Pericles, Prince of Tyre is as obscure as a play written by William Shakespeare can be. Well it’s time to change that, and the student company performing it this week at the Burton Taylor Rooms have rightly placed it in the public eye.
Based on a mediaeval tale of strange adventures and wonders, told by the poet Gower, the play tells the life story of Prince Pericles, who travels the Mediterranean world in an odyssey of heroic deeds, facing danger and disaster many times and surviving to find happiness in old age when he least expects it. He encounters many wicked, corrupt people, and has to flee for his life. He falls in love with the Princess Thaisa and marries her. In this play we find many of the themes that Shakespeare was to return to in The Tempest – loss, separation and shipwreck, betrayal, cruel bereavement, magical or quasi-magical powers, and eventual seemingly miraculous restoration of those who were believed dead. Compared to The Tempest, Pericles uses a naïve narrative structure, taking us from place to place and from time to time in a simple linear fashion. Ben Jonson accused Shakespeare of writing “mouldy tales”. He was wrong.