Pericles, Prince of Tyre, like Shakespeare’s other late comedies or “romances,” features an episodic plot, shipwrecks, seeming deaths at sea, and the themes of death, forgiveness, and rebirth.
In Act 2.3 (scene 7 in some editions), Prince Pericles, having been shipwrecked in Pentapolis and disguising himself as a poor “gentleman” of Tyre, attends the festive supper that follows the tournament, of which he was the surprise champion. Still grieving over the apparent loss of his wife at sea and his separation from his infant daughter, Pericles is visibly sad and retiring. The “good king” Simonides, whose daughter Thaisa is the prize the assembled knights ultimately seek, encourages her to speak with Pericles and learn his story. After receiving her report, he declares that he “pities [Pericles’s] misfortune” and decides to “awake him from his melancholy” by calling for a “soldiers’ dance” (2.3.91-2 and 95). He jovially insists that the knights cannot make “excuse” that their armor will clink too loudly for the ladies of the court; the ladies, he asserts, “love men in arms as well as beds” (2.3.98). The stage direction in the earliest surviving text then reads “They dance.”
After the soldiers dance, Simonides, indicates his daughter and observes that “Here’s a lady that wants breathing [exercise], too” (2.3.100). He comments further that “knights of Tyre” are known for their “excellent” dancing (2.3.104). Pericles tries modestly to decline the king’s suggestion that he dance with Thaisa. However, although the stage direction is not specific (“They dance” 2.3.106 sd), from the king’s later lines, it is clear that several if not all the gentlemen dance with the ladies, and that Pericles dances “best” (2.3.108), presumably with Thaisa. Thus in the text, Pericles’s skill at dancing, as well as feats of arms, underscores his nobility and manly accomplishments, and in particular, the king’s manipulation ensures that he and Thaisa will have a few “measures” in which to observe each’s other’s physical and social grace. Their dance provides a further reason for Thaisa’s strong attraction and helps explain why Pericles eventually overcomes his fears that responding to her overtures would arouse the king’s displeasure.
Pericles does it “Gangnam Style”
The cue for the dance sequence occurs at 6:38 of the clip, and the dance itself runs from 7:00-9:06. More highlights from the production are available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qf0qM-QLyuI (36:46).
For the last twenty years, as part of a residency program, two professional directors from Shakespeare and Company spend eight weeks at North Andover High School, instructing the students and directing that year’s production. The play is then performed over three weekends, two at the school and one in Lenox, MA, as part of Shakespeare and Company’s Fall Festival of Shakespeare.
The North Andover High School’s production of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, gestures towards the play’s explicit setting in the ancient Middle East, specifically in Tyre, Ephesus, and Tarsus, while maintaining a fairy-tale like atmosphere. The characters wear flowing robes, and colorful curtains dress the stage.
While the stage directions in Shakespeare’s play do not specify that Pericles joins the dance in Act 2.3, in this production he takes a leading role. The knights line up, and when the music begins, one hears the background beat for the “Gangnam Style” dance created by the South Korean pop singer Psy, which became a craze in the summer of 2011. By the end of 2013, Psy’s music video featuring the dance had been viewed almost two billion times on YouTube. The choreography for the soldier’s dance closely mimics Psy’s gallop-like steps and associated arm movements.
In this production, the dance has the effect Simonides desired: Pericles is visibly energized, as is everyone in the court. Midway through the dance, Simonides himself, who has clearly been longing to join in, polishes off his goblet of wine, and jumps dramatically into the midst of the dancers. The attendant ladies, clap their hands and gesture expansively in time to the music, while Thaisa watches downstage center with obvious delight. The second dance, during which Pericles is invited to dance with Thaisa, is cut in this production, so the king’s comment that Pericles dances “best” (2.3.108), which in the text is motivated partly by his graceful dancing with Thaisa, now refers to his vigorous dancing with the other knights.
The choice of music and choreography in this production is a wonderful example of using playfully anachronistic dance forms to connect with an audience, in this case primarily high school students and their families. As soon as the music starts, one can hear members of the audience begin to whoop and cheer, as they instantly recognize the Gangnam theme, and anticipate the choreography to come. At the first Gangnam pose and hip movement, their response intensifies; and it builds until the king joins the romp, and sustains itself till the end—when at least the front section of the orchestra (and possibly the entire auditorium) is on its feet, celebrating the witty, metadramatic moment. The intrusion of a contemporary dance, with its macho movements (which suggest a cowboy urging on his galloping horse) and its high-energy macho ethos is entirely in keeping with the dramatic context and the specific lines that introduce it.
-Linda McJannet, 2013
By contrast, in a 2013 production by the Actors’ Shakespeare Project in Boston, Pericles did not join the soldiers’ dance. Rather, he and Thaisa were seen in private conversation to one side of the stage during an also slightly Gangnam style dance. Consequently, in that production, it was intimate conversation, not vigorous dancing that won Thaisa’s heart.
Video Clip Details
Title of Clip: Highlights from NAHS production of Pericles, Prince of Tyre
Title of Work: Pericles, Prince of Tyre
Act and Scene: Act 2, Scene 3, 7
Date of Performance: November 2012
Location of Performance: Lenox, MA
Producer: Drama Guild, North Andover High School, North Andover, MA, in conjunction with Shakespeare and Company, Lenox, MA
Directors: Tom Jaeger and Conor Moroney
Performers: Students of North Andover High School
Choreographer: Not available
Date published or posted online: Dec 1, 2012
Publisher: Jan Olsen
Source URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qf0qM-QLyuI
Coming soon! Stay tuned for commentary for the following video.
Video Clip Details
Title of Clip: PERICLES REDUX
Title of Work: Pericles
Act and Scene: Montage
Date of Performance: 2008
Location of Performance: Pleasance One Theater, London, England
Producer: Not available
Director: John Farmanesh-Bocca
Performers: Vincent Cardinale, Dash Pepin and Jones Welsh, John Farmanesh-Bocca, Alix Angelis, et. al.
Choreographer: John Farmanesh-Bocca
Date published or posted online: Jun 1, 2008
Source URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atDsb3mQf7Q
More Info: 2008 Edinburgh Festival production by STROPHIUM and “Not Man Apart” Physical Theatre Ensemble
Updated December 17, 2021.