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The History of Apollonius, king of Tyre, contained in an old book of the fifteenth century, intitled Gesta Romanorum, appears to have formed the groundwork of the present drama. Gower, in his Confessio Amantis, has related the same story, the incidents and antiquated expressions of which may here Le distinctly traced; and hence, as Gower himself is introduced to perform the office of Chorus, it seems reasonable to conjecture that the work of the old poet has been chiefly followed.
That the greater part of this production was the composition of Shakspeare, is rendered highly probable by the elaborate disquisitions of Steevens and Malone, who have decided, from the internal evidence, that he either improved some older imperfect work, or wrote in connexion with some other author; that it contains more of his language than any of his doubted dramas; that many scenes throughout the whole piece are his, and especially the greater part of the last three acts; and that what he did compose was his earliest dramatic effort, being assigned to the year 1590. The external evidences are, that Edward Blount, one of the printers of the first folio Shakspeare, entered Pericles at Stationers' Hall in 1608, though it
appeared the next year from another publisher, with Shakspeare's name in the title-page; that it was acted at Shakspeare's own theatre, the Globe; and that it is ascribed to him by several authors near his time. This play is not to be found in the folio of 1623, the editors having probably forgotten it until the book was printed, as they did Troilus and Cressida, which is inserted in the volume, but not in the Table of Contents.
The text of this play is so wretchedly corrupt, that it does not so much seem to want illustration as emendation, in which little assistance can be obtained from the inspection of the earliest printed copies, which appear in so imperfect a form, that there is scarcely a single page undisfigured by the grossest errors.
'On the whole,' says Mr. Steevens, · were the intrinsic merits of Pericles yet less than they are, it would be intitled to respect among the curious in dramatic literature. As the engravings of Mark Antonio are valuable, not only on account of their beauty, but because they are supposed to have been executed under the eye of Rafaelle; so Pericles will continue to owe some part of its reputation to the touches it is said to have received from the hand of Shakspeare.'
Antiochus, king of Antioch, in order to keep his daughter unmarried, subjects all suitors to the penalty of death who fail to expound a riddle which is recited to each: the beauty and accomplishments of the young princess overcome all their apprehensions, and prove fatal to many. At length, Pericles, prince of Tyre, explains the riddle to the monarch, who determines to reward his ingenuity by procuring his assassination. To avoid the impending danger, which he is unable to resist, and to preserve his territories from invasion, Pericles quits his kingdom, and arrives at Tharsus, where his timely interposition preserves Cleon and his subjects from the horrors of famine. He is afterwards driven by a storm on the shore of Pentapolis, where he marries Thaisa, the daughter of king Simonides, who, in accompanying her husband to his kingdom, is delivered of a daughter at sea, named Marina. The body of Thaisa, who is supposed to be dead, is enclosed in a hox by her disconsolate husband, and committed to the waves, which drive it towards the coast of Ephesus, where Cerimon, a compassionate and skilful nobleman, succeeds in restoring the vital functions of the lady, who afterwards becomes the priestess of Diana. In the mean time, Pericles commits his infant to the custody of Cleon and his wife, and embarks for Tyre. At the age of fourteen, Marina excites the jealousy of her guardians by the superiority of her attainments, which obscures the talents of their own daughter: a ruffian is accordingly hired to deprive her of life, who is about to execute his orders, when she is rescued from destruction by pirates, who hurry her to Mitylene; at which place she is recognised by her father, who, deceived by the representations of his perfidious friends, is bitterly lamenting her supposed death. By the directions of the goddess Diana, who appears to him in a dream, he repairs to Ephesus, where he recovers his long-lost Thaisa, and unites his daughter in marriage to Lysimachus, the governor of Mitylene; while Cleon and his wife fall victims to the fury of the enraged populace.