November 30

January 18, 2015

in CST's Courtyard Theater

by William Shakespeare
directed by David H. Bell

History of the Story and Text

Pericles in the Canon

Written in 1607 or 1608, Pericles was entered into the Stationer’s Record on May 20, 1608, and first performed later that year or early in 1609. Omitted from the 1623 publication of the First Folio, the compilation of Shakespeare’s plays by his company members Heminges and Condell, Pericles in modern editions is based on what scholars refer to as a “bad quarto”—likely a pirated script.

However, in Shakespeare’s own lifetime and until the theaters were closed in 1642 through the Commonwealth, Pericles was one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, both on stage and in print. A total of six quarto editions of the play were printed between 1609 and 1635—compared with five of Hamlet in this same period. Shakespeare’s great tragedies, Othello, Macbeth and King Lear, immediately preceded Pericles. Here, and in the three plays that followed— Cymbeline (c. 1608–1610) and The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest (c. 1610–1611)— Shakespeare was experimenting with a new genre, called the “romance,” popular during the reign of James I. While its more episodic plot distinguishes Pericles from the subsequent romances, all four evoke elements of fairy or folk tale: the epic journey, a long-withheld reconciliation of family, and the spectacle of magic (or is it miracle?).

Scholars generally agree that Pericles represents a collaboration by Shakespeare with at least one other author—a practice common in this period of early modern playwriting. The first two acts of Pericles are frequently attributed by scholars to the work of a contemporary poet and playwright named George Wilkins, who in 1608 published his novel containing much the same story, entitled The Painfull Adventures of Pericles, Prince of Tyre.

In History and Literature

In ancient history, Pericles, born c. 495 BCE, was considered one of the great leaders and statesmen of Athens’ Golden Age. He was both a great warrior and orator, responsible for implementing significant democratic reforms and advancements in architecture and the arts. Leading Athens into the Peloponnesian War in 431 BCE, Pericles died of the plague two years later.

The story of “Apollonius of Tyre” is one of the oldest romance legends, with roots in Greek lore from the third century AD or earlier. His story was revived in the fourteenth century by the medieval poet, John Gower (a contemporary of Chaucer), to whom Shakespeare gives the name of his narrator in his own portrayal of Pericles.

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