Late Shakespeare and the Middle Ages.

van Es, Bart.

Late Shakespeare and the Middle Ages.

van Es, Bart. "Late Shakespeare and the Middle Ages." In Medieval Shakespeare: Pasts and Presents. Ed. Ruth Morse, Helen Cooper, and Peter Holland. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 37-51.

Noting that in Shakespeare's late plays "‘romance' no longer blends [as it did in earlier plays] but instead becomes conspicuous," van Es takes up "the conspicuous presence of archaic ways of being and telling," linking it to "the emergence of the cultural category of ‘the Middle Ages' in the early seventeenth century" (37). "Pericles" presents a case-in-point. For van Es, the character of Gower is largely misread by contemporary critics. Observing that Thomas Berthelette's edition of the "Confessio Amantis" would have been Shakespeare's source text for "Pericles," he employs Tim Machan's characterization of Gower in that edition as a "humanist" (JGN 17.2) to offset the self-consciously medieval gestures (e.g., the tournament, the dumb shows) inserted into the play but not found in Shakespeare's "Confessio" text (38-41). Van Es points out that this "Tudor" Gower was considered a father of English poetry and a refiner or the language (43), but by 1607, the date of "Pericles," he had become comic. What happened? Apparently, Cervantes, who "made the medieval narrator a figure of fun" (46). Shakespeare's collaborator on "Pericles," George Wilkins, was "in the vanguard of the movement of early seventeenth-century playwrights who responded to Cervantes: Ben Jonson, Thomas Middleton, Nathan Field, Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher" (47). "Ancient Gower's" character in "Pericles," in van Es's view, "can be tracked with precision to the years 1605 to 1607. Shakespeare's oeuvre sits astride this temporal fault line, so that the late plays become at once more modern and more medieval than those that came before" (51). N.B.: van Es remarks on Gower's "shift from a Yorkist to the Lancastrian camp" (42), apparently confusing Richard III with Richard II. [RFY. Copyright. The John Gower Society. eJGN 38.2.]


Gower Subjects
Influence and Later Allusion
Confessio Amantis
Facsimiles, Editions, and Translations