Sources, the Text and the Romances


The source of Pericles is ultimately Apollonius of Tyre, whose story was one of the best- known romances of the Middle Ages, probably originating in a Hellenistic novel. However, Shakespeare's most immediate sources were John Gower's fourteenth century Confessio Amantis, and to a lesser extent Lawrence Twine's "The pattern of painful adventures".

The Text

The text of Pericles that was published in 1609 in Shakespeare's name shows every sign of having been put together from memory. George Wilkins exploited the play's popularity in his novel "The Painful Adventures of Pericles Prince of Tyre, Being a true history of the Play of Pericles", and editors consider this text's version of the play to be often more accurate and complete than the 1609 quarto. The play itself is likely to have been either the result of collaboration, possibly with John Day, more likely with Wilkins, or the revision of someone else's script. The first two acts do not contain sufficiently good verse for them to be accepted as Shakespeare's and the extent of his intervention before the third act - when the verse drastically improves - is likely to have been small. Nevertheless, parts of the play that are problematic cannot simply be dismissed because they were not written by Shakespeare; what makes the play so fascinating is its kinship with The Winter's Tale and The Tempest, which it illuminates as much by its relative weaknesses as by its similarities.

Pericles and the Romances

The Winter's Tale, Cymbeline, Pericles and The Tempest are often referred to as Shakespeare's romances. Although they have happy endings, these plays have a different kind of plot from romantic comedies like The Comedy of Errors. Romantic comedy in its prototypical form works around a number of young lovers caught in a conflict of desire, confused identity or deception that becomes increasingly entangled before the protagonists can be extricated into tidy and marriageable pairs. The role of older characters tends to be rather limited, a question of either helping or hindering the course of young love. Not so in romance, which is concerned with two generations of the same family separated over large stretches of time and space, eventually and implausibly reunited, the play ending on a moment of recognition rather than betrothal. The action of the play takes place on a temporal and geographical background that has the vagueness of fairy-tale or myth, with characters that are drawn less realistically and granted far less agency than in the romantic comedies. Supernatural intervention, or sheer improbability, is often necessary to rescue the play from tragedy or simple misery. Pericles is an extreme play in this respect because Pericles does nothing to deserve his 'painful adventures' nor can he control them: he is a "man whom both the waters and the wind / In that vast tennis-court have made the ball" (2.1.59-60). These distinctions are intended as a rough outline of the romance genre rather than as means to a definition: the genre itself contains plays as different in manner as Pericles and Cymbeline and arguably should contain Henry VIII as well. Similarly, Shakespeare's romantic comedies are enormously varied and rarely conform to the genre - witness 'problem plays' such as All's Well That Ends Well, or Measure for Measure.

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.