February 22nd

Curiously, two copies of Pericles were printed in 1609, both of them by the printer Henry Gosson—an unusual statistic among any of Shakespeare’s plays. Judging from the number of quarto editions that would be printed in later years—one in 1611, one in 1619, another in 1630 and a fourth in 1635—it seems safe to surmise that Pericles was among the more popular of Shakespeare’s plays, but it was a popularity that Shakespeare, dying in 1616, could not have enjoyed. What could have spurred these several re-printings? One answer is that Pericles, as a “romance” or a “tragicomedy”—how we generically categorize this late play of Shakespeare’s is itself a tantalizing question—would seem to take part in a growing fashion for tragicomedies ushered in by Beaumont and Fletcher.

The history of the play, though, is a tangled one, and its apparent popularity would seem only to spur more questions—and to make it all the more interesting as a consequence. While it marks one Shakespeare’s earliest excursions into the fantastic, redemptive, and rhetorically supple genre of plays with which we associate The Tempest and The Winters Tale, it shows much more visible evidence of authorial collaboration that those later plays—a fact obscured by the play’s title page, which advertises only “Written by William Shakespeare.” While the play would make its way into an early collection of Shakespeare’s works put together by Thomas Pavier, it found no place in the first folio collection of 1623; only with the third folio would the play be recovered as part of the Shakespearean canon, and even that episode of recovery is a fraught one, for among the many plays newly attributed to Shakespeare in the third folio—Thomas Lord Cromwell and Sir John Oldcastle, for instance—Pericles remains the one play added to the third folio that has escaped charges of complete apocrypha.

This is a general history of the play in print; but we can find evidence of a more intimate one in such places as the top right corner of the title page, where the earliest owner of this copy of the play, a man named Scipio Squyer, copied out his name and wrote out the date: May 5th, 1609. Notice, as well, the corrections by the later hands, diminutively strewn throughout the pages.

Follow this link for scanned copies of Pericles (1609), from the collections of Yale University’s Elizabethan Club, and  of Thomas Pavier’s edition of Pericles (1619), from the collections of Yale’s Beinecke Library.

1 thought on “February 22nd

  1. Pingback: Bits and Pieces | Is the codex overrated?

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