Shakespeare and the Misrecognition of Fathers and Sons

  • Lawrence Danson


I am going to look at some deferred, denied and disappointed reunions between Shakespeare’s fathers and their estranged sons. But I begin, for the sake of a prefatory contrast, with Shakespeare’s daughters, and specifically with those plays late in Shakespeare’s career where the father’s strong longing for reunion with his lost daughter is also, almost, a longing for union with a woman who must be simultaneously daughter, mother and wife. Pericles, who has fled down the years the dreamlike knowledge of an act of father—daughter incest which illogically but powerfully portends his own unenacted guilt, comes the closest of these Shakespearean patriarchs to fulfilling that fantasy of union; and his language of recognition, mixing pain with joy in ecstatic attainment, almost literalises the fact:

Give me a gash, put me to present pain,

Lest this great sea of joys rushing upon me

O’erbear the shores of my mortality,

And drown me with their sweetness — Oh come hither,

Thou that begett’st him that did thee beget... (Pericles V.i. 196–200)1


Filial Piety Recognition Scene Prefatory Contrast Golden Care Feigned Death 
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  1. 1.
    Quotations from Shakespeare are taken from The Complete Works, David Bevington (ed.), 4th edn., (NY: HarperCollins, 1992).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    W.K. Wimsatt Jr (ed.), Samuel Johnson on Shakespeare (NY: Hill and Wang, 1960) p. 98.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Reprinted in E.K. Chambers, William Shakespeare: A Study of Fact and Problems (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930), II, p. 264.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1998

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  • Lawrence Danson

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