Pericles, Prince of Tyre is a play written partly by William Shakespeare and included in modern editions of his collected plays. Scholars generally agree that a relatively untalented collaborator, probably George Wilkins, wrote the first nine scenes, with Shakespeare writing the remaining thirteen. There are, however, phrases scattered throughout the early scenes which appear from their style to be additions made by Shakespeare.
John Gower, a 14th century English poet and contemporary of Chaucer introduces each act with a prologue. The play opens in the court of Antiochus, king of Antioch, who has offered the hand of his beautiful daughter to any man who answers his riddle; but those who fail shall die.
Pericles, the young Prince (ruler) of Tyre, hears the riddle, and instantly understands its meaning: Antiochus is engaged in an incestuous relationship with his daughter. If he reveals this truth, he will be killed, but if answers incorrectly, he will also be killed. Pericles hints that he knows the answer, and asks for more time to think. Antiochus grants him forty days, and then sends an assassin after him. However, Pericles has fled the city.
Pericles returns to Tyre, where his trusted friend and councilor Helicanus advises him to leave the city, for Antiochus surely will hunt him down. Pericles leaves Helicanus as regent and sails to Tarsus, a city beset by famine. The generous Pericles gives the governor of the city, Cleon, and his wife Dionyza, grain from his ship to save their people. The famine ends, and after being thanked profusely by Cleon and Dionyza, Pericles continues on.
A storm wrecks Pericles' ship and washes him up on the shores of Pentapolis. He is rescued by a group of poor fishermen who inform him that Simonedes, King of Pentapolis, is holding a tournament the next day and that the winner will receive the hand of his daughter Thaisa in marriage. Fortunately, one of the fishermen drags Pericles' suit of armor on shore that very moment, and the prince decides to enter the tournament. Although his equipment is rusty, Pericles wins the tournament and the hand of Thaisa (who is deeply attracted to him) in marriage. Simonedes initially expresses doubt about the union, but soon comes to like Pericles and allows them to wed.
Meanwhile, in Tyre, the noblemen learn that Antiochus and his daughter are dead, shrivelled up by a "fire from heaven" while riding in a chariot. Anxious at the long departure of their king, the nobles offer the crown to Helicanus, but Helicanus is a loyal friend to Pericles and refuses. However, he eventually agrees that if the noblemen search for Pericles in vain, Helicanus will consent to become king.
A letter sent by the noblemen reaches Pericles in Pentapolis, who decides to return to Tyre with the pregnant Thaisa. Again, a storm arises while at sea, and Thaisa dies giving birth to her child, Marina. The sailors on board insist that Thaisa's body is set out to sea in order to calm the storm. Pericles grudgingly agrees, and decides to stop at Tarsus because he fears that Marina may not survive the storm.
Luckily, Thaisa's casket washes up to shore near the residence of Lord Cerimon, a magician who brings her back to life. Thinking that Pericles died in the storm, Thaisa becomes a priestess in the temple of Diana.
Pericles departs to rule Tyre, leaving Marina in the care of Cleon and Dionyza.
Marina grows up more beautiful than the daughter of Cleon and Dionyza, so they plan her murder. Their plan thwarted when pirates kidnap Marina and then sell her to a brothel in Mytilene. There, Marina manages to keep her virginity by convincing the men that they should seek virtue. Worried that she is ruining their market, the brothel rents her out as a tutor to respectable young ladies. She becomes famous for music and other decorous entertainments.
Meanwhile, Pericles returns to Tarsus for his daughter. The governor and his wife claim she has died; in grief, he sets to the seas.
Pericles' wanderings bring him to Mytilene where the governor, seeking to cheer him up, brings in Marina. They compare their sad stories and joyfully realize they are father and daughter. Next, the goddess Diana appears in a dream to Pericles, and tells him to come to the temple where he finds Thaisa. The wicked Cleon and Dionyza are killed when their people revolt against their crime; the faithful Helicanus will marry Marina.
Date and sources
Pericles was written from 1607 to 1608, and is one of Shakespeare's later plays. It was based on the story of Apollonius of Tyre, as retold in the eighth book of John Gower's 1380 poem Confessio Amantis; Gower himself appears in the play as the narrator.
Classification and authorship
Pericles is most often classed among Shakespeare's plays as a tragicomedy or a romance. The latter classification is due to the miscellaneous character of the play, its numerous exotic locations, its liberal use of fantastical elements, and its happy ending involving the reuniting of long-separated family members. Pericles is the first of Shakespeare's romances, followed by Cymbeline.
The play is among Shakespeare's least-regarded, due to the fact that the author of the early scenes (possibly George Wilkins) is a poor writer. It was extremely popular in its own day, however, going through two quarto editions in 1609, and another two years later. When Wilkins republished The Painful Adventures of Pericles, a prose tale which used the same sources as Shakespeare's play, he added a special note claiming that he followed the pattern of the stage-play - an indication of the play's popularity.
The existing text is manifestly corrupt; the play was not included in the First Folio, and the quarto text (which remained the same in all published quartos) seems to be a pirated text reconstructed from memory by someone who witnessed the play (much like the 1603 "bad quarto" of Hamlet). However, as Harold Bloom has pointed out, and numerous stage productions attest, the play holds the stage very well.
The 1986 Oxford University Press edition of the Complete Works includes a "reconstructed text" of Pericles, which in places adapts passages from Wilkins' novel on the assumption that they are based on the play and record the dialogue more accurately than the quarto.