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Pericles

William Shakespeare

Act II, Scenes iv-v

Act II, Scenes i-iii

Act III, Chorus and Scene i

Summary

Back in Tyre, Helicanus and Aeschines discuss how Antiochus and Antiochus's daughter were magically burnt to a crisp in a fire from heaven that punished them for their sins. Helicanus says that justice has been done. Several lords enter, saying that Pericles has been gone for so long they wonder if they have a real king. They want to crown Helicanus, but Helicanus resists, suggesting they wait twelve months before making any decisions about the ownership of the crown. The lords leave to seek out Pericles.

In the palace at Pentapolis, Pericles is lead to his lodging by a gentleman. Pericles asks for a musical instrument, which he plays while he sings to himself.

The next day, King Simonides tells his knights that his daughter has written him a letter saying that she intends not to marry. The knights decide to leave. Simonides, alone, reveals that Thaisa's letter says she wants to marry the stranger, Pericles. When Pericles enters, Simonides commends his singing the night before, and asks him what he thinks of Thaisa. Simonides shows him Thaisa's letter, and Pericles immediately thinks he has caused offense. Simonides plays along, calling him a traitor, and accuses him of having bewitched his child. Pericles is offended, saying he came to the court in search of honor, and intends to defend it with his sword.

Thaisa enters, and Pericles asks her to tell her father that he never said a word of love to her. Thaisa doesn't understand who would take offense at something she wants him to do. Simonides takes his daughter aside to ask if Pericles is the right man for her, since they don't know about his lineage. Thaisa responds that Pericles is virtuous even if he may be of base birth, and she says she is in love with him and won't be controlled. Simonides threatens to banish Pericles, but Thaisa defends him. Simonides says he will tame her, or he will punish her by making Thaisa and Pericles man and wife. He clasps their hands together; they kiss, and are married. Simonides is pleased that they are both happy with the match.

Commentary

Helicanus proves himself to be a good right-hand-man to Pericles, by turning down the crown of Tyre when the lords offer it to him. However now it becomes important for Pericles to return to Tyre to claim the throne.

Antiochus and his daughter won't be a threat to Pericles anymore, having been killed by heaven for their sins. This, we are to understand, is the just reward for their sin. Pericles, on the other hand, is the paragon of virtue, yet he must submit to misfortune.

The short scene in which Pericles plays an instrument advances the plot in no way and is a mere fifteen lines long. The scene moreover, seems to be adapted from another text written by George Wilkins (who is considered by many to be Shakespeare's co-author in this play, and the primary author of the first nine scenes). The scene does not appear in the First Quarto or other editions, but some editors choose to include it. See Context for more discussion of the authorship of this play.

Simonides certainly arranges the marriage in a curious way. Pretending to call Pericles a traitor and threatening to banish him makes Pericles anxious to preserve his honor, while Thaisa declares openly that she loves Pericles. But Pericles says nothing about how he feels about Thaisa, beyond the king's initial questions about how he likes her, to which he responds tepidly. In the end, Pericles seems content to have married Thaisa, but not as enthused as is Thaisa, or even Simonides. Presumably Simonides's little game was intended to draw out the real feelings of the couple, which for Pericles seem mostly to revolve around honor, rather than declarations of love.

More Help

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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

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