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I swore four years ago, after reading this cruel but entirely accurate summary, that I would never bother with Pericles. Well, the rapidly dwindling list of Shakespeare plays brought me to break that oath, and I think it's a bit of a lesson in how performance can shape your perception. Pericles is without doubt a very silly play, probably Shakespeare's silliest (and the silly bits are shared evenly between the bits he wrote and the bits by brothel-keeper and part-time playwright George Wilkins). But if you just read the script, either on your own or without preparation among a bunch of friends (as Francis Heaney and his pals were doing), you miss out on the tremendous possibilities of performance by a cast who are just having fun with the absurdity of it: and it's no worse than the average pantomime, and there are Shakespeare plays with better reputations but worse plot holes. There's no deep observation of human nature here, but surely Shakespeare was entitled to the odd belly-laugh now and then (helped by Wilkins).

One thing that struck me (not mentioned by Heaney) was that the Chorus who steps in to give narrative background is explicitly identified with the medieval poet John Gower, and Wilkins actually tries to make him speak Middle English (Shakespeare doesn't try as hard). He must be the most intrusive Chorus in the canon, giving away the punchlines before they happen. Again, the casual reader of the script wonders what the heck is going on, but a stage production can play it for laughs.

Arkangel don't quite dare to do this with their Gower, who is Sir John Gielgud, aged 94. One gets a sense that the rest of the cast, led by Nigel Terry as Pericles (and with ex-vet Christopher Timothy as weak-willed Cleon) were trying to do a respectful performance. But the script doesn't really allow for that, and it's just as well.

One could not by any stretch of the imagination call Pericles a masterpiece, but it is very funny.

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Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
davesangel
Apr. 19th, 2009 09:21 pm (UTC)
It's never actually been completely proven that George Wilkins contributed to the play - it's possible that he did, but there's no concrete evidence.

Anyway - I enjoyed the play when I first read it several years ago, and even more so when I saw it performed at the Globe in 2005. But I never saw it as a farce/pantomime, and I know that my tutors have always felt the same way. Rather, we all focused on the familial relationships, namely Pericles and Marina, and the depiction of such relationship compared to those in other plays (namely Lear, Hamlet, etc).
lasultrix
Apr. 19th, 2009 10:26 pm (UTC)
Even without your sort-of recommendation, that summary alone would make me want to watch it!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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