While some scholars scoff at the notion that Shake-speare was involved in the creation of Pericles, many others agree that he had a hand in it, editing and rewriting the work of one or more writers before him. The plausibility of the latter view is supported by the themes of the work, which indicate clearly that major portions of the storyline are autobiographical, and that the details of these personal elements can be found throughout the canon, most particularly in The Winter's Tale.
Both The Winter's Tale and Pericles:
"... share remarkably similar elements of plot, nomenclature, characterization, dramaturgy, and symbolic geography. ... both ... have revered queens and virtuous daughters who are lost to their kings, but later restored. Both employ narrators, and both have 15-16 year gaps between disaster, death and reunion. Both queens are post-partum when they apparently die and both daughters are named for their birth circumstances. In both, music and prayer are incorporated into the scenes of resurrection, and both plays employ providential tempests, dream prophesy, statues, and sacred ceremony. ... Both stories tell of kings who suffer extreme loss and long grief, of redeeming, virtuous daughters, and of resurrected sainted queens. Both end in cathartic reunions."1
Finally, both are populated by characters named after famous Greeks from antiquity: mythic figures, kings, warriors, politicians, and poets. Both follow their primary sources very closely, but with significant and symbolic exceptions ... Finally, both are ruled by related pagan gods, the immortal twins, Apollo and Diana [Ed.: as deus ex machina, much as Homer would have employed]. ... it has been universally accepted over the past 100 years that the Stratford Grammar School would not have given William Shakespere the ability to read untranslated Greek poetry.2
The life that is being metaphorically dramatized here is that of Edward de Vere, the seventeenth earl of Oxford. De Vere was a jousting champion, just like Pericles, and married Anne Cecil after winning a tournament, just as Pericles married Thaisa after such a victory. Both de Vere and Pericles were trained in the arts and arms, in that order, and excelled in both, including music and dance.3
Additionally, one of de Vereís tutors (the list is a who's who of the greatest minds of the Renaissance), Sir Thomas Smith, was Englandís foremost Greek orator, and helped produce Greek dramas at Cambridge early in his career. Smith and William Cecil (de Vere's guardian and later father-in-law, who served as Queen Elizabeth's chief of state for almost her entire reign) both possessed magnificent libraries with all the relevant source materials (including Greek texts) in their catalogues. De Vere counted among his tutors and later his acquaintances, the greatest Greek and Latin translators of England.4
Finally, the themes in Pericles and The Winter's Tale, as well as Cymbeline, Othello, Much Ado About Nothing, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Measure for Measure, and All's Well that Ends Well are all related to a real life drama that occured between de Vere and his first wife, Anne Cecil, the daughter of William Cecil.
Essentially, de Vere, while touring Europe, thought that Anne had been unfaithful to him, given the timeframe of her pregnancy, and that his first daughter, Elizabeth, was not his. William Cecil later convinced de Vere that there had been a bed trick before de Vere left for the continent. After long consideration, de Vere finally accepted this, and was then reunited with his wife and daughter, much as Pericles and The Winter's Tale capture metaphorically.
In the University of Denver's School of Theatre's well-staged production of Pericles, the magic of Shake-speare's later romances (The Winter's Tale and The Tempest) is apparent, as Pericles (Erik Fellenstein) is buffeted across stormy seas, from kingdom to kingdom, under the watchful eye of the goddess Diana (Rosa Wariner). Fellenstein's fine-tuned emotional arc spans the highest highs and lowest lows—escaping with his life, using his wits to survive and thrive, finding the love of his life (Thaisa [Ray, Reidenbaugh]), losing her in childbirth after she delivers their daughter (Marina [Ashley Campbell]), and reuniting with the virtuous Thaisa and Marina, after the former's miraculous resurrection and the latter's remarkable escapes. Like the bard himself, Fellenstein also showers us with a nice song, accompanying himself on the mandolin.
|Erik Fellenstein as Pericles|
Photo: Denver University
Fellenstein is supported by a solid ensemble, all amplified by excellent set design, lighting, costumes, and sound. Particularly enamoring is the raising of Thaisa, enacted as a mysterious medical art performed by Lord Cerimon (Isis Usborne). Cerimon is a "natural magician and sage" who "serves as a moral touchstone in the play" according to Pelican Shakespeare editor Stephen Orgel (xli).5
|Erik Fellenstein as Pericles,|
Isaiah Adams as King Simonides,
and Ray Reidenbaugh as Thaisa
Photo: Denver University
The University of Denver Department of Theatre's presentation of Pericles runs through March 5th at the Byron Theatre, Newman Center for the Performing Arts, 2344 E. Iliff Ave., Denver. For tickets: newmantix.com/dutheatre.
1 Earl Showerman, M.D., "Mythopoesis of Resurrection: Hesiod to Shakespeare--The Winterís Tale and Pericles, Prince of Tyre," in Discovering Shakespeare: A Festschrift in Honour of Isabel Holden, pp. 87-112
3 William Farina, De Vere as Shakespeare: An Oxfordian Reading of the Canon, McFarland, Dec 20, 2005, p.100.
4 Op. cit., Showerman.
5 Op. cit., Showerman.