"When wit's more ripe": A defense of Shakespeare's "Pericles"

Sharon Louise Muendel, Marquette University


Pericles, the first of Shakespeare's late plays known as the romances or tragicomedies, is one of the dramatist's least familiar works. It was popular when it was new, but, after a brief reappearance at the time of the Restoration it nearly faded from view for some two hundred fifty years. During the twentieth century it has been rediscovered to some extent, but it has not been anthologized, and the theater-going public is not familiar with it. It is a play that has been neglected, but it does not deserve that neglect. Pericles has an important place as a pivotal work in the Shakespeare canon, which is reflected throughout the play in both the implict and explict juxtapostioning of what is old with what is new. It is part of a continuum with the playwright's other dramatic works, thematically, stylistically and historically, and it is especially significant as the introductory work to the three romances that follow it--Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale and The Tempest. In order to place Pericles in perspective as a Jacobean play, it is helpful to compare it with other tragicomic plays of its time. Further comparisons of the play with ancient and medieval works and with modern theatrical productions establish Pericles' place in the continuum of literary history. The historical and textual implications of John Gower's role as narrator are given considerable attention. His appearance creates intertextual associations with the older work, as well as contributing important elements to the overall dramaturgy of the play. He acts as a pivotal point between the old literature and the new. Beyond that, his presence helps to establish Shakespeare's authorship of the play, which has been questioned. A survey of performances of the play indicates the changes that have occurred with regard to its acceptance on stage, demonstrating that it is still a viable play connecting the old and the new in the theater, as well in Shakespeare's works.

Recommended Citation

Muendel, Sharon Louise, ""When wit's more ripe": A defense of Shakespeare's "Pericles"" (1997). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9811399.