Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
Prince of Tyre is a stage play in the
form of a comedy. Like other comedies, it ends happily. However, because
the play contains tragic events, it is probably better classed as a tragicomedy.
Written: Between 1606 and 1608.
Performance: Probably between 1606 and 1608.
Pericles, Prince of Tyre was first published in in 1609
in a quarto edition containing errors. An edited version was published
in 1664 in the third folio edition of Shakespeare's plays. (The play was
not included in the First Folio, the first authorized collection of Shakespeare's
plays, published in 1623.)
probable main sources for the play were (1) "Apollonius of Tyre," one of
one hundred forty-one stories in Confessio Amantis (The Lover's
Confession), by John Gower (1330-1408), and (2) The Patterne of
Painefull Adventures (1576), by Lawrence Twine.
of the action takes place in these ancient locales: Antioch, Tyre, Tarsus,
Pentapolis, Ephesus, and Mytilene. Two scenes take place on a ship at sea.
(present-day Antakya) is in southern Turkey, northeast of Cyprus and northwest
of Syria. Tyre (present-day Sur) is on the coast of southern Lebanon, just
north of the Israeli border. Tarsus is in southern Turkey, about twelve
miles north of the Mediterranean coast. Pentapolis is in north Africa and,
in ancient times, consisted of five cities. Ephesus, near the sea in western
Turkey, no longer exists but its ruins are near present-day Selcuk. Mytilene
(present-day Mitilini) is on the Greek island of Lesbos in the Aegean Sea.
in the form of Antiochus, Thaliard, and Other Characters Who Oppose Pericles
of Tyre. Noble young man who must flee Antioch after he discovers a dark
secret: that the King of Antioch is committing incest. Pericles roams the
Mediterranean world, facing challenges and setbacks. In some ways, he resembles
the biblical Job with respect to his resilience.
Antiochus: King of
Antioch. He is an evil man who beds his own daughter.
Daughter of Antiochus:
Beautiful young woman whom the king reserves for himself.
Helicanus: Lord of
Tyre, loyal to Pericles. He operates the government of Tyre in the absence
Escanes: A lord of
Simonides: King of
Pentapolis. Unlike Antiochus, Simonides is a just and upright ruler
daughter of Simonides. Pericles wins her hand while sojourning in Pentapolis.
Thaisa is a paragon of virtue and refuses to yield herself to the patrons
of a brothel.
Beautiful and virtuous daughter of Pericles and Thaisa. Her name is derived
from mare (pronounced MAR ay), the Latin word for sea. (She
was born on a ship under sail.)
Cleon: Governor of
Dionyza: Wife of
Cerimon: A lord of
Thaliard: A lord
of Antioch who readily accepts a commission to assassinate Pericles.
Gower: Chorus. He
comments on the drama at the beginning of each act. Click
here for information about his role.
of a brothel in Mytilene.
and pimp at the brothel.
Boult: Pandar's servant.
Lords, knights, gentlemen, sailors, pirates, fishermen, messengers.
Michael J. Cummings...©
Prince of Tyre, accepts a challenge to solve a riddle and thereby win the
hand of the daughter of Antiochus, King of Antioch. Gower, a narrator who
recites a prologue at the beginning of each of the five acts, describes
her as a breathtaking beauty. Anyone desiring to marry her must first solve
the riddle. There’s a catch, though. If a suitor provides the wrong answer
to the riddle, he will be decapitated and his head hung high for all to
see. In the presence of the king and his daughter, Pericles risks all and
reads the riddle:
am no viper, yet I feed
young prince immediately hits upon the correct interpretation of the puzzle—namely,
that Antiochus beds his own daughter. Incest! The most abominable of moral
transgressions! The seventh line of the riddle provides the telltale clue:
that the princess serves as the wife of Antiochus, thus becoming her own
“mother” while yet remaining the king’s daughter.
mother’s flesh which did me breed.
sought a husband, in which labour
found that kindness in a father:
father, son, and husband mild;
mother, wife, and yet his child.
they may be, and yet in two,
you will live, resolve it you. (1.1.67)
after Pericles solves the riddle, he realizes Antiochus most certainly
will not live up to his promise. Fearing for his life, Pericles flees Antioch
and returns home to Tyre. However, worrying that henchmen of Antiochus
will track him to Tyre and endanger his people, even to the point of an
all-out war, Pericles sets sail for Tarsus after assigning the job of running
the government to a faithful lord, Helicanus. And none too soon. For, just
as he casts off, an assassin, Thaliard, arrives in Tyre to kill him. While
sneaking about, Thaliard bends an eavesdropping ear to a conversation among
lords who reveal that Pericles is on his way to Tarsus.
Tarsus, the citizens are suffering through a great famine. When Pericles
arrives, Lord Governor Cleon wonders whether the royal visitor means to
take advantage of the situation and make war. But Pericles tells Cleon
he has come in peace with a shipload of corn, for he has heard of the starvation
in Tarsus and means to distribute the corn so the people can make bread
and restore their vitality. Pericles asks only that he be allowed to remain
in Tarsus for a short time. After Cleon heartily welcomes Pericles, the
prince’s men unload the corn, and Tarsus is saved.
Thaliard tracks Pericles to Tarsus, the prince—not wishing to imperil his
new friends—sets sail one more time. Out in the loneliness of the sea,
he encounters a terrible storm that wrecks his ship and sends all of its
crew, save for Pericles himself, to the ocean depths. Pericles struggles
to shore at Pentapolis on the coast of North Africa. Three fishermen come
upon him and ask who he is and what he wants:
man whom both the waters and the wind,
fisherman, taking him aside, tells him where he is and says the king of
the realm is Simonides, a good and peaceful ruler whose court is half a
day’s journey away. The king has a beautiful daughter named Thaisa, the
fisherman says, and on the morrow young men from far-off lands will assemble
to joust in a great tournament celebrating Thaisa’s birthday. Pericles
longs to participate in the competition, but he has lost his armor in the
shipwreck. By and by, however, the other fishermen retrieve the armor with
their fishing nets. It is a bit rusty, but usable.
that vast tennis-court, have made the ball
them to play upon, entreats you pity him:
asks of you, that never us’d to beg. (2.1.38-41)
the tournament the following day, Pericles defeats knights from Sparta,
Macedon, Antioch, and other kingdoms, thereby earning a seat of honor at
a great banquet where he receives a victory wreath from Thaisa and the
congratulations of the other knights, all gracious losers. The Spartan
knight says that
[W]e are gentlemen
is quite taken with young Pericles—in fact, she loves him. There is music
and dancing, and a merry time is had by all. The next day, Thaisa and Pericles
both pledge their undying love for each other, and King Simonides arranges
a wedding for them.
neither in our hearts nor outward eyes
the great nor do the low despise. (2.3.27-29)
months pass as the newlyweds live a blissful, uneventful life at the court—save
for one development: Thaisa is pregnant. News from abroad then arrives
with these messages: First, King Antiochus and his daughter are dead; second,
nobles in Tyre plan to crown Helicanus king (against his wishes) unless
Pericles returns soon and accepts the crown himself. All of Pentapolis
then rejoices that young Pericles will become King Pericles!
Pericles’s sea voyage back to Tyre with Thaisa, thunder booms and lightning
flashes just as Thaisa goes into labor. With her is her midwife, Lychorida.
Pericles prays to the goddess of childbirth, Lucina, that Thaisa will have
an easy childbirth, asking her to “make swift the pangs / Of my queen’s
travails!" (3. 1. 14-15). Lychorida then enters carrying an infant. The
child is healthy and beautiful, but the words Lychorida speaks are venom
to the heart of Pericles. She tells him to “take in your arms this piece
/ Of your dead queen” (3.1.20-21).
hardly has time to bid good-bye to Thaisa, for a sailor tells him: “Sir,
your queen must overboard: the sea works high, the wind is loud, and will
not lie till the ship be cleared of the dead” (3.1.51).
body is placed in a chest along with a note identifying her as the daughter
of a king and asking the finder of the chest (if it floats ashore) to honor
her with a fitting burial. After sailors cast the chest overboard, Pericles
sails on to Tarsus, where he leaves his infant daughter, called Marina,
and Lychorida under the protection of the governor, Cleon (whose city Pericles
earlier saved from the brink of starvation), and his wife, Dyonyza. He
does so because he does not want his baby to endure the hardships of the
voyage to Tyre.
the chest floats to Ephesus, where servants of a physician named Cerimon
finds it. After they take it to him and open it, Cerimon, noticing how
well preserved Thaisa is, suspects she is not yet dead and, working over
her, revives her. When she recovers, she becomes a priestess serving the
Tarsus, Marina grows into a beautiful and intelligent young lady. Dionyza
is not pleased, however, because Marina outshines her own daughter, Philoten,
in every way. Filled with envy, Dionyza orders her servant, Leonine, to
kill Marina. However, at the moment when Leonine seizes Marina and goes
off to fulfill his evil commission, pirates kidnap Marina and scare Leonine
off. Afraid to tell Dionyza that he failed, Leonine reports that he killed
Marina, as ordered. Dionyza then poisons Leonine to eliminate her connection
with the murder.
pirates sell Marina to a brothel in Mytilene, where a bawd tells her that
she will live a life of pleasure in which she knows the company of many
gentlemen. The bawd’s servant, Boult, announces in the marketplace that
the brothel has a new young lady of incomparable beauty to serve the men
of the town. Bravely, Marina vows she will not cooperate with her overlords:
fires be hot, knives sharp, or waters deep,
meanwhile, sets sail for Tarsus to see his long-absent daughter, this time
leaving Escanes, a lord of Tyre, in charge of the government. Dionyza has
given out word that Marina is dead and has even erected a monument to her
with an epitaph in golden characters. Upon his arrival in Tarsus, Pericles
learns of his daughter’s “death,” visits her tomb, and then leaves for
I still my virgin knot will keep.
aid my purpose! (4.2.74)
Mytilene, Marina’s fierce defense of her chastity, as well as her virtuous
daily living, endear her to citizens of the city, including its governor,
Lysimachus. Consequently, she is allowed to retain her honor and pursue
a career as a teacher and, later, a singer and dancer.
Pericles’s return to Tyre, winds blow his ship off course and into the
port of Mytilene. There, his representatives tell Governor Lysimachus that
Pericles is a nearly broken man who laments the loss of his daughter and
earlier the loss of his wife. For three months, he has not spoken a single
word. Lysimachus says he knows of a maid who can cure Pericles of his grief
with the sweetness of her songs. The maid is Marina. When she enters, she
tells Pericles she also knows the meaning of grief. She adds,
wayward fortune did malign my state,
questions her about her ancestors. When her story unfolds, he realizes
she is his daughter and rejoices, casting off the terrible depression that
had possessed him.
derivation was from ancestors
stood equivalent with mighty kings. (5.1.104-106)
when Pericles sleeps, the goddess Diana appears to him and instructs him
to make a sacrifice at her temple in Ephesus and to reveal how he lost
his wife. Once again, the wind fills the sails of his ship and, with Marina
and his friends, he travels to Ephesus. There, he presents himself at Diana’s
temple before the high priestess and virgins. After identifying himself
as the King of Tyre, he recounts events of his life beginning with his
marriage to Thaisa at Pentapolis. The high priestess replies, “Voice and
favour! / You are, you are—O royal Pericles!” (5.3.16-17). The high priestess
is, of course, Thaisa. After Pericles recognizes her, they and Marina are
joyfully reunited. Marina then marries Lysimachus, and they become rulers
of Tyre. Pericles and Thaisa rule in Pentapolis after Thaisa’s father,
King Simonides, dies. In a closing epilogue, Gower observes that virtue
has triumphed, “led on by heaven, and crown’d with joy at last” (5.3.106).
climax of a play or another literary work, such as a short story or a novel,
can be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins to
resolve itself for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting
event in a series of events. The climax of Pericles occurs, according
to the first definition, when Lychorida tells Pericles that Thaisa has
died giving birth to Pericles's daughter. Although devastated by this news,
he accepts the decree of Fate, speaks a hasty eulogy over the body of Thaisa,
then gives her up to the sea. He next sails to Tarsus to place his infant
in the care of friends. His actions demonstrate that he yet retains the
will to persevere in life in spite of his setbacks. He is like the biblical
Job, who doggedly carries on in the face of calamity. According to the
second definition, the climax occurs in the final act when Pericles reunites
with Thaisa. The climactic moment comes in the following exchange:
you not Pericles? Like him you spake,
him you are: did you not name a tempest,
birth, and death?
voice of dead Thaisa!
That Thaisa am I, supposed dead
is an unpredictable, and often harrowing, journey. Young Pericles learns
that life is full of dangerous twists and turns—and sometimes pleasant
surprises. His journey throughout the Mediterranean region appears to symbolize
the journey through life. It is not unlike the journey taken by Odysseus
in Homer's Odyssey. The latter hero also underwent many tests of
his mettle and, like Pericles, lost his ship and all of his men. Also,
like Pericles, Odysseus was reunited with his wife and child at the end.
give up. Like Job in the Old Testament of the Bible, Pericles undergoes
many trials and encounters many setbacks. Though
weighted down by all of his losses, he carries on—just barely. Gower observes
end, he receives his just rewards.
A tempest, which his mortal
And yet he rides it out.
is not as it seems. This theme becomes apparent at the very beginning,
when Pericles discovers that the lovely Princess of Antioch, whom he hopes
to marry, and her father are evildoers.
sexuality and harlotry are evil.
King Antiochus and his daughter commit incest. Shakespeare contrasts these
despicable characters with the upright King Simonides and his daughter,
Thaisa, who marries Pericles. Their daughter, Marina, after growing to
young adulthood, refuses to compromise her chastity after pirates sell
her to a house of prostitution. She says:
fires be hot, knives sharp, or waters deep,
At the end the play, Gower (acting
as narrator and chorus) refers to this theme in his closing words:
I still my virgin knot will keep.
aid my purpose! (4.2.74)
In Antiochus and his daughter
you have heard
Good vs Evil
Of monstrous lust the due
and just reward:
In Pericles, his queen and
though assail'd with fortune
fierce and keen,
Virtue preserved from fell
Led on by heaven, and crown'd
with joy at last. (5.3.101-106)
is a play that contrasts good and evil. We have the evil King Antiochus
contrasting with the good King Simonides, the evil daughter of Antiochus
contrasting with the good daughter of Simonides, the evil Dionyza contrasting
with the good Lychorida, the evil servant Leonine contrasting with the
good servant Philemon, and so on. In preaching goodness over evil, Shakespeare
presents many mini-sermons and mini-speeches in the form of figures of
speech such as metaphors and similes. Here are examples:
love to hear the sins they love to act. (1.1.87)
and parallel construction help make memorable this line spoken by Pericles.
They do abuse the king that
For flattery is the bellows
blows up sin;
The thing which is flatter’d,
but a spark,
To which that blast gives
heat and stronger glowing. (1.2.42-45)
Helicanus uses metaphors
to compare flattery to a bellows and the object of the flattery to a spark.
Antiochus from incest liv’d
For which, the most high
gods not minding longer
To withhold the vengeance
that they had in store,
Due to this heinous capital
Even in the height and pride
of all his glory,
When he was seated in a
Of an inestimable value,
and his daughter with him,
A fire from heaven came
and shrivell’d up
Their bodies, even to loathing;
for they so stunk,
That all those eyes ador’d
them ere their fall
Scorn now their hand should
give them burial. (2.4.3-14)
Helicanus uses synechdoche—substitution
of a part to stand for the whole—in
Lines 13 and 14, in which the word eyes represents persons.
I am a maid,
My lord, that ne’er before
But have been gazed on like
a comet. (5.1.99-101)
In a simile, Marina,
preaching chastity, compares herself to a comet.
Following are examples of
figures of speech in Pericles, Prince of Tyre.
before thee thou
shalt bleed. (1.1.61)
in being known, (1.2.25)
fear when tyrants seem to
he doubt it, as no doubt
he doth (1.2.94)
Yet cease your ire,
you angry stars of heaven!
Wind, rain, and thunder,
remember, earthly man
Is but a substance that
must yield to you (2.1.3-5)
Thou God of this great vast,
rebuke these surges,
Which wash both heaven and
hell; and thou, that hast
Upon the winds command,
bind them in brass,
Having call’d them from
the deep. (3.1.3-6)
city on whom plenty held full hand,
For riches strew’d herself
even in the streets;
towers bore heads so high they kiss’d the clouds (1.4.24-26)
Thou God of this great vast
[sea], rebuke these surges,
wash both heaven and hell (3.1.2-3)
Her face the book
of praises, where is read
Nothing but curious pleasures
. . . . (1.1.18-19)
Comparison of the face
of the daughter of Antiochus to a book
The tomb where grief should
Comparison of night to
a tomb and grief to a living creature
So sharp are hunger’s teeth,
that man and wife
Draw lots who first shall
die to lengthen life. (1.4.47-48)
Comparison of hunger
to a creature with teeth
A man whom both the waters
and the wind,
In that vast tennis-court,
have made the ball
For them to play upon, entreats
you pity him (2.1.38-40)
Comparison of Pericles
to a ball and seas to a tennis court
Give me a gash, put me to
Lest this great sea of joys
rushing upon me
O’erbear the shores of my
And drown me with their
Comparison of joy to
a rushing sea and mortality to land along a shore
One sorrow never
comes but brings an heir
That may succeed as his
Sorrow becomes a person.
[S]he comes apparell’d
like the spring. (1.1.15)
Comparison of the daughter
of Antiochus to spring
remember’d should be like a mirror,
Who tells us life’s but
breath, to trust it error. (1.1.48-49)
Comparison of death to
[V]ice repeated is like the wandering wind,
Blows dust in others’ eyes,
to spread itself (1.1.91-92)
Comparison of vice to
[H]is son’s like a glow-worm in the night,
The which hath fire in darkness,
none in light (2.3.47-48)
Pericles compares himself
to a firefly.
keeping with the setting of the play, the dialogue contains many allusions
to ancient deities of Greek mythology. Shakespeare generally uses the Roman
name for the deities. In some instances, the Roman name is the same as
A god of medicine in Greek mythology. He was the son of Apollo.
In Greek and Roman mythology, the god of prophecy,
music, poetry, and medicine. His alternate name, Phoebus, means brightness,
and he was thus also considered the god of the sun.
Cupid (1.1.41): Roman
name for Eros, the god of love in Greek mythology.
Dian or Diana
(5.1.276-285): Roman name for Artemis, the goddess Diana, appears
in a vision 5.1.
Act 3): In Greek mythology, the god of marriage.
Jove (1.1.9): Roman
name for Zeus, king of the Olympian gods in Greek mythology.
Juno (2.3.34): Roman
name for Hera, the queen of the Olympian gods in Greek mythology.
Act 5): Roman name for Poseidon, the god of the sea in Greek mythology.
Greek physician and poet of the second century BC.
Or till the Destinies
do cut his thread of life (1.2.117): Destinies refers to the Fates.
In Greek mythology, they were three goddesses—Atropos,
Clotho, and Lachesis—who controlled the destiny
of each human.
In Greek mythology, a god of sexual potency and procreation.
sets Pericles, Prince of Athens in ancient times. However, King
Antiochus's henchman, Thaliard, plans to murder Pericles with a pistol,
which of course had not yet been invented. In Pentapolis, Pericles participates
in what appears to be a medieval-style jousting tournament against five
knights. The combatants wear armor, bear shields emblazoned with coats
of arms, carry lances, and abide by the rules of chivalry. What gives?
Shakespeare, like Albert Einstein, thought time and space were relative
concepts, able to be bent and warped by another force. In Pericles,
it is not the pull of gravity that does the trick (as in Einstein's General
Theory of Relativity) but the pull of the imagination, which is infinitely
more powerful—and whimsical.
and the Evolution of an English Word
the name of a minor character, Pandar, appears to be an allusion to Pandarus,
an ally of the Trojans in Homer’s account of the Trojan War in The
Iliad. In medieval and Renaissance literature, writers cast Pandarus
in the role of a go-between, or matchmaker, in a love affair between the
Trojan prince Troilus and the Trojan woman Cressida. In time, the word
panderer (derived from Pandarus and Pandar) evolved
into popular use to identify an agent who brings lovers together or, in
less euphemistic words, to identify a pimp, a procurer, or a whoremonger.
Among the writers who wrote about Troilus, Cressida, and Pandarus (or Pandar)
were Benoît de Sainte-Maure, Giovanni Boccaccio, Geoffrey Chaucer,
and, of course, Shakespeare.
Role of Gower
based Pericles, Prince of Tyre on a work by the fourteenth century
author John Gower. (See Sources, above.) He is the
same Gower (resurrected, by the magic of Shakespeare's quill) who acts
as chorus and narrator of Pericles. His role is (1) to present a
short introduction to each act, helping to give the play a once-upon-a-time,
fairytale atmosphere; (2) to comment on the morality of the characters;
and (3) to review the progress of events.
as Leonine is about to murder Marina, pirates appear to drive Leonine off.
This is not the first time that pirates appear from nowhere to save the
day in a Shakespeare play. They also rescue Hamlet when he is bound for
England to be executed.
Questions and Essay Topics
1. Which character in the
play is the most admirable? Which is the least admirable?
on DVD (or VHS)
2. Many incidents in the
play help to define what kind of man Pericles is. For example, his quick
solution of the riddle reveals that he is highly intelligent. Also, his
distribution of corn at Tarsus reveals that he is generous and compassionate.
Write a character study of Pericles in which you discuss these and other
incidents to reach conclusions about the qualities Pericles possesses.
3. After recovering, Thaissa
becomes a priestess of the goddess Diana. Who was Diana? Why were many
young women devoted to her. While conducting research to answer this question,
be aware that Diana’s Greek name was Artemis.
4. What or who caused the
death of Antiochus and his daughter?
5. In what ways do the misadventures
of Pericles resemble those of Job in the Old Testament of the Bible?
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