Bard Brawl:Why did the theatre decide to do Pericles, such and obscure play?
Brian B. Crowe: We are first and foremost a theatre that is excited about classics of all ilks – specifically Shakespeare – but we will also try lesser known pieces as well, and there are some lesser known Shakespeares as well and that certainly falls into that category.
This particular season we were looking for something for the holiday spot, and I had workshopped a production of Pericles with some of our students a few years ago, and didn’t know much about it prior to that, and kind of fell in love with the magic of it, and the intrigue and the great resolution at the end; this family reunited, good wins out, and there’s honour in it and the bad guys get what they deserve, which doesn’t always happen in real life so it’s nice to have it on stage once and a while.
B.B.: …and there are pirates!
B.C.: …and there are pirates, and there’s incest and there’s a brothel, which is everything you need for the holidays.
B.B.: Was it a challenge to introduce the audience to the play? Did you get a lot of reaction right away? When you do Romeo and Juliet, you know it’s going to be packed. When you do Pericles, a lot of producers/directors might be a little nervous they won’t get the audience.
B.C.: We have a pretty exciting audience in the fact that they love to come to the smorgasbord of things that we’ll give them and they’ve got a well-refined palate, I guess you could say. They know that whatever piece we do we will find some form of elegance and artistry to bring to it. Obviously the play itself has it.
It’s mainly just really pushing the fact that we’ve all seen A Christmas Carol 9,000 times, we’ve all seen the Nutcracker. I can’t even tell you how many variations of A Christmas Carol I’ve seen; some of them are great, some of them are really not.
A lot of people want an alternative to it.
We had an audience member who said, ‘I had no idea what I was coming to.’ She said she had been to the theatre before and like the work that we did. Pericles could have been anything to her. She sat down in the theatre and she said, ‘let’s see what happens.’
She had a blast, and she said it was not a problem to follow. We actually changed up the Gower narrator to be a three-woman chorus that is present throughout the entire show as opposed to him just popping in throughout the show. They become extensions of the goddess Diana. She said for her particularly that was a great way to navigate the show and she had a blast.
B.B.: With Shakespeare you can always pull themes out of the play. You mentioned the Gower theme of honour and duplicity and how to conduct yourself as a ruler. How did you explore that issue as far as Pericles trying to understand how to react?
B.C.: One of the things that we talked about very early on in the rehearsal process was the journey of Pericles and how he starts off as this young ambitious sort of 20-something at the beginning of the play out to make his mark in the world: I’m going to win this evil king’s daughter because she’s beautiful and no one else can, and that’s going to become my claim to fame. That will be the legend people will tell about me.
That kind of young, youthful approach to life. Literally just seeking adventure and honour for adventure and honour’s sake not for necessity.
It’s interesting for being a young king, he doesn’t do much ruling throughout the play. He’s off to get Hesperites and that doesn’t work out, he then has to run for his life so he’s not being the ruler again, then he helps out Tarsus which is great, so he does something and he’s actually honoured there. In this production, when we’re navigating it through, we kind of said, ‘well this is an honour that you’re looking for, this is something that you were looking for,’ and the approach was humbled and that’s not kind of legendary. That’s not what he was looking for, but he sees that he can actually do good in the world instead of just doing good for himself.
…and then he has another disaster, and then he falls in love and loses that love, and then he becomes a more mature and better king through the trials that he’s gone through…
By the end, when he thinks he’s lost his daughter as well, he has the ability to truly respect the relationships that he sort of went willy nilly for.
It’s like someone going on the bachelor and thinking they’re going to find marriage and true love because it’s a big show and this is what it is, Then, 30 or 40 years later actually finding it.
I think it’s (the play) very contemoparary and works for modern audience because it’s all about instant gratification, and that’s not what life is about. Life is about finding these moments – especially during the holidays where you can look back on your life, look back on your relationships – and this is a wonderful happy ending, but it takes 15 years to get there and realize what he has.
The honour and the legend that he hopes to be, that he starts the first scene with, he actually does win in the end.
BRIAN B. CROWE (Acting) is in his eighteenth season with The Shakespeare Theatre where he is currently the Director of Education. Mr. Crowe also directs in-school residencies, teaches in the Summer Professional Training Program, and works with the Junior and Senior Shakespeare Corps for the Theatre. The Star-Ledger called Mr. Crowe “one of the state’s most ingenious directors” for his work on Love’s Labour’s Lost and named him Best Director of a Drama (Julius Caesar and Wonderland) as well as one of three “theatre artists to look for in the new millennium.”Other directing credits includeRed Herring and A Perfect Ganesh at 12 MilesWest; Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest (DayTony recipient), Noises Off, the Midwest regional premiere of The Beauty Queen of Leenane andPatient A with The Human Race Theatre Company,where he is currently a resident artist;Somewhere in Between and Children of a Lesser God at Dayton Playhouse. Mr. Crowe received BFA degrees indirecting and acting from Wright State University, and was a Fellow at the 2000International Salzburg Shakespeare Seminar.
Like the acts which came before, act V begins with Gower’s prologue (starts with “Marina thus the brothel ‘scapes, and chances”). Gower narrates that Boult, who hasn’t been able to convince Marina to give up the goods, agrees to help find her a respectable household to welcomed into. While we don’t know yet which household, it seems that things are working out for her just fine. As for Pericles? Well, wouldn’t you know that his ship just happens to be sitting at anchor in Mytilene at this very moment!
Seeing such an important ship anchored off his coast, the governor of Mytilene – Lysimachus – takes a small vessel to greet the Tyrian ship and find out why it’s here and what it wants. He and Helicanus exchange a few words at the start of act V, scene 1. Lysimachus asks to meet Pericles, which Helicanus arranges but Perciles is a miserable mess. Helicanus is about to recount the events which have led to Pericles’ current condition but is interrupted when Marina arrives.
Seems that Lysimachus went all Pretty Woman on Marina and ended up marrying her. (Well, he wasn’t getting anywhere with her the other way…) They ask Marina to try to snap Pericles out of it. Marina is about to give up but feels compelled to keep at it until she’s broken Pericles out of his torpor. She decides to tell him her story and when she reveals her name and what happened to her, father and daughter are reunited. But, Pericles is overcome and lulled to sleep my some celestial music.
Then, an apparition of the goddess Diana arrives and tell him to go to her temple and relate the story of how he lost his wife. Yes, Shakespeare wraps things up by having a goddess show up on stage and point our hero to the place where his wife has been living as a nun all this time.
Act V, scene 2 is a short passage narrated by Gower again, as he stands before Diana’s temple. (Starts with: “Now our sands are almost run.”) Pericles agrees to let Lysimachus marry Marina but only after he has made his sacrifice to Diana.
Off to the temple they go for scene 3. Cerimon is there presiding as husband, wife and daughter are reunited at last. It occurs to Pericles that they should let Thaisa’s father know that she’s alive but turns out he’s been dead for a while now. Which of course means that Pericles gets to move to Pentapolis as the new king, and Lysimachus and Marina get to take over the throne of Tyre.
Gower gets the final word of the play where he gets to moralize about the people in the play: Helicanus is the model of loyalty, Cerimon is a model of charity; Antiochus, Cleon and Dionyza are evil sinners who have been justly punished by Heaven for their heinous crimes.
And that’s the end of the Bard Brawl’s seventh play!
Love it or hate it, it seems that this play leaves no one indifferent.
Listen to or download the podcast. (And hey, it’s been a while so why no go back and read up on acts I, II and III?)
Once again, Gower’s prologue (starts with “Imagine Pericles arrived at Tyre”) open’s up the act. Pericles is back in Tyre. He thinks his wife is dead but she’s alive and living as a nun in Ephesus. Their daughter, Marina, is living in Tarsus with Cleon and Dionyza. There’s a but of a problem, though: Dionyza is jealous that Marina is better/more beautiful than her own daughter so she decides she’s going to have her killed.
That’s the scene which is presented to us in act IV, scene 1. Dionyza has hired Leonine to kill Marina. Dionyza tells maria to go take a walk with the man she has never met. Seems they head for the docks, based on what happens next. (So he can dump the body into the ocean maybe?) Anyhow, when Leonine grabs marina to kill her, a bunch of pirates (yay!) show and scare him off. Then, as pirates are wont to do, they claim her as booty and run off to their ship. Leonine figures he’s seen probably seen the last of her but decides that he’d best follow along. You know, to make sure that they kill her once they rape her.
As it happens, the pirates don’t rape her (if we believe Marina as well as the aptly named First Pirate). Instead we learn at the start of scene 2 that she has been sold to a brothel in Mytilene. The prostitute population of Mytilene is not what it used to be so Pandar, Bawd and Boult buy her figuring they can make a bunch of money by selling her virginity to some pervert. Of course, Marina isn’t planning to comply with this but they spread the word about town anyhow in search of a buyer.
Back to Tarsus where Dionyza breaks the news of Marina’s death to Cleon. He whines about what they’ll tell Pericles when he comes looking for his daughter but Dionyza basically says: tell him she dies. The end. While he seems about to argue with her, Dionyza seems pretty confident that the weak-willed Cleon will just do whatever she says. Yup.
Gower makes a surprise appearance in scene 4 (starts with “Thus time we waste, and longest leagues make short”) to narrate what happens next (see it only as a dumb show): Pericles goes to Tarsus where he learns his daughter is dead. He puts on some rags, vows never shave again, and heads out to sea once more. Gower closes with Marina’s epitaph – what was written by that harpy, Dionyza.
Scene 5 is a short exchange between two men, just outside the brothel in Mytilene. Apparently, someone in the brothel is showing sinners the errors of their ways. Huh. Now that is strange.
Of course, we find out in scene 6 that Marina is behind all of this, much to Pandar, Boult and Bawd’s chagrin. Seems she’s been converting the patrons to virtue. These pimps did manage to find a buyer for Marian: Lysimachus, the governor of Mytilene is very interested in Marina. They all try to convince Marina to give up the goods, but she resists. During her conversation with Lysimachus, he realises that she is noble-born and that she is the one pure thing in the city. Boult devices he’ll rape her so she’ll get over the whole virginity thing but he reminds him that Pandar and Bawd would kick his ass so he holds off for now.
Next week (no, really, we promise!) we’ll be back with the final act of this crazy rape-y, incest-filled play.
If you want to follow along the acts in a version of the play which is not so messed up, this is the app most of the brawlers use when we record. As a bonus, each play comes with a breakdown of scenes and characters. You should check it out.
Also, it’s always nice to have some Shakespeare with you at all times, in case you need an emergency soliloquy.
At the end of act 2, we learn that Pericles is finally getting married and the lucky winner is Thaisa, the daughter of Simonides. Once they get hitched, it’s off to Tyre! Gower, as usual, brings us up to speed in his prologue.
(FYI, the Shakespeare edition which we use for the show is a little messed up for Pericles. In this case, the prologue for act III is about halfway down the page. It starts with: “Now sleep y-slaked hath the rout”. Act III, scene 1 then start right afterwards, on the same page.)
Of course, what happens on the return trip in act III, scene 1? Yup. Another storm at sea. To make matter worse, Thaisa goes into labour while the storm rages around the ship. The child, Marina is born but Thaisa is pronounced dead and is given a hasty burial at sea. Pericles orders the mariners to set sail for the nearby coast which – as it happens – is the coast of Tarsus.
In scene 2 the action shifts to the home of a Ephesian physician, Cerimon (Not to be confused with this guy). A few men have come to him after they found a sealed casket washed ashore. When they open it, they discover Thaisa and Cerimon realises that she’s not dead. With the help of some cutting edge medical procedures he revives her. It seems strange to me that given the opportunity to really set up a surprise later on, Shakespeare doesn’t even wait a few scenes before revealing to us that Thaisa is still alive. Not to mention that Gower is constantly telling us what’s about to happen in the next scene…
Pericles has made it to Tarsus and after a brief stop to refit the ship, is ready to embark on the final leg of the journey which will take him home to Tyre. For some reason that’s not really clear to me, Pericles leaves his daughter Marina in the care of Clear and Dioniza who accept to raise her as their own until she is old enough to be married. It’s your standard kind of exchange: Pericles has provided Cleon with corn to feed his people, so the only fair thing is for Pericles to ask him to care for his daughter for 15 years.
We return to Thaisa and Cerimon in the last scene of the act. Cerimon has brought her up to speed on where she is. She seems to think that there is no way she will ever be reunited with Pericles so she decides that she going to do the only sensible thing she can and become a nun at Diana’s temple.
Here are some of the characters introduced in act III:
Cerimon: He’s a physician in Ephesus. He revives Thaisa. He’s kind of like Miracle Max in The Princess Bride. (I guess she was only mostly dead…)
Like the previous act, act II begins with a Prologue spoken by the Middle-English poet, John Gower. Gower first recaps the events of the previous act: Pericles has fled from Tyre in order to escape the wrath of Antiochus… who will all remember was a disgusting incestuous scum bag. He then makes it to Tarsus but it seems that city isn’t safe for him either and he is forced to take to sea. Gower seems to approve of Helicane’s interim rule of Tyre and his service to Pericles to whom he sends regular messengers advising him of the status of things back home. Like the fact that Thaliard wants to kill him.
As Gower tells us, Pericles’ ship gets destroyed and we find him washed ashore on act II, scene 1. A few fishermen have found him. He learns from them that he’s washed up in Pentapolis, and that Simonides – the king of this place – is an alight guy and a popular ruler. Not only that, be he’s got a hot daughter and he’s throwing a jousting tournament to decide which guy gets to marry her. If only Pericles hadn’t lost his knightly accoutrements in the shipwreck… What’s this? By an unbelievable coincidence, the fishermen catch Pericles’ ancestral armour in their fishing nets! Wow, imagine that! Looks a little rustier than before but he throws it on and heads for Simonides’ court.
The scene shifts to the tournament fields in scene 2. Simonides is with this daughter Thaisa and he has asked her to list off and describe the participants in the upcoming jousts. She lists out the first five entries and then ends with a description of Pericles in his rusty armour. One of Simonides’ lords makes a joke about Pericles`appearance but Simonides basically calls him out for being an idiot and judging by appearance rather than merit. Huh. Seems like a pretty smart thing to say.
So, guess who wins the tournament? Surprise, Pericles is the winner! In scene 3 Thaisa pretends not to care about Pericles (but she has already fallen for him, of course). Simonides asks her to find out who he is and Pericles tells them that’s he’s just a guy looking for adventure. There’s some dancing, then everyone turns in for the night.
In the next scene, back in Tyre, we learn from Helicane that Antiochus won’t be chasing after Pericles any more: he and his daughter were struck down by a lightning bolts from the gods. Yup, that right Escanes: “‘Twas very strange.” A few nobles come in and it seems that they’re not happy about their ruler being lost. They figure, he’s been gone long enough that Helicane should step in and take the throne. Helicane tells them that he will take up the mantle or rulership if Pericles can’t be found. They agree to search for him during that time.
Finally, back to Simonides’ court in scene 5. Simonides tells the gathered knights that his daughter has decided not to marry for the next 12 months and they leave. Seem that Simonides likes talking to himself and we ‘overhear’ how his daughter has chosen to marry Pericles. Simonides makes a show of accusing Pericles of having bewitched Thaisa. Of course, Pericles denies this and threatens to kill any man – except for the king, of course – who would dare accuse him of such an act. Pericles asks the king’s daughter to back his story but she basically says that she wants to be bewitched by Pericles. Her father pretends to be pissed but in the end arranges for them to be married as soon as possible.
Here are some of the characters introduced in act II:
Simonidies, King of Pentapolis: He’s the king of Pentapolis and is basically the opposite of Antiochus. He’s pretty much an all around nice guy even though he’s got a strange sense of humour.
Thaisa: She’s Simonides’ daughter and is determined to marry Pericles even against what she thinks is her father’s wishes.
What is going to happen next? Things are going to get a little weird.
This one’s got everything you could hope for in a romance (and several things you didn’t ask for) all rolled into one messy mash-up.
Rather atypically for Shakespeare, this play open with a prologue. The spirit of John Gower comes before the audience and sets up the first act: we are in Antioch where Pericles is trying to win the hand of the princess of Antioch. To do so, he needs to answer a riddle. No big deal… except that if he gets the answer wrong he dies. Just how beautiful is this nameless wonder woman? (Heads up: in some editions, the prologue appears at the end of the previous act.)
To Pericles, in act I, scene 1, she seems to be just as attractive as advertised. That is, until Antiochus drops his riddle. Turns out the answer is “Antiochus is a sick bastard who has been screwing his daughter for years.” And it seems the daughter, who hasn’t said anything except for “I hope you’re the one to take me away from here forever,” was into it as well.
Now, I have no idea why Antiochus would want to advertise his disgusting acts in riddle form but he’s not too happy that Pericles has figured out what has been going on here. Rather than kill Pericles on the spot, Antiochus decides to play nice while he asks Thaliard to kill Pericles for him. I’m not sure how Pericles is justified in thinking that this is somehow the daughter’s fault but either way, he’s not interested in sticking around to collect his prize.
In act I, Scene 2, Pericles has returned home but is now concerned that Antiochus will not only seek to kill Pericles but may also take out his anger on the citizens of Tyre. He confides in his lords but they are chastised by Helicanus, Pericles’ closet advisor, for feeding him only the BS which they think he wants to hear. Helicanus, however, advises his lord to leave the city and travel, in the hopes that Antiochus’ anger may diminish in time. Or that the sick old man will die. Pericles leaves Helicanus in charge of the city then leaves for tarsus.
Act I, scene 3 is a short act in which Thaliard arrives in Tyre only to find out that Pericles has already left. He’s content to take his leave but Helicanus invites him to stick around and feast. is this a shred move to keep Thaliard under his watchful eye? No idea.
The final scene of the act opens on Cleon and Dionyza, the rulers of tarsus, not long before Pericles shows up. Seems Tarsus is going through a rough patch and the whole country is poor to the point of starvation. So Cleon bitches to Dionyza about how miserable he is until a messenger arrives informing them that Pericles’ ships have arrived. Cleon assumes that he’s here to beat up on his weakened nation but agrees to meet with Pericles. Pericles tells him he’s here on peaceful terms and Cleon invites him to stay as long as he wishes.
And that’s where it stands after one.
To help you follow along, here is a short list of some of the major characters appearing in this act (more or less in order of appearance). We’ll get to the other characters as they show up in the play:
Gower: This character takes no part in the action of the play but instead delivers the prologue which introduces each act. John Gower was an English write and contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer. His main work is called the Confessio Amantis and, in particular, it talks to rulers about the dangers of flattery.
Antiochus, Ruler or Antioch: This sicko is advertising to the world in code that he’s having an incestuous relationship with his daughter. He’s not too happy when the ‘secret’ gets discovered.
Pericles, Prince of Tyre: The Prince of Tyre is interested in finding a wife. He gets carried away on the sea and stuff happens to him. It starts with mostly random good stuff. Then some bad stuff. Then some surprising good stuff out of the bad stuff. The play spans about 20 years of his life.
Thaliard: One of Antiochus’ lords or knights who has been sent to kill Pericles. He’s pretty sure that Pericles will die at sea.
Helicanus: A lord of Tyre and Pericles’ most trusted advisor probably because he doesn’t spend his time blowing smoke up his ass. He is left in charge as regent of Tyre in Pericles’ absence.
Cleon: The ruler of Tarsus. Things are not going too well for him and he constantly assumes the worse of everyone and everyting. He’s also kind of a jerk.
Dionyza: Cleon’s wife, Dionyza, doesn;t say much. But based on what she does say, she must also be really hungry.
Now that you think you know what to expect from this play, get ready for act II where there is clearly no chance that some totally implausible, and slightly crazy, plot turns waiting for us.
An extra special sonnet 30 read by a mystery sonneteer who took time away from his studies in the caverns of Worcestershire where he spent his time pouring over ancient critiques of the poetry of Gower.