Archive for the Pericles Category

O, I Am Mocked

Posted in Pericles on 2010/02/13 by mattermind

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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This World to Me Is a Lasting Storm

Posted in Pericles on 2010/02/13 by mattermind

Pericles, Act IV: Scenes: 1-6

In which the fair and virtuous Marina, devout, of noble birth, classically trained and with gentle soul, is subjected to the following for the general delight and amusement of all:

  • Scorn from her guardian “mother”
  • Envy from her guardian “sister”
  • Pity from the masses
  • Attempted murder by her supposed guardian mother
  • Actual murder (by poison) of her nurse since infancy
  • Kidnap by pirates while being murdered
  • Sale at highest cost to a whorehouse due to her virgin virtues
  • Ridicule and spite for her attempt to preserve said virtues
  • Abandonment by the governor who disguises himself like a highly paying customer (because virgins don’t come cheap), reveals his moral stance at the last second (it’s up in the air for awhile there), tosses her gold to… buy her way out? and conveniently disappears when he could actually, you know, rescue her
  • Pimping by the whorehouse madam as a freebie to the bordello prick on condition that he rid her of that annoying naiveté
  • Attempted rape by the rogue named “Shaft”

Keep it classy, Will.

The good news is, I think I finally found the genre: Elizabethan torture porn.

The bad news is, um, gimme outta here.

Try reading this one in the courtyards of Notre Dame!

The Seaman’s Whistle Is as a Whisper

Posted in Pericles with tags , , , , on 2010/02/12 by mattermind

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….

Things Must Be As They May

Posted in Pericles with tags , , , , on 2010/02/12 by mattermind

Pericles, Act II: Scenes 1-5

Well that was wondrous strange.

What started out to be a wicked Shakespearean tale about incest suddenly turned into a meandering Nicolas Cage movie, with all the preening, bluster and impressively meaningless setpieces filled with pointless confrontations, cockamamie romance and ham-fisted plot twists — all adding up to a massive shattering of the suspension of disbelief.

Or something like that.

My head hurts trying to recap the action. But the show must go on… And so, maybe I can do this a la Chris Berman’s Fastest Three Minutes in Sports on ESPN?

It all starts going south for me when Gower reenters to catch us up on the action, then excuses himself for taking longer than your great uncle regaling a Thanksgiving audience with tales from his adventures in WII.

In a shocking reversal (maybe it was back then, but I doubt it), Pericles has became the lone survivor from his charitable band of castaways when his ships ran aground after having to flee yet again from the evil Antiochus. Like in a bad episode of Run Joe Run, Cleon never even got to say goodbye.

Pericles washes ashore like a hunky, drowned rat in Pentapolis, the Greek soft porn capital lying somewhere on the far shores of Libia. He’s befriended by a trio of crusty but benign fishermen who promise to fill ‘im with flapjacks and get ‘im on his feet again because, lo, he just so happens to have arrived the day before yon fair princess’s birthday, when all the good knights will woo her virtuous blah blah blah.

Of course Pericles is in no shape to be a contestant on The Bachelorette. But the producers think otherwise, and conveniently wash ashore his father’s armour in a fishing net to quash his fears of mail envy (ha ha — that’s, ouch).

So the kid shows up at court. It’s kinda funny, actually, the few jokey lines the lords slip in who mock Pericles for his rusted tux. But the king calms them down with what could be a great line from Miyagi in the Karate Kid:

KING: Opinion’s but a fool that makes us scan

The outward habit by the inward man.

The funny thing is, though, the way the big Joust for the Virgin Princess competition is set up, I’m getting rather into the whole Medieval Times setup, kinda. I love how we’re introduced to the cast of macho suitors. I liken it to the start of The Amazing Race when each of the pairs gets tagged with a summary subtitle like “male lovers” or “best friends.”

Let’s see, there’s:

Bachelor #1

Hails from Sparta, so you know he’s the Vegas odds-on favorite. The line: superior in battle, questionable with a couplet, certain to wear the pants in the family. For the low-maintenance girl who does well with ample free time.

Bachelor #2

A prince of Macedon with a royal father and a Spanish accent that screams: “I’m a lover, not a fighter.” Think Antonio Banderas, but with a better lineage. The line: goes down easy, both on the court and off. Loses focus, but a riot when you’ve got his full attention. For the lady who has little need for steady eye contact while eating in public places.

Bachelor #3

Not much made of this bloke. Probably doomed like the black best friend in a B-grade detective drama when it was announced he hailed from Antioch. Suggests a twist that never materializes. The line: a longshot, to put it mildly. Pants on the Ground.

Bachelor #4

Shakespeare likely ran out of interesting points of origin when he spent his spare change on Antioch. Bearer of an odd gift: a burning torch turned upside down with the saying, “Who feeds me, extinguishes me.” The line: capable of anything. More than likely the candidate to pull a shady move and get expelled and vow revenge. For the lady who’s been bored lately and would give anything for a little novelty. Good luck making it last.

Bachelor #5

Also of no stated origin. Clearly here we’re waiting for the camera to pan to humble Pericles. This is the guy who gets the call from central casting that says, “We may lose you in editing.” Kevin Costner from the Big Chill before he was, you know, Kevin Costner, star of Bull Durham and Field of Dreams. The line: Kevin Costner after Waterworld.

Bachelor #6

The bedraggled stranger of rusted garb, but ladies are not fooled by this, and neither is the virtuous Thaisa. Though he bears only a withered branch with a sprouted top he carries the winsome motto: In this hope I live. Which the good King translates for his curious daughter as: “He ain’t got much, but he’s putting his faith in you.”

But, as if to prove why Pericles is not the programming you want for Sweeps month, we don’t QUICK CUT TO a Quentin Tarantino style postmodern spaghetti western Kill Will battle with lances and thrusts and bad sexual puns but rather jolly good dialogue filled with ha ha has and he he hes which convince the lady that Bachelor #6 is the one.

So no joust.

Which means, by then, all we’ve got left to sit through commercials for (or Tivo through) is the anticipation that Pericles will bed the girl, carry her over the threshold back home, avoid the screaming tabloids as he reclaims the rule of Tyre as a married man with a wife the gossiping masses don’t know — and exact some form of revenge on the incestuous Antiochus and his daughter.

Um, no.

For what we discover — painfully — is that Antiochus and said daughter were tooling around (not fooling around) in a phat chariot that suddenly went all spontaneous combustion and incinerated like a drummer from Spinal Tap or a generic thunderbolt from an unnamed Zeus. Revenge plot nixed. (“Hey, Hal? Gimme a rewrite. Is that Scott Frank available?”)

Preserving what’s left of the plot, however, the lords of Tyre have tired of life without Pericles. Though they much admire the Helicanus Administration, they need closure. A few vow to set sail and bring back their fearless leader, who, alas, has been gone too long and forgot his Blackberry, likely not knowing still the stale CNN crawler for news that stray fireball hath turned Antiochus into a marshmallow.

Hilarity ensues.

So okay, Chris Berman I’m not. You wanted clever nicknames?

Murder’s as Near to Lust as Flame to Smoke

Posted in Pericles with tags , on 2010/02/11 by mattermind

Pericles, Act I: Scenes 1-4

I haven’t ventured past the first act of the play and already I’ve been smacked upside the head by a lesson: never, never, never try and anticipate whether a play will be good or bad based on its fame or popularity. Score another round for the St. John’s method. Read each and every work — especially those of the great authors — for yourself.

What can I say? I was expecting a yawner, and instead I’m turning pages as if I’d stumbled upon a Dan Brown barn burner. Or, better yet, a lost tale from 1001 Nights.

So far it’s sex and intrigue and high adventure and action and suspense. In my notes I have written: oh, what a fool am I!

The play begins with a brief introduction by a character named Gower. Mr. Asimov tells me that Gower was a contemporary and friendly rival of Chaucer (which only goes to prove how time chooses favorites). This all has to do with the source material for the play, which Shakespeare is more or less fessing up to having riffed from somebody else.

But we needn’t be shocked by this. The greatest authors of all time have outsourced their materials since time immemorial. And Shakespeare was doing it all the time.

It’s no wonder that lesser writers considered him such a nuisance. For he could take a plot about a popular theme and render it his own in a way that pulverized the source material into the footnotes of literary history. Whatever Shakespeare touched became his own.

Perhaps then it shouldn’t surprise us that this is one of Shakespeare’s later plays, that of 1608. In it you find that ease with dialogue that became instantly apparent in The Winter’s Tale. There is a tautness, a tension — and very little fat. It’s a firecracker of a play.

If it does not have the status of, say, Hamlet, still it has character resemblences. You could almost derive an SAT question from the similarities:

1) ANTIOCHUS:CLAUDIUS as

a) Pericles:Hamlet b) Helicanus: Horatio

c) Incest:Revenge d) All of the above

e) None of the above

The crackling action of the play begins thusly:

Pericles has come to Antioch to woo the daughter of King Antiochus. Why? Why else — because she’s hot as all get out, some exotic combination of Olivia Wilde and Megan Fox and thus worthy of dying for. (Literally “to die for,” since any guy approaching her father must observe the skulls of the suitors who perished before him, like a scene from an Indiana Jones movie.)

Exhibit A

(For instructional use only)

Exhibit B

(So okay, yeah, death begins to make more sense)

To win her, Pericles has to solve a riddle — snakes, why snakes?:

I am no viper, yet I feed

On mother’s flesh which did me breed.

I sought a husband, in which labor

I found that kindness in a father.

He’s father, son, and husband mild;

I mother, wife, and yet his child.

How they may be, and yet in two,

As you will live, resolve it you.

We learn right away that Pericles is a smart dude, for he doesn’t even need to ask for more time.

The word he first utters must surely have gotten bleeped out of Shakespeare’s early drafts, but I’m assuming it began with an “F” followed thereupon by a “me.”

To paraphrase: Pericles knows he’s screwed. For if he solves the riddle, he outs the king who has been incestuously sleeping with his own daughter. But if he fails to answer the riddle, he has to die — and for a woman he now no longer wants.

That’s must-see TV. Somebody alert NBC. They don’t want Jay. They need Will!

What does Pericles do? He stalls, of course. He slyly suggests to the king that he knows the answer, but is holding off with all due respect.

And then what does the king do? Repeat those deleted words suggested above. Because now he knows that somebody smarter than he has come along — as in every good fairy tale they must. And now the brat has good gossip for TMZ.

So what will he do now? He bluffs back, granting Pericles a stay on his imminent execution for failing to abide by the rigged rules of the game. But no sooner is Pericles out of his sight, then Antiochus orders his… MURDER. Murder you say? Duh duh duh…

But never fear, kids. Pericles has a premonition and sets sail under cover of night. But even back in Tyre (I’ll take Ancient Geography for $500, Alex.), Pericles thinks through his position and realizes that even here he’s not safe. Antiochus’s crime is so black that the might of Antioch will come after the only man who knows of the crime.

He isn’t sure what to do. But his trusty aid Horatio Helicanus bids him to take an extended leave till things cool down. No sooner is this advice heeded than Thaliard, the man assigned to kill Pericles, arrives in Tyre to do the deed.

Whoopsies.

Pericles arrives in Tarsus (where?) to give Cleon, the governor there, the scare of his life. For Tarsus is suffering from famine, and a strong wind could tip the kingdom over. Yet once again, Pericles proves he’s a good guy by announcing that he has brought shiploads of provisions for the starving people, and that all he asks in return is that his cover be kept.

And that’s just in the first 22 pages!

Shakespeare: the Apocryphal Edition

Posted in Pericles with tags on 2010/02/08 by mattermind

Because I know so little about Shakespeare’s Pericles, I broke a rule and sneaked a peak at the introduction to my hardbound Penguin text, hoping for a clue as to its background.

What I found was utterly fascinating. The introduction (in italics) is by Stepen Orgel of Stanford University. Go Cardinals!

Pericles is one of the seven plays that first appeared in print under Shakespeare’s name during his lifetime, but nevertheless were not included in the First Folio — plays that did not, that is, become part of the original Shakespeare canon, despite the fact that they were originally ascribed to Shakespeare. All were included in the second issue of the Third Folio (1664), and continued to be integral to Shakespeare’s works until Pope’s edition of 1723-25, from which they were banished, though they were subsequently included in Pope’s second edition of 1728.

Why Pericles, then, and not The Yorkshire Tragedy (or The London Prodigal, or Sir John Oldcastle, or Locrine, or Thomas Lord Cromwell, or The Puritan Widow, the rest of the apocrypha)?

Very good question indeed! Then again, since this is the first I’ve ever heard of these other plays, I realize I’m wading into shark-infested waters better left to the experts.

As we read the play, we’ll just have to ask ourselves how “Shakespearean” the text sounds. I know… not very scientific. But otherwise, the whole project could get bogged down in minutia.  Like Titus Andronicus.

The play, both on the stage, and in print, was hugely popular — one of Shakespeare’s most popular and widely performed plays — yet the King’s Men never asserted their right to it.

Okay — now I’m really intrigued! Which is, I must confess, a lot more interested than I was before poking my nose into said introduction.

I have read no further, however, I assure you. Which may be a good or bad thing, depending on how poor a job I do.  Yet into the breach I go!