd should be like a mirror / Who tells us life's but breath, to trust it error" (46-7), and picking up on Antiochus' use of "heaven" describes himself as a man who having glimpsed the joys of heaven is unafraid to leave the joys of the world.
"So I bequeath a happy peace to you
Angry at Pericles' noble reply to his threats, and its implied reprimand, Antiochus furiously throws down the riddle. His daughter breaks her silence to wish Pericles, out of all those who have yet assayed the test, happiness and prosperity. Once he has read the riddle and understood how Antiochus' daughter
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