Pericles abbreviated

Pericles is one of Shakespeare’s late-in-his-writing-life romantic fairy tales, written for an adult audience.  We don’t think he wrote the first part of the play. Pericles is what we call one of his call contrast stories; a play where he creates a scene so dark that when it turns light, it turns bright.  The play’s central theme is the apparent tragic loss of a princess (and the loss of the princess’ daughter), all beautifully reclaimed late in the play.  The play is set around 170 B.C.; a time when Syria had a huge presence on the eastern end of the Mediterranean. We’re told Antiochus the Great built the city of Antioch, “his chiefest seat, the fairest in all Syria.”  The Antiochus in this story was the “Great’s” son, and was at that time king of Syria.  Antiochus’ daughter was “so bright, blithe, and perfect of face as heaven had lent her all his grace.”  She is nameless, known only as his daughter.  She has had many suitors, but “whoso asked her for his wife lost his life.”  Antiochus and his Daughter had an incestuous relationship; “bad child, worse father!”  That’s why her suitors lost their lives.  There you go. It’s hard to get any darker than that.  But in classic Shakespeare style, Shakespeare draws an enormously appealing Marina. We’ll get to Marina later.

Pericles is the Prince of Tyre, a city that might be present day Lebanon.  He has an interest in Antiochus’ daughter, as have other princes.  On his visit to Antioch he quickly realizes that the king and his daughter have an unnatural relationship. He wisely decides it’s in his best interest to immediately leave Antioch, not wanting to lose his head as other suitors have, well aware that kings being kings can pretty much do as they please.

The play opens in Antioch where Pericles is calling on Antiochus; Pericles having, as we say, a serious interest in winning the hand of Antiochus’ daughter.  Antiochus lets Pericles know that “if you are not worthy” you will lose your head.  Antiochus has him read a Riddle from his daughter that in part reads “he’s father, son and husband mild; I mother, wife and yet his child.”  He leaves Antioch promptly. (Insight, Act 1, Scene 1)

King Antiochus is upset with himself, saying “Heaven, that I had thy head. He has found the meaning.”  Antiochus tells his aide Thaliard that “thou must kill him,” and to not “return unless thou say Prince Pericles is dead.” 

Pericles returns to Tyre and lets us know how he thinks things might play out. He is justifiably frightened, knowing that Antiochus will fear him, believing that he might talk, and that a king can “make his will his act.”  He also notes that “kings have long arms.” (Introspection, Act 1, Scene 2) Pericles confides in his aide Helicanus, telling him of how things are playing out in Antioch.  He fears that Antiochus (fearing that Pericles “might reveal his sin”) will not only try to kill him but will run roughshod over Tyre. (Disclosure, Act 1, Scene 2) Helicanus calmly suggests that the prince “travel for a while.”  Pericles leaves for Tarsus. He lets Helicanus know that he is to tell no one of his whereabouts.  Thaliard soon arrives in Tyre and is well received by Helicanus, who tells him nothing. 

In Tarsus, Cleon, the Governor, is talking with his wife Dionyza, letting us know how difficult life is for their citizens. They have had plenty in the past but are now enduring a famine. (Discouraged, Act 1, Scene 4)  Pericles soon arrives with a mini-armada, “ships stored with corn to make your needy bread and give them life whom hunger starved half dead.”  He tells Cleon that “we have heard your miseries as far as Tyre and come to relieve them.” Cleon understatedly says “your Grace is welcome to our town and us.” 

While in Tarsus, Pericles learns that Thaliard has in fact arrived in Tyre with “intent to murder him.” Somehow he is advised to leave Tarsus. Pericles sails from Tarsus with all his ships, only to lose them all during a violent storm at sea.  He is cast up on a remote shore, the only survivor. Pericles has washed up on the shore of Pentapolis. He is greeted on the beach by three fishermen who treat him beautifully.  The fishermen haul in his rusted armor; armor he had inherited from his father.  They feed him and provide him with fresh clothes. They lead him to the “good King Simonides’ court,” a “half a day’s journey” away.

We learn that King Simonides “hath a fair daughter, and tomorrow her birthday, and princes come from all parts of the world to joust and tourney for her love.”  Pericles plans to participate.  Each knight in his armor and with “his emblematic shield” passes by the princess. Pericles’ armor is rusted and “his shield is a withered branch.”  Pericles wins the princess’ wreath, she saying “to me he seems like diamond to glass.”  Pericles lets Simonides know who he is. A party begins. Thaisa, the princess, and Pericles dance.

Helicanus is still in Tyre.  We learn that Antiochus and his daughter died “when a fire from heaven came and shriveled up their bodies” when they were “seated in a chariot of inestimable value.”  Tyre’s lords want Helicanus to become “our sovereign,” but he suggests the lords wait “a twelve-month longer” and “go search for Pericles like nobles.”  They agree.

Simonides tells the knights (except Pericles) that he has a letter from his daughter that lets him know that “this twelvemonth she’ll not undertake a married life.”  The knights exit.  Simonides then tells us his daughter has told him, again through the letter, that “she’ll wed the stranger knight or never more to view nor day nor light.”  Simonides puts Pericles to a test, saying “Thou hast bewitched my daughter, and thou art a villain, a traitor.”  Pericles responds that “my actions are as noble as my thoughts.”  Simonides says “I’ll make you man and wife.  Are you both agreed?”  Both respond “Yes, if ‘t please your majesty.” 

Pericles and Thaisa have married and have set sail for Tyre, Pericles becoming aware that he must return home and lead his people, Helicanus having agreed to become their “sovereign” if Pericles didn’t return to Tyre within a year.  The year is about up.  During a ferocious storm at sea, Thaisa gives birth to a girl, named Marina by Pericles, Thaisa “dying” during the delivery.  Marina is born late at night.  On the basis of a long-held serious superstition, the sailors demand that “the ship must be cleared of the dead,” promptly.  Thaisa is wrapped well and carefully placed with certain tributes in a coffin.  She is dropped overboard, right at the height of the storm, the ship “having had a chest beneath the hatches.”   With Marina but an hour old, Pericles commands the ship head for Tarsus where “I will visit Cleon.” 

At dawn, Cerimon, a physician, and two gentlemen are on a beach in Ephesus. (Insight, Act 3, Scene 2) Two servants haul the casket to Cerimon, the chest having just been “tossed upon the shore.”  They promptly open the casket and find Thaisa. Cerimon quickly recognizes that she is alive, noting that “she hath not been entranced above five hours.”  They learn from documents in the coffin that she is a queen and the daughter of a king.  They, of course, take very good care of her and she revives, unharmed by the ordeal.  She tells Cerimon she wants to live “a life of chastity.”  Cerimon shows her the way to “Diana’s temple where a niece of mine shall there attend you.”  Diana was the goddess of hunting and of the moon. 

Pericles arrives in Tarsus and meets with Cleon and Dionyza.  He leaves his daughter, Marina, with the two of them, to be cared for as a princess, Cleon saying “Fear not, my lord,” noting how important Pericles has been to them, having “fed my country with your corn.”  Lychorida, Thaisa’s attendant, stays there in Tarsus to help care for the child.  Pericles asks Cleon “to give her princely training, that she may be mannered as she was born.” He accepts the request.  Pericles leaves promptly, needing to get to Tyre. 

Now fourteen years later, we learn that when compared with Dionyza’s daughter “Marina gets all the praises,” an issue that so troubles Dionyza that she demands that her servant, Leonine, kill Marina so that “her daughter might stand peerless by this slaughter.”  We also learn that Lychorida, Thaisa and Marina’s attendant, has just died. Marina puts up a beautiful defense when she learns of Leonine’s plan to kill her, as he says “to satisfy my lady.” (Persuasion, Act 4, Scene 1) But just as Leonine is about to kill her, he having drawn his sword, pirates seize her and carry her away.  Leonine tells Dionyza that he did what he was told to do. She poisons him. Dionyza tells Cleon that she had Marina killed, devastating Cleon who says “of all the faults beneath the heavens, the gods do like this worst.”  When Cleon asks rhetorically “what canst thou say when noble Pericles shall demand his child,” she calmly says we tell him “we wept after her hearse, and yet we mourn.”

Marina is sold by the pirates to a brothel owner in Mytilene, a port city near Ephesus.  She cleverly and smoothly talks her way out of any encounters, two Gentlemen saying things like “but to have divinity preached there! Did you ever dream of such a thing?” and “come, I am for no more bawdy houses.  Shall we go hear the vestals sing?”  Lysimachus, the governor of Mytilene, visits the brothel and has a wonderful conversation with her. He ends up giving her enough money and gold to buy her freedom.  As the Act ends, she tells Bolt, the servant and solicitor for the brothel owner that he needs to get out of the business, and that he needs to find her a job as a teacher. (Persuasion, Act 4, Scene 6)  He says to her “Well, I will see what I can do for thee.  If I can place thee, I will.” 

Helicanus greets Lysimachus at sea, Lysimachus having sailed from Mytilene with hopes to speak with Pericles, Pericles being on-board.  Helicanus lets Lysimachus know that “he will not speak to any.”  Lysimachus persists, saying “we have a maid in Mytilene, I durst wager would win some words of him.”  Helicanus gives him a chance.  Marina enters. Helicanus observes “she’s a fine-looking lady.”  She says to Pericles “My lord, lend ear.”  He mumbles and forcibly pushes her away, knocking her down. (Disclosure, Act 5, Scene 1)  She lets him know that her griefs are the equal of his.  He speaks, asking her “what country are you from?” (Recognition, Act 5, Scene 1) He says to himself “my dearest wife was like this maid, and such a one my daughter might have been.”  She tells him her “ancestors stood equivalent with mighty kings.”  She gets his attention. She tells him “my name is Marina, for I was born at sea, and my father a king.”  He can’t believe what he’s hearing, knowing his daughter was killed by Dionyza’s servant.  She goes on, saying “but, good sir, why do you weep?  I am the daughter to King Pericles, if good King Pericles be.”  He blurts out “thou’rt my child.”  Everybody lets everybody else know who they are. 

Pericles hears “heavenly music.”  No one else hears any music.  He falls asleep.  The others leave quietly.  He is visited by the goddess Diana who suggests he visit her temple in Ephesus.  We learn Marina and Lysimachus plan to marry.

The group follows Pericles’s suggestion: they visit Diana’s temple in Ephesus. Cerimon and Thaisa enter.  Not recognizing her, Pericles tells them his sad tale in detail.  Thaisa cries “You are, you are Pericles.” She faints.  Cerimon tells the others of the time the coffin washed up on the shore of Ephesus.  Pericles and Thaisa embrace.  Pericles introduces Thaisa to her daughter.  They all plan to return to Pentapolis where “we’ll celebrate their nuptials.”  Pericles and Thaisa plan to “spend our following days” there.  He tells all that “our son and daughter shall in Tyrus reign.”  Lord Cerimon is honored.

Copyright © 2010 Abbreviated Shakespeare

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