Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet continues with Spring, a literary novel that tells the impossible tale of an impossible time. Full of rich metaphor as well as political and social commentary, Smith’s tale points to “spring” as the great connective and opens the door to the constant movement of stories over time. Riffing on the Shakespearean drama Pericles, Smith introduces a modern-day Marina with wit and virtue enough to protect herself from an ill-reputed fate while enduring separation from her family.
Though reading Pericles in full is not necessary for understanding and appreciating Spring, a brief overview will bring depth and intricacy to your reading group experience. So for those of us who have never read Pericles (or never even heard of it?), here is a brief guide to this classic play of family separation and reunion.
Pericles: the Prince of Tyre who later becomes king; he competes for the hand of King Antiochus’s daughter and discovers the incestuous relationship between father and daughter
King Antiochus: the king of Antioch, engaging in incest with his daughter
Helicanus: Pericles’s loyal counselor
Thaisa: Pericles’s wife from Pentapolis; she is thought to have died in childbirth while on the voyage to Tyre, but is discovered to be alive when her body is washed ashore in Ephesus
Marina: Pericles and Thaisa’s daughter who is separated from her family and sold to a brothel but refuses to give up her honor
When the play opens, the narrator explains that Antiochus, the king of Antioch, is engaging in secret incest with his daughter. Now that she is of marrying age, Antiochus has demanded that suitors solve a riddle in order to win her hand. Pericles, the Prince of Tyre, comes to Antioch to participate in the challenge. Though he doesn’t solve the riddle, he does learn of the king’s incestuous relationship and flees, fearing for his life should the king discover that he knows the truth. Taking the advice of his loyal counselor, Helicanus, Pericles leaves his kingdom of Tyre and is shipwrecked in Pentapolis. While in Pentapolis, he learns that the King Simonides is hosting a jousting tournament for suitors to win his daughter Thaisa’s hand in marriage. Pericles steps up to the challenge and impresses both Thaisa and the king. Pericles marries Thaisa and together they return home to Tyre.
However, on the voyage, Thaisa delivers their firstborn and is believed to have died in childbirth. The crew throws Thaisa’s body overboard in a wooden box, and her body washes to shore in Ephesus, where she is discovered to be alive. Their newborn daughter, Marina, is handed over to friends in Tarsus because Pericles believes he will not survive the journey home to Tyre. After many years and exciting twists of fate, Pericles, Thaisa, and Marina are unexpectedly and joyously reunited in Ephesus. As the curtain falls, the narrator rejoices that justice has befallen evil, and good, loyal people have been found along the way.
“Few love to hear the sins they love to act.” (Act I, Scene I)
“For death remembered should be like a mirror,
Who tells us life’s but breath, to trust it error.” (Act I, Scene I)
“Opinion’s but a fool that makes us scan
The outward habit for the inward man.” (Act II, Scene II)
“O, come, be buried
A second time within these arms.” (Act V, Scene III)
Other Works Inspired by Shakespeare
Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet
Autumn by Ali Smith, inspired by The Tempest
Winter by Ali Smith, inspired by Cymbaline
Nutshell by Ian McEwan, inspired by Hamlet
We That Are Young by Preti Taneja, inspired by King Lear
A Thousand Acres bv Jane Smiley, inspired by King Lear