Printer Friendly

Bard's tragedy is edged out by rom-com; HAVE you cast your vote yet in the Voting for Shakespeare campaign? Here's an update on the contest so far while, below, CHRISTINE CHAPMAN, our Shakespeare expert, looks at the plays Timon of Athens and Pericles.


MORE than a month into the competition to find the North East's favourite Shakespeare character and play, the order has changed again.

Macbeth has been edged out of the top spot by A Midsummer Night's Dream, tragedy giving way to romantic comedy.

But which of Shakespeare's characters is now the leading contender to be immortalised as a bronze statue and positioned in the foyer at the Theatre Royal? Last time we reported, Romeo's ill-fated friend Mercutio was riding high on the back of superb performances by Jonjo O'Neill in the Royal Shakespeare Company production at the Theatre Royal.

This week it's Othello who has edged into the lead. What has put him there is not entirely clear, but he does lend his name to one of the Bard's most famous plays.

The contest, devised by the Theatre Royal and The Journal, runs until April 23 next year, Shakespeare's birthday. On the same date in 2012 the statue will be unveiled. To vote for play and character, go first to and click on the Shakespeare link.

The Wheel of Fortune and the capricious nature of Fate sit right at the heart of two of Shakespeare's lesser known plays, Pericles and Timon of Athens.

Thanks to television game shows and the National Lottery, we still easily recognise that wheel today and the emotions it evokes as it turns.

Now we talk of Lady Luck but, for Shakespeare, Dame Fortune spun the which adds emotional force to some of his greatest 'Lost-and-Found' stories.

The plot of Timon of Athens charts the main character's loss of status from nobleman to misanthrope.

In the process, he discovers the fickleness of friendship, the destructive power of money and a terrifying taste for revenge.

Timon's descent into despair exerts a powerful hold on the imagination. We feel his disillusionment, tossed on the waves of "Life's uncertain voyage", aware that he has "seen better days". Other characters catch the eye too, perhaps the brutally honest Apemantus, who foresees Timon's ruin and warns him of false friends, or Alcibiades who speaks Timon's final epitaph.

But it is the dark image of Timon himself that troubles. As the wheel turns in his favour, he is once again blessed with "glittering, precious gold", this time choosing to use it not to help but to corrupt mankind.

Indeed, it was the destructive role of money in Timon's downfall that spoke to the communist philosopher, Karl Marx, who quoted liberally from this character's speeches in his early essays. The story of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, is equally memorable, though Fate decrees that his journey is physically arduous and of a questing and episodic nature.

Like Leontes in The Winter's Tale, Pericles loses both a wife - the beautiful Thaisa - and a daughter as a consequence becoming a shadow of the man he was.

But as Fortune's wheel turns again, Pericles is reunited with his faithful wife and is ultimately revived by the gift of a daughter returned.

Shakespeare names this lost daughter Marina, a beautiful soul "born at sea where never was waves nor wind more violent".

This play is a collaborative text, but modern editors agree that Shakespeare's mark is undoubtedly on the unfolding story of Pericles and Marina.

Indeed, the poet TS Eliot described the moment of their reunion as "the finest of all the recognition scenes".

The story of Marina also captured the Victorian imagination, the poet Swinburne in particular admiring her "heroic purity".

Almost murdered, carried off by pirates and sold to a brothel, Marina remains both patient and constant, qualities she shares with the similarly virtuous Shakespearean heroines, Imogen and Cordelia.

In different ways, then, both Timon and Pericles lose much at the hands of "most ungentle fortune" and at the end of their journeys find very different things.

But which character's story speaks most to you, I wonder, and which, if either, will ultimately win your vote? Christine Chapman teaches English at Church High School in Newcastle and regularly attends Royal Shakespeare Company summer schools.


PERICLES: Antiochus, King of Antioch, offers the hand of his daughter in marriage to anyone who can solve a riddle, though anyone who tries and fails will die. Pericles, Prince of Tyre, understands it immediately - Antiochus is engaged in an incestuous relationship with the daughter.

So if he answers it correctly he will also die. What to do? Pericles embarks on a journey that brings him heartache before fortune smiles on him and he is reunited with his lost wife (not the daughter of Antiochus) and daughter.

Marina: The daughter of Pericles and his wife Thaisa, whose hand in marriage he won in a tournament after being shipwrecked and washed ashore at Pentapolis.

Marina is left with a couple, Cleon and Dionyza, to bring up, but when she becomes more beautiful than their own daughter, Dionyza plots to have her killed.

She is then kidnapped by pirates and sold to a brothel where she fails to justify the outlay because she keeps persuading men to stay virtuous. Instead she becomes a musician and teacher.

In the end she is reunited with her father and also with her mother, Thaisa, whose body was thrown overboard after she had appeared to die in childbirth.

In Timon of Athens you could vote for... Timon: The leading character in what is often called one of Shakespeare's "problem plays", Timon is an Athenian misanthrope - one who has little time for the human race. But he doesn't start out that way. At first he is generous - overly so.

Having given away everything that he owns, he takes himself off to the desert where he discovers gold. Ultimately it doesn't do him any good and he dies in the wilderness.


wheel that brought windfalls to some and great misfortune to others. And it is this striking image FAMILIAR SYMBOL The Wheel of Fortune EXPERT OPINION Christine Chapman PROBLEM PLAY Michael Pennington in Timon of Athens in 1999
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2010 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUGR
Date:Oct 27, 2010
Previous Article:Last chance to join the action at London 2012.
Next Article:We've landed it again; Airport bosses celebrate as award retained.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters