Pericles

by: William Shakespeare

Analysis

The journey to self-knowledge from a place of unawareness is a repeating narrative for Shakespeare's characters, but no one in this play experiences that change. Pericles leaves his kingdom, fleeing one king who he thinks will kill him because of a contest for the hand of the princess, only to enter an identical contest. He loses his wife whom he barely knew, and then makes sure he won't know his daughter by leaving her in a different kingdom. At the end everyone is reunited, but Pericles divides the family again by sending Marina to Tyre and going to Pentapolis with Thaisa. Meanwhile, Marina is plucked from her royal station and hurled into prostitution, where she merely resists her surroundings but gains no wider knowledge of other people and lives--she just insists on her virtue. Thaisa confines herself to Diana's temple, remaining essentially in the same moment as when she first was separated from Pericles.

And to pull it all together, we have the figure of Gower, most of whose monologues merely repeat the plot of scenes just past, or narrate events that take place offstage. Only through Gower's conclusion are we given a sense of any kind of redemption plot. He explains to us, finally, that Antiochus and his daughter and Cleon and Dionyza are punished because they did evil, whereas Pericles and his family are rewarded. Gower also explains the role of the minor characters, who were living embodiments of their various virtues, such as loyalty (Helicanus) and charity (Cerimon).

If Pericles seems like a Job figure, doomed by a higher power to suffer in order to prove a point about faith and virtue, he certainly doesn't know it himself. No higher power makes itself known until Diana reminds him to go to her temples. No point is made about virtue except that one should have it. Faith has no obvious role. Pericles's travails have the form of a Christian retribution story, but without the background of faith, without any reason for his sufferings.


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