O, I Am Mocked

Pericles, Act V: Scenes 1-3

And a little stunned, actually.

In a finale that might have been recycled from the A Team (if, you know, Shakespeare hadn’t written Pericles 375 years prior), the disparate threads of the implausible plot are woven together into a miraculous conclusion that even Walt Disney himself would have doubted as a wee bit too cornball.

So, um, Mr. Disney, what we were thinkin’ is this:

There’s gonna be this here three-part reunion, see… we bring in in the young girl, Marina, who, turns out, doesn’t have to sell her fourteen year old bod into prostitution after all. Now she — ya following all this? she’s suppose to cheer up King Pericles who hasn’t shaved in like what? 14 years? Huh, maybe we can come up with a Rumplestilskin beard. It’s cute though cuz he’s never seen his little girl since infancy. Who but her dad would recognize her? Then see, we’ll need a little help from the goddess Diana — yep, ya heard me. Deus ex wha-? Oh, don’t worry. It’s Greek times so you can get away with that stuff. It’s ironical, actually. I thought maybe we could, y’know, make her up like Galinda or somethin’? Cuz Pericles is pretty pissed by now and wants to get after Cleon. What we’re gonna do is, we’re gonna have the goddess get him to go see the virgins at Vesta who — oh, and by the way, run into his ex-dead wife. No, we’re serious. Uh, Mr. Disney?

Here’s where the story reminded me a lot of Job.

Yep, Job.

God lets the Devil wreak havoc on a trusting, devoted soul — allowing him to take away the man’s fortune, children, health, reputation, sanity — everything he has as a test of true faith. Job suffers it all, angry, but intact — hurling invectives at a God he still loves but no longer understands.

And for surviving this test of faith, Job is not only restored in prosperity, but made a whole lot better somehow.

This seemed a lot like that. For neither Pericles nor Thaisa nor Marina deserved a jot of the outrageous fortune that befalls them.

From a storytelling point of view, it makes sense though. By this time Shakespeare had seen and done pretty much everything. He had to make it interesting both for himself and for his audience. Just how dastardly could the obstacles be this time that stand in the way of good people and their deserved happy end?

But all that horrible suffering, it’s tough to get through. With the Biblical story, at least, there’s a story angle: God wants active conversation. So speak up.

I guess you could say that there’s a similar moral in Pericles revealed in the epilogue: virtue pays off if you hold on long enough.

To wit: Cleon and his wife are scorched by the good citizens, once they learn of the dastardly deeds done to Marina. (More evidence why you need a free press.) And we’re reminded of the toasty fates of Antiochus and his daughter. A similarity there in death by fire. And a warning?

I realize I’m supposed to be comforted in all of this. Grinning like a fool heading back to my car with a belly full of popcorn, eager to show up at the water cooler on Monday to regale coworkers with the plot from the latest Shakespeare blockbuster.

All’s well that ends well, as somebody once said: Marina will now marry the nobleman who was good enough not to rape her but chicken enough not to stick around and rescue her.

Maybe it’s me, but I was kinda hoping Helicanus would get the girl in the end. That would have seemed just a touch more fitting. I mean, he did right by Pericles the whole darned play.

And I was biting my fingernails there for awhile. Shakespeare really had me going. But for a moment it felt less like Shakespeare than like M. Night Shyamalan on a very, very bad day.

And like on those occasions, I leave the theater muttering, thank God that’s over.

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2 Responses to “O, I Am Mocked”

  1. Do you know this poem?

    MARINA

    Quis hic locus, quae regio, quae mundi plaga?

    What seas what shores what grey rocks and what islands
    What water lapping the bow
    And scent of pine and the woodthrush singing through the fog
    What images return
    O my daughter.

    Those who sharpen the tooth of the dog, meaning
    Death
    Those who glitter with the glory of the hummingbird, meaning
    Death
    Those who sit in the sty of contentment, meaning
    Death
    Those who suffer the ecstasy of the animals, meaning
    Death

    Are become insubstantial, reduced by a wind,
    A breath of pine, and the woodsong fog
    By this grace dissolved in place

    What is this face, less clear and clearer
    The pulse in the arm, less strong and stronger—
    Given or lent? more distant than stars and nearer than the eye
    Whispers and small laughter between leaves and hurrying feet
    Under sleep, where all the waters meet.

    Bowsprit cracked with ice and paint cracked with heat.
    I made this, I have forgotten
    And remember.
    The rigging weak and the canvas rotten
    Between one June and another September.
    Made this unknowing, half conscious, unknown, my own.
    The garboard strake leaks, the seams need caulking.
    This form, this face, this life
    Living to live in a world of time beyond me; let me
    Resign my life for this life, my speech for that unspoken,
    The awakened, lips parted, the hope, the new ships.

    What seas what shores what granite islands towards my timbers
    And woodthrush calling through the fog
    My daughter.

    **********************************

    It’s by T S Eliot, and is a personal favourite of mine. I’m afraid your email didn’t get through to us: the address is open-shakespeare [at] okfn [dot] org do you mind sending it again?

    Cheers for the post on our work,

    James

  2. I did not know that particular poem by Eliot. Thank you for taking the time to share! Such a thoughtful reply is truly inspiring. It definitely ups the ante around here. I’ll post my comments when I have a moment to reflect, rather than dash out my usual mayhem and moxie.

    Though the tone of my blog has been rather lighthearted of late, it is by no means to celebrate my own ignorance — or ignorance in general for that matter. Learning and discovery have been crucial to my life, though in the spirit of the Mark Twain quote: “I never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

    I realize I may err often on the breezy side, but it’s only to try and counteract the pomposity that has encrusted the Shakespeare canon. How easily it’s forgotten that his works include many a lewd reference — in this way, I think of him in the same vein as Mozart — and that some are, shall we say, more problematic than others.

    What I’m trying to do here is to read them anew, with a fresh ear, eye and perspective (realizing, of course, that I’ll likely screw them up). The stated goal of the blog is precisely this: to read the entire canon with a “Dead Poet Society” attitude, daring the Bard to prove to me just why he is so great.

    That the Bard needn’t prove anything to anyone is obvious. If anything, I must prove my own worthiness to read and comment on him. But good Lord, if he can survive every other form of debasement. surely he’ll get through this! What I’m trying to do is reverential in its own way, however. So much so, that I’m willing to risk my own personal embarrassment if only to avoid the stuffy hallowed halls of academia as much as possible in order to do it.

    I’m a groundling, basically. Despite my Master’s Degree in the great books, I’m just a kid standing in a field of towering (and possibly lumbering) giants. As my hero Thoreau might encourage: better to be a living dog reading a dead poet than vice versa.

    Anyway, thanks for seeing through my bluster and catching the spirit of what I’m trying to do. Though I don’t expect to be taken seriously by the Owls in Pooh Corner, it certainly does matter to me that at least a few people realize that my tone is a great deal of bluster.

    Hopefully in the spirit of the guys behind Condensed Shakespeare. But then, I’m beginning to protest too much.

    Thanks. Really.

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