Bill Kerwin's Reviews > Pericles

Pericles by William Shakespeare
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Feb 09, 15

bookshelves: 16th-17th-c-brit, stuart-drama
Read in January, 2012


The first half (maybe three-fifths) of "Pericles" contains the worst writing found in any Shakespeare play. Fortunately for Shakespeare's reputation, he didn't write it: some hack--probably the ephemeral George Wilkins--is responsible instead. Much of the verse of the first three acts is difficult, but not in the way late Shakespeare is often difficult (an extraordinary concentration and richness of language). but because it is poorly constructed (or reported) and makes little or no sense, particularly when it is straining after a rhyme. Add to these shoddy verses an episodic plot barely held together by the wearying doggerel monologues by "the poet Gower" (even worse than the poetry of the real Gower, which takes some doing), and you are confronted with an extremely boring and occasionally infuriating play.

And then . . . Shakespeare takes over, somewhere slightly before the brothel scene I think, and he produces some passages of great charm, including two scenes of restoration and reconciliation that can stand with their counterparts in the tragi-comedies--which is high praise indeed. Any fan of "The Winter's Tale," "Cymbeline" and "The Tempest" will greatly enjoy these scenes. But as far as I'm concerned, it wouldn't hurt you to skip the rest.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Chas (last edited Jul 16, 2013 09:07PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Chas Agreed on Shakespeare's reconciliation scenes. I remember reading this one, Shakespeare takes over somewhere about where Thaisa comes back to life. I remember before Thaisa dies that the verse was extremely childish, but after she comes to life suddenly there's a shift in the writing. The reunion of Marina and Pericles made me cry when I read it the first time, it was just that moving, which is why I could ignore the horrible nature of the first half of the play.


message 2: by Neale (last edited Feb 11, 2015 12:51AM) (new)

Neale I have always read Gower’s speeches, particularly the prologue, as poking gentle fun at the play itself. Gower admits that he’s a poet of the old school and that his verses are kind of rubbish (by ‘modern’ standards), but begs the audience to give him a chance – to ‘hear an old man sing’.

I think that whoever wrote Gower’s verses knew that the play to follow was no masterpiece, but had a fondness for that kind of thing, and was humorously deflecting criticism: a bit like introducing an old-fashioned western by bringing on the ghost of Roy Rogers and his horse. The play was, I believe, one of Shakespeare’s most successful pieces on the stage, in its day.


Bill  Kerwin An interesting observation about Gower, and one I am inclined to agree with. It is certainly true that the Gower speeches are superior to a lot of the rubbish it connects.


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