We probably would not have heard of the interesting and colourful George Wilkins if it had not been for two Jacobean plays – The Miseries of Enforced Marriage and Pericles, Prince of Tyre.
George Wilkins was one of Shakespeare’s friends and a companion of his leisure hours in the later part of Shakespeare’s life in London. We know very little of Shakespeare’s daily life and leisure pursuits but his association with George Wilkins leads us to wonder about that.
The fact is that Wilkins was, by modern standards, shady. He was by profession an inn keeper but that may have been a cover for the criminal activities he was involved in. He operated in Cow-Cross, in London, an area notorious for whores and thieves. He stands in the records of history as something of a thug appearing regularly in criminal court records charged with theft and acts of violence. He was particularly violent towards women – prostitutes – which leads historians to conclude that he was a brothel-keeper and pimp.
Interestingly, he has that strong connection with Shakespeare, and perhaps they lived nearby to each other, as they were both witnesses in the case of Bellott vs Mountjoy. But whatever it was between them the two men made a connection and somehow, Wilkins was drawn into the theatre world in which his friend was a leading figure by that time.
Like so many men of that time, in spite of a pressured day job, Wilkins also wrote. He produced some pamphlets and also an effective play, The Miseries of Enforced Marriage, a valuable insight into Jacobean marriage.
But what Wilkins will be remembered for is his collaboration with Shakespeare on Pericles. Scholars have had difficulty with this. It is possible that Wilkins wrote the play and Shakespeare revised it, or it may have been the other way round. In the final result, though, it seems that Wilkins wrote most of the first two acts and Shakespeare the last three. Wilkins had also written a ‘novel’, The painful Adventures of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, and the play was based on that story.
Read more about Shakespeare’s other contemporaries >>