Could Shakespeare have understood John Gower’s, “Tharse” to mean Thasos when he wrote, “Tharsus” into Pericles? In my previous posts, beginning with, Shakespeare’s Tharsus: Thasos or Tarsus, through to my last post, I have reasoned why I think that Shakespeare had a particular time period (the Graeco-Roman world), Empire (the Seleucid) and settings in mind when he retold this much loved Medieval-Byzantine tale. Gower, in his translation of an earlier re-telling, perhaps French, uses different suffixes in his place settings than Shakespeare does e.g., ‘Pentapolis,’ in Shakespeare, is “Pentapolim,” in Gower. Shakespeare chose the Greek suffix over the Latin. Was he deliberately hellenising “Tharse?” With Shakespeare’s renowned biblical knowledge, he would have recognised the difference between biblical, “Tarsus” and Gower’s, “Tharse”.
If he meant, “Thasos,” how well did he know the island? Well enough to have gone there? Following Richard Roe’s lead, I looked for the details specific to the island that would answer this question. Richard Roe also provided a logical explanation for the presence of any Englishman in the North Aegean from the late 16th Century – there was an English Embassy and merchant – trading company in Constatinople from this time.(1)
Having previously compared Cleon’s description of the island, its wealth, the ancient marina and his imagined residence, with the present archaeological site on Thasos, I will now focus on Marina. After Dionyza has Marina’s maid killed, Marina goes to her grave with flowers.
“No. I will rob Tellus(2) of her weed.
To strew thy green with flowers: the yellows, blues,
The purple violets, and marigolds,
Shall as a carpet hang upon thy grave,
While Summer-days do last.”
Act IV Scene I, lines 13-17
Photographing violets in the archaeological site was easy, they were growing wildly in abundance. Being so small, I thought I’d include larger, wildly-growing violets from the neighbouring mainland, Macedonia, in Northern Greece. The island shares its geographical features.(3) Marigolds are a common feature in Aegean gardens.
After Dionyza has ordered the death of Marina, she taunts her husband, Cleon, for his disapproval of her actions thus:
“…Be one of those, that think
The pretty wrens of Tharsus will fly hence,
And open this to Pericles. I do shame
To think of what a noble strain you are,
And of how coward a spirit.”
Act IV Scene IV, lines 21-25
From Wikipedia, we may guess that the type of wren that is being referred to is the eurasian wren. This rings true as the eurasian wren nests in coniferous forests and Thasos was named for just forests (4).Wrens are also mentioned by ancient writers such as Plutarch and Aesop. Shakespeare may be referring to Suetonius here in using the wren to forewarn Pericles of his daughter’s supposed death. Suetonius used a wren to forewarn Julius Caesar of his own. Shakespeare thus knits his work closer to the Graeco-Roman world.
Although the specific details relating to Tharsus are few, they have a resonance with the island of Thasos. Noteably, they don’t exclude Thasos from being, “Tharsus.” There are probably wrens in Tarsus, and yes, there is an archaeolgical site there, and it is hard to imagine Thasos, or any ancient Graeco-Roman site, to have had towers, but the geography of Pericles’ voyage better fits Thasos. Shakespeare was accurate in his foreign details, just as Richard Roe said he was. Did he go there? The historical record has many gaps. Pericles is regarded by many as a collaborative text. Did his collaborator visit the island or the North Aegean? By looking closely at Shakespeare’s texts and regarding them from the point of view that the author(s) had travelled abroad, we may get a clearer picture as to whose hand(s) held his quill.
1. According to Wikipedia, the first English Ambassador to Turkey was William Harborne (c1542-1617). He served as Ambassador from 1583-1588. He was serving the interests of the Levant Company.
2. Tellus was an Ancient Roman earth-mother goddess.
3.”Something of the greenness and spaciousness of Macedonia is distilled in Thasos. Its effect is more intense for being concentrated within the circumference of an island.”
Mc Gilchrist, Nigel, McGilchrist’s Greek Islands: 11. Thasos,Genius Loci Publications, London, 2010, p.9.
4.Grandjean, Yves and Salviat, Francois, Odigos tis Thasou, Ecole Francaise D’Athenes, 3:Sites et Monuments, Sanidas, Yiorgos and Argyri Artemis (trans.), 2012, p.19.