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The Winter's Tale: Pericles

The first two acts of Pericles are rather undistinguished, and it is often suggested that Shakespeare picked up an older play, rewriting where it caught his attention. The fact that Pericles was not published by Heminge and Condell in the First Folio lends some weight to this argument.

Here is a brief summary of the plot.

Pericles, prince of Tyre, woos the daughter of King Antiochus, having to guess the meaning of a riddle to do so. He realizes correctly that the riddle flaunts the enjoyment by Antiochus and his daughter of an incestuous love, and Pericles is forced to flee. In Tarsus he wins (in a tournament) and marries Thaisa, daughter of the king. Act Three, where Shakespeare's contribution becomes obvious, begins with the news that the incestuous Antiochus is dead, whereon Pericles returns to Tyre, but on the way the ship is wrecked and Thaisa apparently dies in childbirth. Pericles leaves his baby daughter, named Marina (as she was born at sea), with the governor of Tarsus. Sixteen years later the governor's wife Dionyza becomes jealous of Marina because she is more beautiful than her own daughter, and she plots to kill her. Instead, Marina is captured by pirates and sold to a brothel-keeper in the city of Mytilene, where she causes a financial crisis because her beauty and purity convert all those who come to buy her favors. She is released from the brothel when she converts the governor of the city, Lysimachus. Pericles believes that Marina is dead, and puts to sea, refusing to speak or shave, so intense is his grief. The ship arrives in Mytilene, where Marina is brought aboard in the belief that her singing may restore Pericles; and there follows a wonderful scene of recognition. At the climactic moment, Pericles hears music no-one else can:
[Pericles.]                      I embrace you
    Give me my robes. I am wild in my beholding.
    O heavens, bless my girl! But hark, what music?
            [Should there be a stage direction indicating music here?]
    Tell Helicanus, my Marina, tell him
    O'er, point by point, for yet he seems to doubt,
    How sure you are my daughter. But, what music?
Helicanus. My lord, I hear none.
Pericles. None? The music of the spheres! List, my Marina.
Lysimachus. It is not good to cross him; give him way.
Pericles. Rarest sounds! Do you not hear?
Lysimachus.                      Music, my lord?
Pericles. I hear most heavenly music.
    It nips me into list'ning, and thick slumber
    Hangs upon my eyes. Let me rest.
He falls asleep, and sees a vision of Diana, goddess of chastity and childbirth, who directs him to her temple at Ephesus where he rediscovers his wife Thaisa, who survived the storm and has lived in a temple sacred to Diana.
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This page last updated on 1 December 2002. © Michael Best, 2002.