Gower plays a narrator for this play, coming on before and between scenes to retell the action of previous scenes, and to instigate "dumb shows," where some action of the play is pantomimed to advance the action of the play. He also gives the epilogue at the end of the play, pulling together the threads. John Gower is also the name of a fourteenth-century English poet, whose story of Apollonius of Tyre in the eighth book of his Confessio Amantis served as an important source for this play.
King of Antioch. After his wife's death, he enters into an incestuous relationship with his daughter. When young princes come calling to ask to marry her, he tests them by asking them to answer a riddle correctly, or lose their life. Action of the play starts when Pericles arrives in Antioch to undergo the test.
Antiochus's daughter has few lines, but she is the object of desire that Pericles seeks when he comes to see Antiochus.
Thaliart is a villain hired by Antiochus to kill Pericles after Pericles flees Antioch, having discovered the secret incest of the king and his daughter. Thaliart follows Pericles to Tyre, where he learns Pericles has left Tyre, so Thaliart returns to Antioch intending to say Pericles must have died at sea.
Husband of Thaisa and father of Marina. Pericles begins the play in Antioch, where he desires to marry Antiochus's daughter. After he discovers their secret, he flees to Tyre. Prone to melancholy, Pericles worries about Antiochus trying to have him killed, and sets off on more adventures and endures several shipwrecks. In many ways Pericles is a kind of classical hero figure--always ready to enter a contest or competition, especially if the prize is a king's daughter. While he starts out the play by making active decisions, to go to Antioch and then to flee it, he becomes increasingly inactive throughout the play. Things happen to him, and he endures it, never cursing the gods or his fate. As he must endure greater and greater misfortune, he becomes less active, finally ceasing to speak altogether. Yet Pericles is above all a good man, and, despite his hardships, has remained virtuous. Hence he is rewarded in the end.
One of Pericles's advisors in Tyre, Helicanus takes care of Pericles in his melancholy moods, and recommends he leave Tyre for a while after the events in Antioch. Helicanus takes over as provisionary ruler of Tyre; when Pericles fails to return, the citizens want to crown Helicanus king. But Helicanus is loyal to Pericles, so he refuses. Helicanus is a genuinely good man, not touched by ambition, who believes that Pericles is the only true ruler of Tyre.
Another of Pericles's advisors, with a lesser role than Helicanus.
Governor of Tarsus, a city beset by famine. Tarsus is Pericles's first stop, where Cleon assumes that Pericles's ships contain soldiers intent on conquering Tarsus when none can defend it. Pericles instead gives corn to the nation, and the citizens are grateful. Cleon later pledges to take care of Pericles's infant child, but his wife, Dionyza, plots to kill the child. Cleon was apparently unaware of the scheme, but when he hears of it, wishes it could be undone. But soon Cleon takes the blame for what Dionyza has done, and both are punished.
Wife of Cleon, Dionyza too pledges to care for Pericles's child, but falls prey to jealousy and envy when her own daughter is less praised than Pericles's. Hence she makes a plot to have Marina killed. Cleon is stunned by Dionyza's cruelty, yet they are both punished in the end.
King of Pentapolis, father of Thaisa. Pericles is shipwrecked in Pentapolis, and wins a jousting contest for the hand of Simonides's daughter, Thaisa. Simonides is impressed with Pericles, and tries to jolt him out of his melancholy by offering to be his friend. Later when he finds out his daughter wants to marry Pericles, Simonides tests Pericles by insulting his honor, and then marries the two.
Daughter of Simonides, mother of Marina. Thaisa expects to marry whoever wins the jousting contest in Pentapolis. She is very impressed with Pericles, and writes to her father that she wants to marry him. Simonides sends away the other knights and challenges Thaisa, saying that Pericles is not a good catch since they don't know his lineage. She insists she will have him, and they are married. Later, at sea with Pericles on the way back to Tyre, Thaisa gives birth to Marina but seems to die during the birth. She is tossed off the boat in a wooden chest, but is later discovered and revived in Ephesus by Cerimon. She becomes a priestess in Diana's temple in Ephesus.
Daughter of Pericles and Thaisa, Marina was born at sea during a tempest. Pericles leaves her in Tarsus with Cleon and Dionyza because he believes the child won't survive the journey to Tyre. Raised like royalty, Marina is astonished when faced with a murderer hired by Dionyza to kill her. Before she can be killed, though, she is saved by pirates, who turn around and sell her into prostitution in Mytilene. Her virtue prevails, and she convinces every man who wants to buy her that it would be a crime to take her honor. Eventually she is assigned to a more honorable household, and becomes a teacher. The governor of Mytilene, Lysimachus, is smitten with her.
Murderer hired by Dionyza to kill Marina. When the pirates take her, Leonine plans to tell Dionyza that he killed Marina anyway. Dionyza poisons Leonine.
Thaisa's nurse, who reveals to Pericles that Marina has died. Later Marina's nurse, Lychordia lives with Marina in Tarsus until her death, prior to Dionyza's murder plot.
A kindly physician in Ephesus, Cerimon helps the destitute and heals miraculously, bringing Thaisa back from the brink of death. When she wants to become a priestess, he helps her. He is a model of charity.
Governor of Mytilene, Lysimachus comes in disguise to the brothel where Marina works, but she convinces him to leave her alone. When Pericles comes into port, Lysimachus goes out to greet him and wants to help Pericles's suffering. When he discovers that Marina is his daughter, he has Marina brought to talk to Pericles. Later, he and Marina are engaged to be married.
A generic name for one who runs a brothel. This Pander buys Marina from the pirates who took her from Tarsus.
A generic name for one who takes care of the prostitutes, probably a Pander's wife. She has several exchanges with Marina, trying to convince her to give up her virginity.
The Fishermen meet Pericles on the shores of Pentapolis, and fish his armor out of the sea. These 'regular people' make observations about the world of the sea and of man, and Pericles is impressed by their simple wisdom.
The master of the fishermen offers to take Pericles to the jousting competition on Pentapolis.
Suitors for Thaisa's hand at the jousting competition in Pentapolis
Servant to Pander and Bawd, Boult too falls under the virtuous spell of Marina and offers to help her find a more honorable place to work.
Goddess of chastity, Diana appears to Pericles in a dream after he discovers Marina is alive, urging him to go to her temple in Ephesus and reveal all his misfortune. Since Thaisa lives in that same temple, Diana sets up the eventual reunion of Pericles's family.
Captain of the ship on which Thaisa allegedly dies. He insists that the body be thrown overboard, following a superstition that the sea can't be calm with a dead body on a ship.
A variety of characters who come on stage to announce things or to further the plot in some way, often without many lines.