Shakespeare and Gower

Because Shakespeareans like to shove Shakespeare into everything – the Middle Ages, the eighteenth century, the Victorian period, the present day, the future – of course we managed to get our own panel at the Gower conference, and a very good panel it was, too. Shakespeare has made it easy for scholars to talk about him and Gower in the same breath, by actually implanting “Gower” as a character in his late play Pericles, an adaptation of Gower’s “Apollonius of Tyre.” This is probably why, of the three panel papers at this session, two – mine and the University of Rochester’s Jonathan Baldo’s – discussed Shakespeare’s Pericles. Jonathan Baldo spoke of the importance of memory to the seafaring Pericles, who knocks about the Aegean enduring various hardships (shipwreck, loss of wife and daughter, temporary loss of armor when he tries to swim in it, etc.). Pericles–Shakespeare’s Apollonius–is at the play’s end enjoined to remember all that he has lost in order to reclaim it in a joyous and moving pair of final scenes. Baldo argued that this thematic importance of memory constituted Shakespeare’s argument for remembering England’s medieval past. My paper, also about Pericles, talked about Shakespeare’s championing of the combined genres of medieval tale telling and early modern stagecraft, as he deputizes narrator Gower (Shakespeare must have played Gower!) to draw stage and story together. Kathy Romack of the University of West Florida described how much of the literary work of Shakespeare’s rival Robert Greene not only a.) insulted Shakespeare, but b.) revived the “confessio” form that was so important to Gower. A lively discussion of all these topics was well moderated by Pace University’s Martha Driver. Then we all went out and did our own seafaring, or river-faring, on a barge on the Erie Canal. (“I’ve got a mule, her name is Sal . . . .”)

Grace Tiffany

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