Shakespeare’s Pericles is perhaps one of the many Shakespearean plays which have been staged in many parts of the world. The play itself can be considered as a fairy-tale like romance which gathers much influence from the romance prose of Apollonius of Tyre during the ancient Greek civilization. Although there may be contentions whether Shakespeare should be given the full credit to the play, the story itself is woven with intricacies.
It makes use of certain improbable circumstances, voyages in the open sea, distant lands characterized by their exotic nature, riddles, an infant’s exposure to the various elements, life’s miraculous restoration as well as the recognition through signs of one’s long-lost beloved just to name a few. Given these various circumstances, it can be said that the manners in which the people enact the lives of the characters in the story can greatly influence the whole ‘feel’ of the play so to speak. Another point is that the overall performance of the play can also vary to another rendition of the play from, say, another part of the world.
Factors affecting or influencing the overall performance may include a wide array of factors. For the most part, the culture of the people involved in enacting the play as well as the reading and interpretation of the story itself can greatly differentiate one’s rendition to that of another. As Jeanie Grant Moore points out, “the play constructs a fantasy world of romance in which the good triumph and regeneration is realized (p. 33). ” It becomes thus clear that the play itself gives certain forms of exaggerations which go beyond real-life situations.
Indeed, Pericles appears to operate within the domain of fantasy while having basic elements founded on the real world. Since this is the case, it would be a task for the actors and actresses in the play to enliven their roles in a story of fantasy without being strictly confined within their human limitations as well as with the limitations of the physical aspects of the play. For instance, in Act 3 Scene 2, Thaisa was brought back to life by Lord Cerimon and his men after she died while giving birth to her daughter Marina while on board a ship at sea.
The challenge, then, for the actress playing the role of Thaisa rests on whether or not she is able to convince the audience regarding her ‘miraculous’ recovery from death. While acting dead at sea in a casket may appear to be an easy task since one may not be doing much other than laying down stiff and lifeless for a few moments, it is altogether a different concern when one is to enact a moment—a moment of regaining life after death—that goes beyond the usual occurrences of everyday living. J. M. S. Tompkins, in his article “Why Pericles? tells us that “in structure Pericles is an old-fashioned play, a mere chronological sequence of disconnected adventures,” and that “in tone, the shadowy atrocity of its first act makes no attempt to rival the hot impulses and iniquities of the younger playwrights, whatever may be thought of Dionyza and the brothel scenes (p. 316). ” Indeed, the structure of the overall play is apparently a sequence of acts and scenes ordered in reference to their chronology, from the scene of Gower to the last scene where Pericles narrates to Thaisa his marriage.
It goes to show that, even though the play gives scenes of fantasy, it nevertheless gives a straightforward and simple approach in terms of revealing the scenes one by one in an ordered manner. That observation is, of course, in contrast to plays which may inject flashback scenes as well as excerpts of future scenes. It can also be said that there is also the “virtually unanimous consensus of Shakespearean scholars: that the first two acts of Pericles, consisting of verse and prose of an almost unrelieved pedestrian dullness, are the work of an inferior dramatist, or more probably, of a reporter (Thomas, p. 48). ”
The basis for such an observation rests on the idea that the first two acts in the play are very much unlikely of Shakespeare where there appears to be a ‘downgrade’ of some sort in the story’s tone. With this observation, it can also be said that it will also affect the performance of the actors and actresses in the play given the fact that the story itself will serve as the most basic guide for the flow and ‘feel’ of the play. In general, the entire play will reflect the content and structure of Pericles as a whole.
More importantly, if it is indeed the case that the first two acts in the play do not resemble that of Shakespeare’s usual style in his plays in contrast to the rest of the remaining acts and scenes in Pericles, it can also be the case that the actors and actresses will also have to ‘adjust’. This adjustment may be at least in terms of the actor playing the character of Pericles having the need to make certain changes to his gestures and actions from the first two acts to the remaining acts and scenes in the play.
More generally, it has also been observed that certain changes do not only appear in the text of the play itself with regards to the style of Shakespeare. It has also been noted that Pericles “is also haunted by a group of dancing ladies whose dim forms appear and disappear in edition after edition of the play (Long, p. 39). ” That is perhaps only one of the many other observable variations among the numerous interpretations of Pericles in both past and present times.
The presence of the variations, or the absence of consistency among them, tells us that one may hardly arrive at a stage version of Pericles which goes consistent with all the rest of the stage adaptations. One interesting point in all these is that even though there is only a single textual source for all the stage adaptations of Pericles, there have been varied interpretations of it. Perhaps one reason to this is the variations in the actors and actresses themselves with respect to the unique stage adaptations they take part into.
It may also be the case that the rundown of the stage play also depends on the discretion of the director, depending further on the director’s aesthetic preference and artistic ‘touch’. The director may or may not decide to omit certain parts of the story based on the actual text, or the director may or may not decide to include his own personal rendition to the play itself. At the least, all of these things point to the idea that there remains the large possibility that every stage adaptation of Shakespeare’s Pericles is bound to be different, at least in several ways, to that of other adaptations.
Moreover, the variations in these adaptations and the variations of the actors and actresses portraying the characters in the story also tell us that the combination of these two ‘variations’ further reinforce the idea that there are distinctions to these adaptations. Such distinctions may go beyond the physical differences in the stage layout, the lighting as well as the props used.
These distinctions may reach the point where there can even be a more modern adaptation of the play given the available resources and technology in contrast to the older renditions, say, during the early nineteenth century or the latter parts of the twentieth century. Thus, the improbable circumstances in Pericles as well as the voyages in the open sea, exploration of distant lands characterized by their exotic nature, riddles and a lot more elements within the storyline of the play may be rendered in more modern and more technical terms given the right resources.
On that note, the scene where Thaisa is revived from her death can be exaggerated in terms of visual effects in contemporary times although the option to stick to a minimal and less modern approach to that scene still remains. More importantly, these things may either be an advantage or a disadvantage both to the stage actors and actresses and to the supporting crew for the play. For instance, adding more technical stage props just to put a modern touch to the revival of Thaisa can lengthen the time for the scene as well as it can give the actors and actresses more challenges in ‘reading’ cues.
On the other hand, it can also serve the purpose of doing a contemporary remake of Pericles in terms of using a bit of technology. Nonetheless, the point is that there can be more distinctions with the past and present renditions of Pericles given the differences in the resources available. Yet even though there may be additional elements infused into the original story of Pericles, it remains without doubt that each stage adaptation of the play is still anchored on the original content of the story.
Although there may be differences in both past and present stage adaptations of the play, it remains beyond debate that these differing adaptations all get to meet on a common ground: the plot or story of the play itself. That common ground includes as well the distinct features which separate Pericles from other plays: the seemingly mystical scenes, the forces of nature conniving to stand against the way of Pericles and the voyage to unknown lands which leave one mystified.
In essence, there are many differences and intricate parts in almost every adaptation of Pericles which set it apart from any other play of its kind. Nevertheless, these differences are all founded on the basic premises and elements of the play in general. While there may be contentions as to whether Shakespeare can be given full credit to it, the play itself remains significant in the world of theater and performing arts, especially to the actors and actresses who devote their time honing their acting skills in lieu of Shakespeare’s works.