Dumb. Showy. Meta.

Two days ago, I asked the question ‘who is the protagonist of Pericles?’ We know he’s the main character, the one for whom we hold a rooting interest. But I questioned whether or not he advanced the plot (or if the plot advanced him). And then, of course, there’s the question of his goal. What is Pericles’ purpose?

Yesterday was our first Sunday matinee for Much Ado, and the Super Bowl (and my god, I hate the Patriots)…so I never got a posting up.

Today, I turn my attention to the purpose of something else altogether: the dumb-shows in Pericles.

Gower presents eight choric speeches. Of them, three–II.Chorus, III.Chorus, and IV.iv–contain dumb-shows.

What follows are those dumb-shows and the lines that introduce them…

Act Two Chorus

But tidings to the contrary
Are brought your eyes. What need speak I?
Enter at one door Pericles talking with Cleon, all the train with them. Enter at another door a Gentleman, with a letter to Pericles. Pericles shows the letter to Cleon. Pericles gives the Messenger a reward and knights him. Pericles exits at one door, and Cleon at another.
  • II.Chorus.15-6 and following

Gower introduces the dumb-show, but with a kind of dismissal of his own intro.

Act Three Chorus

What’s dumb in show I’ll plain with speech.
Enter Pericles and Simonides at one door with Attendants. A Messenger meets them, kneels, and gives Pericles a letter. Pericles shows it Simonides. The Lords kneel to him; then enter Thaisa with child, with Lychorida, a nurse. The King shows her the letter. She rejoices. She and Pericles take leave of her father, and depart with Lychorida and their Attendants. Then Simonides and the others exit.
  • III.Chorus.14 and following

Again, he introduces the dumb-show; but here he uses an interesting verb. To “plain” is not–as I had assumed–to “explain,” but rather to “complain” (“plain, v.1a” Oxford English Dictionary Online. Oxford University Press). So really, he’s saying that what he says amounts to a “grumbling” (“plain, v.1b” OED) narrative, better conveyed in a silent show.

Act Four, Scene Four

Like motes and shadows see them move awhile;
Your ears unto your eyes I’ll reconcile.
Enter Pericles at one door, with all his train, Cleon and Dionyza at the other. Cleon shows Pericles the tomb, whereat Pericles makes lamentation, puts on sackcloth, and in a mighty passion departs. Cleon and Dionyza exit.
See how belief may suffer by foul show!
This borrowed passion stands for true old woe.
  • IV.iv.21-4

Here, he introduces the last dumb-show, equating what is to follow to no more than “dust” (“mote, n.1a” OED) and shadows–insubstantial. And coming out of the dumb-show, we get almost meta-Shakespeare: he denigrates not only Gower’s narrative, but then, within the statement, disparages the dumb-show as “foul” since it cannot show the true emotion of the situation. Is this Shakespeare’s way of poking fun at the idea of a choric figure? Or is he satirizing the growing old-fashioned-ness of the concept of the dumb-show (as it was falling out of style in much the same was as tetrameter was falling out of style as Gower was writing one of the sources for Pericles…but Gower still used tetrameter instead of pentameter)? Or was he chest-puffingly showing off the majesty of his writing, which can encompass (and surpass) all of it?

Comment?