The Seaman’s Whistle Is as a Whisper

Pericles, Act III: Scenes 1-3

The word that comes to mind is melodrama. As in Gilbert & Sullivan or Andrew Lloyd Webber. As in treacle. As in maudlin. As in… anything but Shakespeare.

And yet, Shakespeare it is.

When I read that this was a popular play in Shakespeare’s day, I am reminded that Beethoven was not famous in his own lifetime for the 3rd, 5th or 9th Symphonies… but for a little ditty he might rather soon forget called the Wellington Overture. Full of vim and bombast, it is best set aside for the 4th of July like its sadly consigned cousin, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Then again, the 4th is likely the only chance you’ll ever get to hearing it live. That is, well… if you really want to.

Schlock has an infamous history for being king, especially in classical music. Poor dear Schubert was all but neglected during the heydey of Nicolo Paganini, a violin virtuoso whose theatrics some say qualify him as the greatest technician of that instrument ever. His compositions are showy, naturally, and fun to break out on occasion. But meanwhile, Schubert’s overlooked and barely publishable Winterreise has gone on to become the single most overpowering song cycle in history. That’s just the way it goes.

If quality were the benchmark of awards and not popularity, the Best New Artist category at the Grammys would be a lot less notorious for being the kiss of death or highway to one-hit-wonderdom (I’m seeking out every possible parsing of that word). For more on the Grammy Affect, PLEASE PAY A VISIT HERE.

Yes, I’m stalling. When in fact I have wracked my brains to come up with the theme of the play thus far.  Usually, this is easy. Hamlet? Revenge. 12th Night? The fickle nature of love. The Winter’s Tale? Jealousy. Timon of Athens? Misanthropy. Pericles? The perils of non-stop action without a point?

Here’s what seems to be going on: Gower once again steps up to the mic to deliver bad news: Pericles has reached the end of his twelve months away from home and has to scoot back to his native land before the citizens put the ever-reluctant Helicanus (aka “Hellcat”) on the throne over his hertofore steadfast refusal.

But wait, there’s more —

On the voyage to Tyre (all these kingdoms are starting to confuse me), the ship runs into duh duh duh stormy weather. Naturally the wife and kid are aboard because they couldn’t stay back while Pericles hit the high seas yet again.

Not a great decision. Neptune being the fickle god that he is, he has unleashed a tempestuous storm upon Pericles who, on top of everything else, has to endure shouts of, “Yeah, take that, bitch!” from some guy named Odysseus seated in the front row at nearly every showing.

Turns out that Pericles’s grief is to be compounded by a little custom called, “Heave the dead wench over.” If somebody dies at sea, the ocean will not calm until the body gets sent adrift. Kinda creepy, kinda cool in a Twilight Zone way.

So at this point I’m asking myself, what in tarnation is this play about? And what the heck is a tarnation?

However, it’s just at this moment that Shakespeare introduces an awfully sweet element. Namely, that the child left behind by the departed mother is a daughter whom Pericles, considering the circumstances, has named Marina. QUE CARD: PLEASE SIGH NOW.

After giving a quite lovely and moving speech, Pericles has his wife sealed up in a conveniently stored casket and sent off to Davey Jones’s Locker.

His plan is now to swing by Cleon and his lovely wife for consolation and to drop the yute off in good care while he attends to bidness.

Little does he know that (yep, it’s melodrama) the coffin containing Thaisa (that would be Pericles’s wife) has washed up onto the shores of (whadayaknow) a famed metaphysician who can (yep, it’s a big one) revive the dead.

So — she’s alive again. And for some strange reason assumes she’ll never see Pericles or her child again. (At least Shakespeare avoided the dreaded amnesia route.) Which may be a safe estimation, considering how news traveled before Al Gore invented the internet. So she commits herself to becoming a priestess of the sacred flame of Vesta — she of Vestal Virgin fame — goddess of the hearth and home.

Pericles knows none of this.

As we roll credits and leave him at the conclusion of this action-packed episode act break, he’s just saying goodbye to Cleon and heading back out to sea again. (You’d think he’d take the Land Rover by now.)

Which begs us to ponder:

Will the Pericles clan be reunited? And… will Pericles rejoin his peeps in Tyre to reclaim his crown without the natives overturning carts outside the Staples Center like after the Lakers won the NBA Championship? And… who will rise to fill the leadership vacuum in Antioch?

Tune in next time, kids, for more exciting developments in our ongoing saga, As Pericles’s World Turns….

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2 Responses to “The Seaman’s Whistle Is as a Whisper”

  1. Thanks for the plug; I appreciate it.

  2. What plug? Oh, that! Yep, that’s me. Pluggin’s what we do bestest.

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