Skip over navigation

Pericles

William Shakespeare

Act I, Scenes iv-v

Act I, Scenes ii-iii

Act II, Scenes i-iii

Summary

Cleon, governor of Tarsus, enters with his wife Dionyza. Cleon and Dionyza try to tell each other sad stories to distract themselves from their own sadness, but fail. Instead they relate their misfortune, that for several years famine has devastated Tarsus, decimating the country's former riches. While they complain about their bad luck, one of the lords of Tarsus enters, and explains that a ship has been spotted off the coast. Cleon thinks it must mean a neighboring nation has come to conquer his nation, now that it is too weak to defend itself. The lord says the ship has up a white flag of peace, but Cleon has doubts.

Pericles enters, and allays Cleon's fears, saying his ships are not the Trojan horse, but are stored with corn to feed the hungry of Tarsus. Residents of Tarsus are grateful; Pericles explains that he merely wants safe harborage for his ships and men in return. Cleon welcomes them.

Gower reenters, and recounts the action we have already seen, noting the contrast between the bad king (Antiochus) and the good prince (Pericles). Gower introduces a dumb show, a brief pantomime used to advance the plot. As Gower relates, Helicanus has sent word to Pericles about the arrival of Thaliart in Tyre, and recommends Pericles's return. While sailing home, Pericles is caught in a storm and shipwrecked. Pericles clambers onshore and speaks of his misfortune. Then several fishermen and their master enter the scene.

The fisherman talk about fish in the sea, and how the bigger ones eat the littler ones--just like men do on land. Pericles listens and notes how the fishermen assess well the infirmities of man, using the metaphor of the sea. He comes forward and talks to them, and asks them for help, saying he is not one used to begging. They ask him if he can fish, he says no, and faints. The master helps Pericles up, tells him he is in the city of Pentapolis, where Simonides is king of a peaceful nation. The master tells him that on the following day Simonides's daughter celebrates her birthday, and many knights will joust in a tournament for her love. Pericles says he wishes he could be there too.

The fishermen pull Pericles's armor out of the sea, which pleases Pericles, as his dead father bequeathed it to him. Pericles begs it from the fishermen, so he can go and joust for the king's daughter. They give it to him, asking only that he remember they did him a good turn. The fishermen offer to take him to the court.

Commentary

This is the third kingdom so far in the story, and there are more to come, so it's important to keep track of which king is attached to which city. Pericles easily makes a good impression in Tarsus since his gift of food saves them--but will Cleon and Dionyza pay him back in kind?

The fishermen who aid Pericles are an example of the common people, whom we have thus far not seen in this play full of kings and princes. They are distinguished from the royals not just by their occupation, but also by their speech--they speak in prose, rather than verse. And as is common throughout Shakespeare, the regular people throw off comments of casual brilliance while going about their daily tasks, showing that even those lower down the social ladder have a very clear sense of the world, even if barely aware of their own knowledge. In this case, when the fishermen talk about the way bigger fish are more powerful than smaller ones in the sea and on land, it takes the unseen Pericles listening in to reveal the insight of the lower classes.

Pericles shows himself to be a real hero in a grand tradition--minutes after clambering to shore from his wrecked boat, he plans to enter a tournament and try for another allegedly beautiful royal offspring's hand, convinced he can't lose.

More Help

Previous Next
Pericles: A Life of Love and Happiness . . . Delayed

by ReadingShakespeareby450th, November 20, 2013

A fun play, hopeful message, and the last Shakespeare comedy/romance on my way to reading all of Shakespeare by his 450th birthday.

In case you're interested, here's my blog on Pericles:

http://ow.ly/r1uXg

0 Comments

1 out of 1 people found this helpful

Follow Us