When Gower, speaking as the play’s Chorus, says that he is simply repeating the story he read in his sources (“I tell you what mine authors say” [1 Chor. 20]), he reminds us that the story dramatized in Pericles had been available in manuscript and in print for centuries (though, as Gower does not point out, with a hero named Apollonius rather than Pericles). That the Chorus speaks in the person of Gower also reminds the reader or audience that a version of the “Pericles” story is included in one of John Gower’s major works.
Gower’s fourteenth-century Confessio Amantis (or “The Lover’s Confession,” which, despite its Latin title, is in English) contains in its eighth book the lengthy story of the trials and tribulations of Apollonius of Tyre. This story, the primary source for Pericles, is itself a rewriting of one of the world’s most popular tales. First written in about the third century C.E.—perhaps in Latin, perhaps in Greek—the Historia Apollonii is extant today in more than a hundred Latin manuscripts, the earliest of which are from the ninth century; there also exist an eleventh-century Anglo-Saxon translation and thirteenth-century manuscripts in Danish, Old French, Spanish, and Norse. John Gower, in adapting the story in the early 1390s, had several manuscript versions on which to draw. Though his narrator cites Godfrey of Viterbo’s twelfth-century Pantheon as his authority for the Apollonius story, the Confessio actually draws details from several other versions as well, including the Latin Gesta Romanorum and an eleventh-century text in Latin prose.
Just as John Gower drew on multiple written authorities in crafting his version of the Apollonius story, so too did the author of Pericles. The Apollonius story went from manuscript into print almost as soon as printing began in Europe—as early as 1470 in Latin, 1471 in German, and 1483 in English—and by the time Pericles was written (probably in late 1607 or early 1608), several versions of the story had been printed and reprinted in English. Gower’s Confessio Amantis was printed by Caxton in 1483, and reprinted in 1532 and again in 1554. Sometime before 1576, Laurence Twine translated a French version of the story as it appeared in the Gesta Romanorum; the resulting novel, The Patterne of Painefull Aduentures, was printed in 1594 and reprinted in 1607.
There can be little doubt that the Confessio Amantis is the primary authority for Pericles. The very verse form in which the Chorus generally speaks—iambic tetrameter couplets—was used by John Gower, and at most points the story aligns itself with that recounted in the Confessio Amantis. As scholars have long known, however, several scenes in Pericles pull in material from Twine’s novel. It was from Twine, for example, that the black-comic brothel scenes were drawn. In its weaving of material from the Confessio Amantis with that from Twine, Pericles combines two of the major exemplars of the Apollonius story—one that descended through Godfrey of Viterbo to Gower and the other through the Gesta Romanorum to Twine.
Some scholars believe that George Wilkins’s 1608 novel, The Painefull Aduentures of Pericles Prince of Tyre, should be considered as a source for the play, even though Wilkins advertises his book as an account of “the Play of Pericles” “as it was . . . by the Kings Maiesties Players excellently presented.” Many scholars today also argue that Wilkins wrote much of Pericles. For our explanation of why we have difficulty accepting this claim, see “An Introduction to This Text.” (For a more detailed explanation, see Barbara Mowat, “ ‘I tell you what mine Authors saye’: Pericles, Shakespeare, and Imitatio,” Archiv 240 : 42–59. For more on the Apollonius story and its transmission in manuscript and print, see Elizabeth Archibald, Apollonius of Tyre: Medieval and Renaissance Themes and Variations, Including the Text of the Historia Apollonii Regis Tyri with an English Translation [Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1991], esp. pp. 3, 7–9, 45–50, 183–90.)