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Another novel by George Wilkins, avowedly based on the acted drama, was published in 1608, with the following title-page :
"THE | Painefulle Aduentures of Pericles Prince of I Tyre. | Being the true History of the play of Pericles, as it was | lately presented by the worthy and ancient Poet Iohn Gower. AT LONDON | Printed by T. P. for Nat.
| Butler, | 1608. ” (The Cambridge Editors).
Those curious as to the Apollonius Saga, from which the story of Pericles is ultimately drawn, are referred to Professor Mommsen's Preface to Wilkins's novel and to Professor Smyth's Shakespeare's Pericles and Apollonius of Tyre, Philadelphia, MacCalla & Co.
Previous to the publication in 1709 of Rowe's edition of Shakespeare no doubts had been put forward as to his being sole author of our play. Contemporary writers ascribe it to him, and Dryden (Prologue to Davenant's Circe) expressly says:
Shakespeare's own muse her Pericles first bore;
All hawthorns do not bloom on Christmas day. The genuineness of the play and its early production were at first maintained by Malone, who in his Supplement to Steevens's edition of 1778 sets out his theory at great length, but accompanies it by a dissertation in which Steevens propounds his doubts as to Shakespeare's share. 1 Later on, however, he became a convert to Steevens's view, and in his edition of 1790 his mature convictions are thus
For the discussion between these two critics, see the Variorum of 1821, vol. xxi., pp. 221-253.
stated. “The congenial sentiments, the numerous expressions bearing a striking similitude to passages in his undisputed plays, some of the incidents, the situation of many of the persons, and in various places the colour of the style combine to set the seal of Shakespeare on the play before us, and furnish us with internal and irresistible proofs that a considerable portion of this piece, as it now appears, was written by him. The greater part of the three last Acts may, I think, on this ground be safely ascribed to him; and his hand may be traced occasionally in the other divisions.
." Steevens, after a lengthy criticism of the Choruses, , and a few remarks as to the Dumb Shows, passes on to more general considerations. “The drama before us," he says, “contains no discrimination of manners (except in the comick dialogues), very few traces of original thought, and is evidently destitute of that intelligence and useful knowledge that pervade even the meanest of Shakespeare's undisputed performances. To speak more plainly, it is neither .
, enriched by the gems that sparkle through the rubbish of Love's Labour's Lost, nor the good sense that so often fertilises the barren fable of The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Pericles, in short, is little more than a string of adventures so numerous, so inartificially crowded together, and so far removed from probability, that, in my judgment, I must acquit even the irregular and lawless Shakespeare from having constructed the fabrick of the drama, though he has certainly bestowed some decoration on its parts. . . . I do not recollect a single plot of Shakespeare's formation (or even adoption from preceding plays or novels) in which the majority of the characters are not so well connected, and so necessary in respect of each other, that they proceed in combination to the end of the story. ... In Pericles this continuity is wanting. . . . And even with the aid of Gower the scenes are rather loosely tacked together, than closely interwoven. We see no more of Antiochus after his first appearance. His anonymous daughter utters but one unintelligible couplet, and then vanishes. Simonides likewise is lost as soon as the marriage of Thaisa is over; and the punishment of Cleon and his wife, which poetick justice demanded, makes no part of the action, but is related in a kind of epilogue by Gower. This is at least a practice which in no instance has received the sanction of Shakespeare. From such deficiency of mutual interest, and liaison among the personages of the drama, I am further strengthened in my belief that our great poet had no part in constructing it. Dr. Johnson long ago observed that his real power is not seen in the splendor of particular passages, but in the progress of his fable, and the tenour of his dialogue : and when it becomes necessary for me to quote a decision founded on comprehensive views, I can appeal to none in which I should more implicitly confide. ... I admit with out reserve that Shakespeare
is visible in many scenes throughout the play. But it follows not that he is answerable for its worst part, though the best it contains may be, not dishonourably, imputed to him. ... To conclude, the play of Pericles was in all probability the composition of some friend whose interest the 'gentle Shakespeare' was industrious to promote. He therefore improved his dialogue in many places; and knowing by 'experience that the strength of a dramatick piece should be augmented towards its catastrophe, was most liberal in the last Act.
The conclusion at which Malone arrived as to Shakespeare's share has, with more or less difference of detail, been largely accepted in modern times; though there are those who, with Knight, still maintain that the play is wholly Shakespeare's, but written at different periods, perhaps distant from each other by some twenty years. “That it was an early work,” remarks that critic, “we are constrained to believe; not from the evidence of particular passages, which may be deficient in power or devoid of refinement, but from the entire construction of dramatic action. The play is essentially one of movement, which is a great requisite for dramatic success; but that movement is not held in subjection to unity of idea. The writer, in constructing the plot, had not arrived to a perfect conception of the principle that a tragedy is tied to the laws of poesy, and not of history, not bound to follow the story, but having liberty either to feign a quite new matter, or to frame the history to the most tragical convenience'. But with this essential disadvantage we cannot doubt that, even with very imperfect dialogue, the action presented a succession of scenes of very absorbing interest. The introduction of Gower, however inartificial it may seem, was the result of very profound skill. The presence of Gower supplied the unity of idea which the desultory nature of the story wanted; and thus it is that in the true history' formed upon the play, the unity of idea is kept in the expression of the titlepage, as it was lately presented by the worthy and ancient poet, John Gower'. Nevertheless, such a story, we believe, could not have been chosen by Shakspere in the seventeenth century, when his art was fully developed in all its wondrous powers and combinations. With his perfect mastery of the faculty of representing, instead of recording, the treatment of a story which would have required perpetual explanation and connection would have been painful to him, if not impossible."
This belief in an early production revised in its author's later days had many years before commended itself “as every way probable" to the judgment of Verplanck, who writes: “Pericles having, from its first appearance, by means of its story, its dumb-show, and by its comparative merit relatively to its rivals for popular favour, succeeded and kept possession of the stage, the author would not feel himself called upon to rewrite a play which answered its main end, and the subject of which presented no peculiar attractions to him, while the re-examination of his own boyish, halfformed thoughts would naturally expand and elevate them into nobler forms, and re-clothe them in that glowing language he had since created for himself. ... Nevertheless, the other solution of the difficulty ...
may still be the true one: that the original Pericles was by some inferior hand, perhaps by a personal friend of Shakespeare's, and that he, without remodelling the plot, undertook to correct and improve it, beginning with slight additions, and his mind, warming as it proceeded, breaking out towards the close of the drama with its accustomed vigour and abundance."
Other supporters of the view that the play is wholly Shakespeare's are Drake and Procter, together with the German critics, Ulrici and Franz Horn. Dyce, with whom
Quoted by Rolfe, Introduction to Pericles, pp. 22, 23.