Sunday, February 20, 2005

Lesser Shakespeare

   I attended a production of Shakespeare's Pericles at the Guthrie Lab today. Evidently, toward the end of his career the Bard of Avon wrote a slew of crowd-pleasers, and this was one. This romance was very popular (set in exotic locales, with shipwrecks, kidnappings and mistaken identities) when he wrote it, and is certainly not without merit. Bill could still write a mean sentence or two, even if his plot was hokey. The thing that struck me, however, was in the second act, when Pericles' lost daughter Marina is trapped in a brothel and expected to "take up the profession" after having been kidnapped. She talks her way out of trouble, charms the Governor of Mytilene and persuades her captor to allow her to go to a "house of honest women" where she can be a teacher.

   The forced prostitution of women, of course, was certainly an issue in those times, and Shakespeare's examination of this issue in the middle of what is otherwise a somewhat silly drama is fine example of his insight into the human condition. Marina gains repute as a wise maiden and when Pericles lands in Mytilene, she is called to heal his depression, and ultimately she realizes that she is indeed his daughter and convinces him of that fact. It would be a mistake, I think to read too much into this play, but the over-all theme of goodness, family and redemption makes it worthy of study.

By Professor Batty


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