William Shakespeare: Pericles
Summary by Michael McGoodwin, prepared 2000

William Shakespeare

Acknowledgement: This work has been summarized using The Complete Works of Shakespeare Updated Fourth Ed., Longman Addison-Wesley, ed. David Bevington, 1997.  Quotations are for the most part taken from that work, as are paraphrases of his commentary.  

Overall Impression: To me, this play seems to be like a fairy-tale, not great literature as found in earlier Shakespeare, lacking memorable language, a product of an aged Shakespeare if by him at all.

Per Bevington: This is a fairy-tale like romance which draws on the ancient prose Greek romance of Apollonius of Tyre. The story also appeared in the Latin "Historia Apollonii Regis Tyri" (9C) and "Gesta Romanorum" as well as John Gower's "Confessio Amantis" (c. 1383-1393). WS may have drawn on the prose history of Apollonius of Tyre by Laurence Twine (c. 1576). The plot was also used in the Comedy of Errors. There is some question as to the sole authorship by WS.  

As a romance (an old-fashioned genre even for WS), it uses improbable circumstances, sea voyages, exotic distant lands, riddles, exposure of an infant to the elements, miraculous restoration of life, recognition of long-lost loved ones by signs, etc.


Act I

Act I Chorus

Gower serves as the choric element in this play, providing the initial Chorus and the concluding words, all given in somewhat medieval speech. 

Act I Scene 1

Antioch, palace. Pericles is a prince of Tyre, and visits Antiochus, King of Antioch. Antiochus has a secret incestuous relationship with his daughter. Pericles wants to win her hand, but must answer a riddle (ala Turandot) to do so, otherwise die. He recognizes in the riddle the incestuous relationship, decides against her, and flees. But Antiochus wants him killed to preserve the secret and sends an assassin Thaliard after Pericles.

Act I Scene 2

Tyre, palace. Pericles back in Tyre resolves to escape from the hired assassin who is coming after him. Helicanus and he discuss the incest he discovered, and H. counsels him to travel to Tarsus for a while until Antiochus' rage cools. 

Act I Scene 3

Same. The assassin Thaliard arrives in Tyre, but Pericles has already fled.

Act I Scene 4

Tarsus, the Governor's house. Cleon the governor and his wife Dionyza greet Pericles. They are all starving from famine and Pericles generously helps their populace with grain from his several ships.

Act II

Act II Chorus

Pericles is shipwrecked.

Act II Scene 1

Pentapolis, coast. He is discovered by fishermen, along with his rusty armor. They tell him of the upcoming competition for the hand of King Simonides' daughter, Thaisa. He resolves to compete.

Act II Scene 2

Pentapolis lists. P. wins the day and Thaisa is attracted to him.

Act II Scene 3

Pentapolis palace. Simonides is suspicious of the unknown man, and downplays Pericles' accomplishment. He wants to know who he is. 

Act II Scene 4

Tyre. Helicanus and Escanus discuss recalling Pericles now that news of the death of Antiochus and his daughter has reached them.

Act II Scene 5

Pentapolis palace. Simonides tries to stall his daughter's wedding, but she is resolved to marry P. He accuses P. of villainy and bewitching his daughter, but finally agrees to the wedding.

Act III

Act III Chorus

Thaisa conceives a child. They are returning to Tyre for P. to be king. A storm arises at sea.

Act III Scene 1

Aboard ship. The nurse Lychorida presents the new daughter Marina to Pericles, but Thaisa has died in childbirth. The master of the ship insists her body by promptly disposed of, and it is put to sea in a casket. Pericles wants to return to Tarsus.

Act III Scene 2

Ephesus. Lord Cerimon and his men encounter Thaisa's chest washed ashore. In his house, he calls for music and she miraculously revives. Letters in her casket identify her as queen of Pericles (but apparently do not mention Tyre). She becomes a priestess in the temple of Diana.

Act III Scene 3

Tarsus, palace. P. laments the death of his wife to Cleon and leaves Marina with him and Dionyza--they are eager to repay him for his past kindness. He resolves to never cut his hair until she Marina is married.

Act III Scene 4

Ephesus. Cerimon shows to Thaisa the jewels and letters he found in her casket. She believes she will never see Pericles again (why?) and resolves to be a chaste priestess for Diana.

Act IV

Act IV Chorus

Pericles arrives at Tyre and is made king. Marina grows to be a woman and Dionyza envies her praises and grace, which detract from attention paid to her own daughter Philoten. She engages Leonine to kill Marina. 

Act IV Scene 1

Tarsus, near the sea. Leonine again agrees with Dionyza to the killing. Dionyza assures Marina her father is coming any day. Left alone with Marina, Leonine tells her to pray her last. But before he can kill her, she is captured by pirates. Leonine resolves to tell Dionyza that he killed Marina.

Act IV Scene 2

Mytilene, a brothel. Three bawds, Pander, his wife Bawd, and their worker Bolt discuss the woman Marina they have bought from pirates to be a prostitute in their brothel. Her virginity will command a premium. But she is all innocence and resolves to maintain her virginity.

Act IV Scene 3

Tarsus. Cleon is distressed to hear from Dionyza of the killing of Marina and worries what they will tell Pericles. But she is building a monument to Marina and believes the cover-up will succeed.

Act IV Scene 4

Tarsus. Pericles comes to see Cleon and Dionyza, and learns of his daughter's death. He puts on sackcloth and grieves.

Act IV Scenes 5-6

Mytilene. The brothel customers are unsuccessful with Marina, who converts them to goodness and can freeze the god Priapus. The governor of Mytilene, Lysimachus, comes initially to the brothel to be serviced by Marina, but is won over by her goodness and innocence. He gives her gold. Bolt is angry with her for maintaining her chastity, and Bawd wants Bolt to break her in. But Marina wins him over as well and plans to begins a program of education for the locals.

Act V

Act V Chorus

Marina has escaped the brothel with her honor intact, now teaches, sings and dances, giving her earnings to "the bawd".

Act V Scene 1

Aboard Pericles' ship near Mytilene. The governor Lysimachus wants to board the grand ship that has arrived. Helicanus tells him he is unlikely to succeed in talking to Pericles, who remains withdrawn in deep mourning, unshaven and with long hair. Lysimachus recalls Marina and suspects she could cheer up Pericles. She is brought to the ship, and is left alone with him and her maid. He speaks to her, and gradually recognizes from her story that she is his lost Marina, not dead after all. She tells of the plot to kill her by Dionyza and Cleon. Pericles falls on his knees in joy of discovering his daughter. He is freshly attired. They hear music of the spheres. Diana appears to him in a vision, telling him to seek her temple at Ephesus. Pericles promises Lysimachus his daughter's hand.

Act V Scene 2

Ephesus, Diana temple. Gower says Lysimachus can wed after P. has sacrificed at Diana's temple at Ephesus.

Act V Scene 3

Same. Invoking Diana, Pericles tells of his marriage to the fair Thaisa, and Thaisa recognizes him and faints. Cerimon tells him the nun is his wife. The husband, wife, and daughter are tearfully reunited. P. introduces Thaisa to the faithful Helicanus. They agree Lysimachus will wed Marina there. Cerimon tells Thaisa her father is dead, and Pericles resolves that he and Thaisa will go to reign in Pentapolis while Lysimachus and Marina will reign in Tyre. Gower informs us that subsequently Pericles returns to Tarsus to burn Cleon and Dionyza in their palace.