Monday, June 24, 2013

Pericles (Shakespeare Re-Read #7)

It was bound to happen at some point during this re-read project that I would come across a play that I just flat-out didn't really like.  Lo and behold, here comes "Pericles, Prince Of Tyre."  More like, after about three acts, I was getting tyred of reading it.  #Wordplay  #Brilliant

Much in the same way that Marina's, uh, virtue is kept intact in a wholly unbelievable way, however, my man Shakespeare's record isn't stained by this play since it isn't his!  You see, "Pericles" is thought to be, at best, a collaboration between Shakespeare and a much, much, MUCH less-regarded writer named George Wilkins, whose Wikipedia entry is pretty awesome.  Most scholars believe Shakespeare wrote most of the third and fourth acts, while Wilkins wrote the rest, so I'm just going to go ahead and absolve the Bard from blame.  Hey, it's only fair --- you never give the featured artist credit for a song, do you?  Nobody ever refers to Gangsta's Paradise as "a great L7 track." 

In fact, I'll go a step further and argue that given Wilkins' personal history, Shakespeare wrote the brothel-centric fourth act as basically one big in-joke towards his collaborator.  This act does contain the lone amusing sequence of the play, when Marina is just so pure and so wholesome that she is able to talk her would-be clients at the brothel out of banging her and leaving them feeling bad for themselves for ever visiting the brothel in the first place.  (I've gotta say, Marina did a far better job of invoking a whorehouse within an emotional appeal than Don Draper did with the Hershey executives.)  It also leads to a bit of dark comedy when Marina and Lysimachus end up marrying at the play's ending, a nice union between the young heroine and the governor who was so forthright in rescuing her from the brothel and helping reunite her with her family…and yet it ignores the fact that Lysimachus is the kind of guy who frequented the brothel in the first place.  I also love the matter-of-fact introduction the pimps give Lysimachus, of "here comes the governor in disguise," like it was an everyday occurrence.  Somewhere, Bill Clinton is shaking his head in disgust. 

But this amusing segment aside, "Pericles" is basically just one giant revolving wheel of plot contrivances, so much so that Shakespeare/Wilkins have to resort to Gower the narrator to summarize various major plot points that the play simply doesn't have time to actually show.  This may be for the best given that some of these major details involve Pericles getting involved in seastorm after seastorm to the point that you wonder why this man would ever again set foot on a boat.

Given the general theme of a fractured family lost at sea, "Pericles" comes off as a poor man's version of The Winter's Tale.  While that play took the time to actually explore the tragic set-up, however, "Pericles" either glosses over (Antiochus' hidden incest) or undermines (Marina being trapped in a brothel) its various dramatic elements.  Antiochus' desire to keep his shame hidden by killing Pericles*, for instance, ends up being a pretty empty threat given that he dies pretty early on in the play. 

* = Plus, he employs the laziest contract killer of the age.  Thaliard gets to Tyre and is like, "Well, Pericles has left, so surely he'll PROBABLY get killed at sea.  Looks like my work here is done!"  That's some weak-ass hitmanning, Thaliard.  Aren't you supposed to follow some sort of assassin's creed, or is my knowledge of video games based solely on their titles that ill-informed?

I don't need every play, especially a comedy, to explore darker or so-called deeper themes, but it would've helped in this case given that Pericles, Thaisa and Marina are all just so impossibly good-hearted.  Pericles may, pound-for-pound, be the nicest guy in the Shakespearean canon.  He's a beloved king, the kind of guy who won't even take refuge in another kingdom without first arranging to solve its famine, able to win knighting tournaments just a day after surviving a massive shipwreck, and is respectful and cool with both the highest of kings to the lowliest of fishermen.  He's *too* virtuous to root for, if that makes any sense.  For all the strife that Pericles faces in this play, you never really feel his pain.

While this was my first time reading this play, I actually saw it performed on the Stratford stage around 10 years ago as part of a class trip.  Honestly, I barely have any recollection of it whatsoever, both a function of the play's weak-ass nature and due to the fact that this trip came a day after I'd pulled an all-nighter writing an essay, so I believe I slept on the bus ride to Stratford, the bus ride back and probably a bit during the show itself.  Truly a fine dramatic critic in the making, this guy.

"Pericles" has had kind of a rough publication history, as no original copies of the play exist and subsequent editions openly cite the fact that certain lines are incomplete or even that whole scenes aren't quite clear in terms of continuity.  Perhaps the original version was being delivered to the printer when the courier was suddenly caught in a hurricane at sea, splitting both he and the play apart for all eternity.  Or, I'll just blame it on George Wilkins.  Whether it was Wilkins, Shakespeare or just poor editing and recovery of this play over time, however, the result is kind of a mess.  Boo on the whole lot.


7. Pericles
6. Much Ado About Nothing
5. Coriolanus
4. The Comedy Of Errors
3. The Winter's Tale
2. A Midsummer Night's Dream
1. Othello

Two of my New Year's resolutions for 2012 (and now 2013) were to lose 38 pounds and to re-read (and in some cases, read for the first time) all 38 of William Shakespeare's plays.  Well, 2012 ended and I'm 0-for-2, but still, onward and upward.  And, since in these modern times it's impossible to undertake a personal project without blogging about it, here are a series of reviews/personal observances I'll make about the plays.  Well, 'reviews' is a bit of a stretch.  It's William goddamn Shakespeare.  What am I going to tell you, "Don't bother reading this one, folks!  What a stinker!  Ol' Mark doesn't like it, so you should definitely believe ME over 400 years of dramatic criticism!"

It's better that you read these instead of waiting for a weight-loss blog, since brother, that ain't happening.  The 'before' picture alone would break the internet.

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