Pericles | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Pericles | Act 2, Chorus | Summary

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Summary

Having briefly reminded the audience of Antiochus's sin, Gower tells them to "Be quiet, then, as men should be," so they can view a dumb show in which Pericles receives a letter. Gower elaborates by telling the audience Helicanus has informed Pericles of Thaliard's arrival in Tyre with the intent of murdering Pericles on Antiochus's order. It would be unsafe for Pericles to remain any longer in Tarsus. Pericles sets sail again, but this time a storm batters Pericles's ships and goods are lost. Pericles alone survives, as Gower puts it, "Till Fortune, tired with doing bad, / Threw him ashore to give him glad."

Analysis

As the Chorus for the play, Gower chides the audience to be quiet so the play can progress. Since he presents himself as an old man, he suggests a relationship with the audience like that of a grandfather cautioning restless children to settle down so the story can be told. The fact that Shakespeare saw fit to add these kinds of instructions for the Chorus to deliver to the audience was in response to audiences' habit of putting on their own "performances" during plays. They ate, drank, smoked, and chatted freely. Some members of the audience also purchased chairs that they placed on the stage itself. Audiences didn't have any inhibitions about inserting their wit and interrupting the play—sometimes throwing food at unsatisfactory performers. The practice of audience interruption went on well into the period of Samuel Johnson (1709–84), as he is reputed to have thrown a member of the audience (chair and all) clear off the stage during the performance of a play.

There are several dumb shows throughout the play, and this is the first to appear. Dumb shows were often an entertainment at court, and these short, mimed (without words) interludes were often performed along with acrobats, dancing, music, and singing. In this play, however, they form part of the progression of the story instead of being separate and unrelated entertainments.

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