Pericles condensed

Shakespeare put this adult fairy tale together with sharp contrasts, as severe as those in Othello, The Winter’s Tale and King Lear. This play was written late in his writing life, when he wrote these type romances, the plays we believe he enjoyed the most.  The play is set in the eastern Mediterranean around 170 B.C., a time when Syria was a top-dog in a rough world. The play may only in part be written by Shakespeare, but if so, the Shakespeare part, the second part, is the greatest, the play starting deeply dark and ending wonderfully light.  The daughter of King Antiochus of Syria is a knock-out, attracting princely-suitors from seemingly everywhere, but she has an incestuous relationship with her father.  Pericles, the Prince of Tyre, a city that may well now be Beirut, has his eye on her.  He visits Antioch, the capital of Syria.  His plan is to make his bid to win the heart of the king’s daughter. But he quickly comes to realize that the two of them have this unnatural relationship. Realizing he’s at risk, knowing what he knows, he quickly returns to Tyre.  Pericles seems to be on the run throughout the play, knowing Antiochus knows he knows; knowing that “king’s have long arms.” 

Act 1.  The play opens in Antioch; Pericles there to make his pitch for the king’s daughter.  Antiochus lets him know early-on that “if you are not worthy you will lose your head.”  Pericles accepts the risk.  She must be something. But Pericles quickly picks up on the relationship between the king and his daughter.  And Antiochus quickly realizes that Pericles sees the situation as it is.  Pericles scurries back to Tyre.  Antiochus is upset with himself, saying “Heaven, that I had thy head. He has found the meaning.”  Back in Tyre, Pericles lets his confidant, Helicanus, know how things played out in Antioch.  Pericles knows the king wants his scalp.  He knows that the king can “make his will his act.”  Pericles believes Antiochus will do whatever it takes to capture him, and in the doing will play havoc with Tyre. Helicanus wisely suggests the prince “travel for a while.”  We learn that the people of Tarsus, a city on the southern coast of Turkey, are suffering from a severe famine.  Pericles secretly leaves Tyre for Tarsus with ships filled with grain. Pericles saves Cleon, the governor of Tarsus, and his people; his ships being “stored with corn to make your needy bread and give them life whom hunger starved half dead.”  Later, Pericles will ask Cleon and his wife, Dionyza, to return the favor. 

Act 2.  Pericles leaves Tarsus, learning that Antiochus’ men are after him with “intent to murder him.”  But all of his ships are lost at sea, he being cast on a remote shore, the only survivor.  He is cared for with real care by some fishermen who lead him to the king’s court. He learns that the king’s daughter’s birthday is the next day and that “princes from all parts of the world come to joust and tourney for her love.”  Pericles decides to participate.  He has found himself in Pentapolis on the northern coast of Africa.  Their king is the “good King Simonides.”  The fair princess is Thaisa. Pericles wins the princess’ wreath, she saying “to me he seems like diamond to glass.”  Pericles introduces himself to Simonides.  A party begins.  Thaisa and Pericles dance.  Pericles has been perhaps in Pentapolis a few days.  He and Thaisa marry.  He learns the lords in Tyre need his leadership and that he needs to return home. We also learn that Antiochus and his daughter were killed in a lightning strike.  If Pericles doesn’t return to Tyre in a “twelve-month” period, he’ll need to turn things over to Helicanus, which isn’t all bad, he being a good man. 

Act 3.  Pericles and Thaisa set sail for Tyre. She’s very pregnant. Helicanus has agreed to become Tyre’s “sovereign” if Pericles doesn’t return soon.  To their misfortune, another terrible storm dogs him at sea.  She gives birth to a daughter late at night, at the height of the storm, and she “dies.”  The sailors demand for superstition’s sake that “the ship must be cleared of the dead” promptly, if they are to survive the storm. They put her in a casket “having a chest beneath the hatches,” and add jewels, a tribute from Pericles and “bags of sweet spices.”  Pericles, having an-hours old daughter, commands the ship turn to Tarsus where “I will visit Cleon.”  He has named his daughter Marina, being born at sea.  At dawn, Cerimon, a physician, and two gentlemen are walking on a remote beach near Ephesus.  The casket is “tossed upon the shore.”  They open the casket, find that Thaisa is only “entranced,” not dead, and revive her, taking very good care of her.  They learn from the tribute in the casket that “she is a queen and the daughter of a king.”  Cerimon leads her to “Diana’s temple where a niece of mine shall there attend you.”  Pericles arrives in Tarsus and leaves Marina with Cleon and his wife.  They agree to care for her and “to give her princely training, that she may be mannered as she was born.”  She’s a day old.  Pericles leaves for Tyre, desperately needing to get home and lead his people. 

Act 4.  Fourteen years later, we learn that “Marina gets all the praises,” and that Dionyza has become so envious that she plans to have Marina killed so that “her daughter might stand peerless by this slaughter.”  Marina, by now quite the talented, beautiful and charming young lady, puts up quite the defense when she learns from Dionyza’s servant that he has to kill her.  But just as he is about to stab her, pirates capture her and whisk her away.  He tells Dionyza that he has killed Marina; she then poisons him.  No one in Tarsus now knows that Marina lives.  To his credit, Cleon is furious when he learns that his wife for jealous reasons has had Marina killed.  Marina is sold by the pirates to a brothel owner in Mytilene, a port city near Ephesus.  She talks her way out of encounters.  She’s clever and she’s wonderful.  She handles Lysimachus, the governor of Mytilene, so well that he gives her gold and money to buy her way to freedom.  She has the servant to the brothel owner agree to help her get a job as a teacher.

Act 5. Helicanus and Lysimachus meet at sea, Lysimachus wanting to talk with Pericles.  Pericles isn’t talking to anyone, despondent as he is following the deaths of his wife and daughter.  Marina enters, Helicanus noting that “she’s a fine-looking lady.”  Marina says to Pericles “My lord, lend ear.”  Pericles knocks her away, knocking her down.  She persists, beautifully, telling him “my griefs are the equal of yours,” and that “her ancestors stood equivalent with mighty kings.”  She gets his attention.  He talks. She tells him more, finally saying “but, good sir, why do you weep?”  He shouts out “thou’rt my child.”  Everybody lets everybody know who everybody is.  Pericles claims he hears “heavenly music.”  No one else hears the music. Helicanus suggests they leave him to himself. He falls asleep. The goddess Diana visits him in his dreams, suggesting he and his daughter visit her temple in Ephesus. We learn Marina and Lysimachus plan to marry.  They all visit Diana’s temple where Cerimon and Thaisa greet them.  Pericles and Thaisa emotionally embrace.  He introduces her to her daughter.  Pericles tells us that he and Thaisa plan to “spend our following days” in Pentapolis and that “our son and daughter shall in Tyrus reign.”  Cerimon is honored.