Fantastical and majestic, Pericles is interwoven with comedy and tragedy. Labelled a romance due to this balance, it is not a play we often see in theatres around the world. Many infer that the play was written in collaboration with other writers, namely George Wilkins.
Besides the confusion of locations, Pericles is a fairly easy play to follow and overall I found it quite enjoyable to read. I can see the difficulties in performance; however, it is worth a read. The reuniting of Pericles and his daughter, Marina, is fantastic and Shakespeare (or unlikely Wilkins) is writing in fine form.
Pericles in a Glance
Length: 2464 lines
Useful Tips when reading:
Gower acts as a chorus or a narrator throughout the play. John Gower was a medieval poet and he helps keep the audience informed of what is happening.
I got really tripped up reading this play as Pericles sails to various locations. So here they are:
Antioch – King Antiochus, who opens the play, this is his kingdom.
Tyre – Pericles kingdom, which I assume is nearby Antioch.
Tarsus – Dionyza and Cleon’s kingdom, initially famished until Pericles saves them.
Pentapolis – the kingdom Pericles is shipwrecked in and meets his wife, Thaisa.
Ephesus – where Thaisa body washes up and where Thais lives until Pericles arrives.
Mytilene – where marina is in the brothel and where she falls in love with Lysimachus, the governor of Mytilene.
John Gower, working in a choral function, introduces the play. He informs us that the widowed King of Antioch is partaking in incest with his daughter. His daughter is exceedingly beautiful. Pericles, the prince of Tyre, wants her hand in marriage. With an excessive amount of suitors after Antioch’s daughter, a riddle is given to the suitors. Pericles deciphers the riddle and works out that it shows Antioch to be incestuous. With both parties aware that Antioch’s secret has been discovered, Pericles flees for fear of his life. He is no longer safe in Tyre. He confides in Helicanus, the acting governor of Tyre, who advises him to sail to Tarsus. Tarsus is a land cursed by a harsh famine. Pericles arrives and though initially feared for an enemy his gift of food makes him a hero.
Pericles carries on sailing until he is shipwrecked in Pentapolis and is saved by local fishermen. They inform Pericles of King Simonides, their ‘good’ king, and of the tournament he has arranged for suitors to battle for the heart of his daughter, Thaisa. Pericles wins this tournament and Thaisa’s heart. Meanwhile Antiochus and his daughter have been killed by the gods as punishment for their incest.
With the help of Gower, we learn that Pericles and Thaisa are now married and she is pregnant. It is revealed that Pericles is a King and he leaves to take his crown in Tyre. Pericles ship is caught in another fierce storm. Thaisa, in the midst of this tempest, gives birth to Marina. Thaisa sadly dies. He is urged to throw her body overboard to allay maritime superstition. Her chest washes up on the Ephesus shore, where she is then brought to life by Cerimon, a local physician. Aware she will never see her family again, she dedicates her life to Diana, goddess of chastity. Marina is left in the hands of Dionyza and Cleon, in Tarsus.
14 years pass and Marina has blossomed into a beautiful girl. Dionyza, fearing Marina is outshining her own son, orders her to be killed. However, before she is murdered she is abducted by pirates. She is then sold to a brothel in Mytilene. Cleverly, she manages to maintain her virginity and the brothel, sick of her terrifying the customers, hand her off to the governor Lysimachus who allows her to teach locals singing and dance. Pericles, inconsolable after hearing of her death, leaves Tyre to once again wander the seas.
Pericles finds himself in Mytilene where Marina, by request of Lysimachus, is asked to sing for Pericles to cheer his spirits. They eventually realise they are father and daughter in a wonderful reuniting scene. Pericles is elated. He dreams that evening of Diana who orders him to travel to Ephesus. In Ephesus Pericles is reunited with his wife. Pericles and Thaisa decide to rule Pentapolis and allow Marina and Lysimachus, whom are now married, to rule Tyre. Gower leaves us with the final words; telling us Cleon and his wife have been burned to death by the people of Tarsus.
John Gower: chorus
Antiochus: King of Antioch
Thaliard: a lord of Antioch
Daughter of Antiochus
Pericles: prince of Tyre
Helicanus: a lord of Tyre
Escanes: a lord of Tyre
King Simonides: King of Pentapolis
Thaisa: Daugheter of Simonides
Marina: Thaisa and Pericles daughter
Lychorida: nurse to Marina
Cleon: governor of Tharsus
Dionyza: Wife of Cleon
Leonine: servant of Dionyza
Cerimon: a physician of Ephesus
Philemon: Servent to Cerimon
Diana: goddess of chastity
Lysimachus: governor of Mytilene
Boult: Pandar’s servant
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