Pericles: A review
Author: William Shakespeare
After having been sold as a child by my parents into a murderous sex trafficking ring, and my dramatic rescue, I found myself drifting from the age of 14 on, determined not to fall into prostitution. At the age of 19 I was living in Paris, and after someone mentioned Shakespeare's Pericles, I read the play. From the very first verse, I was riveted.
Right in the prologue, Shakespeare addressed the subject that informed my entire life, yet was completely taboo. It was as if he had been writing just to reach me across the ages, speaking directly to my soul. I might have felt very lonely and isolated, but it was as if he was one who could truly understand me. From that moment on, I took comfort in the knowledge that Shakespeare, whose work's depth and breath touched on the truth of my tragic personal experiences, would have been able to hold the full weight of my story.
Pericles Act I speaks of incest, and I strongly identified with the abused girl, and the only power she possesses in a man's world as a sexual object. I also strongly identified with Pericles' daughter's character Marina, who at the age of 14, when she is to be killed, is instead kidnapped and sold to a brothel. However, she stands up against her pimps and johns, lecturing them, which is exactly what I had done in my childhood with my abusers. In the play, the incest-perpetrator is king Antiochus and it is a lord named Lysimachus who visits the brothel prepared to buy the 14 year old virgin. My abusers, similarly, were leading politicians and aristocrats.
It is unfortunate and speaks to Shakespeare's own limitation and the sexist prejudice that endures today, that the incest victim is referred to as a "bad child." The 14 year old virgin Marina, however, is not raped - only because she speaks up. At the time I read this play, I had not begun my healing journey, and the unbelievable notion that a girl would not be raped only because she is against it, only reinforced my shame and guilt. The truth was that my speaking out against the members of the ruling class who abused me, only put into relief the nobility they lacked, and I was hated and abused more sadistically for it.
While in Shakespeare's play the nameless incest victim is called "bad," her father King Antiochus is called "worse." The mention of the subject, the denouncement of the father's act and subsequent castigation and whistleblowing by Pericles were the most outspoken validation of my painful past I had ever received at the time.”
Finally, Pericles assumes King Antiochus will create war to divert attention from his dark secret - a controversial truth that may merit us to question our political leaders' deeper motives, and their thirst for status and power.
Having read Pericles, and trusted that my story could see the light of day, it opened the door to personal growth, which is one and the same as the spiritual path. I was able to enter therapy, because I possessed a blueprint of my healed self - fully heard, seen and understood. My conviction carried me all the way to the faith I have today, continuing to heal, and doing my share to help erase this stain as old as history on the fabric of Western culture.
Photo by Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, 2015.