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Pericles, Paul, and Protestantism


If its connections to Saints plays and medieval romance resonate with Catholicism, Pericles nonetheless directly addresses crucial Protestant issues which it sometimes questions. Many of the play’s theological ambiguities derive from the fact that the varied religious ideologies it represents often overlap for the issues it investigates. These issues are broadly defined in the writings and portraits of Paul, to which Shakespeare looks here; Pericles’ travels, for instance, take him to locales almost all associated with Paul. For some matters—repentance, predestination, grace, and providence—the play both interrogates and promotes Protestant arguments. However, the play is rigorous in its iconoclastic distrust of visible signs, particularly for their effect on human will. Pericles’ misreadings of theologically imbricated signs launch him on a voyage during which he sees himself as powerless while seeking redemption, in terms sometimes echoing Calvin. However. the play critiques this position by several times associating physical things with miracle. Despite the antitheatricalism implied by the play’s concern that worldly signs are dangerous, Shakespeare finds Protestant means to defend his theatre. Marina’s rhetoric encourages us to see the sacred in the physical. Another ambiguous theological position, this representation points toward opposites: back toward Catholic medieval romance, invoked by Gower’s presence, but also to Protestant arguments that miracle can transform natural objects into sacraments. Although more Calvinist in tone than King Lear and The Tempest, which it occasionally echoes, Pericles provides evidence that Shakespeare pursued a relatively eclectic theology which responds to some ambiguous positions in Protestant theology.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.