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Royal Shakespeare Company, 1989

Pericles, Prince of Tyre

Pericles is shipwrecked and finds his wife; he is shipwrecked again and loses his wife and daughter; they all find each other again.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre Summary

Pericles, Prince of Tyre leaves home to escape death only to win a jousting contest and marry a princess. Once he can return home, his family sails with him, but a storm separates them, so Pericles returns alone. Years later, Pericles finds his daughter and reunites with the wife he had thought was dead. 


More detail: 3 minute read

Act I

A poet named Gower introduces the story, a tale that begins with King Antiochus. The King is protecting an incestuous relationship with his daughter by promising marriage to her for anyone who can solve a (seemingly) impossible riddle. If the riddle is guessed incorrectly, the suitor will die. After many men fail, the young Prince Pericles of Tyre guesses the truth. He reveals the inappropriate relationship, and he flees for his life. King Antiochus instructs his servant Thaliart to murder Pericles. Thaliart follows him back to Tyre.

Few love to hear the sins they love to act.

— Pericles, Prince of Tyre, Act 1 Scene 1

Pericles returns home and confides his revelations in his friend Lord Helicanus. His friend advises the Prince to travel abroad to escape before anyone comes to kill him. Meanwhile, the governor of Tarsus, Cleon, and his wife, Dionyza, bewail the state of famine. After fleeing Tyre, Pericles hears of their troubles and arrives with food to relieve them.

Act II

Helicanus sends news to Pericles, warning him of Thaliart, so the Prince sets sail again. However, his ship is wrecked during storms at sea. Pericles is cast ashore, recovering to find a group of fishermen. From them, he learns of a forthcoming festival to celebrate the birthday of Thaisa, daughter of King Simonides. During this conversation, they also tell him of a jousting contest. The champion will win the hand of Thaisa (giving away one's daughter during a contest must have been very fashionable back then). The fishermen bring up their fishing nets to find a rusty suit of armour, which Pericles takes to contend for the princess. 

Royal Shakespeare Company, 1989
Pericles, Prince of Tyre, RSC, 1989

During the contest, Pericles defeats five knights, becoming the champion. He is given a feast by Simonides and wins the love of Thaisa. Pericles remains at court for several months after his marriage. Then he hears news from his friend Helicanus that Antiochus and his daughter are dead, so he may safely return home. In Tyre, the lords have waited in the hope of their Prince’s return. Pericles sets sail with Thaisa, now pregnant with his child, to reclaim his throne at Tyre.

Act III

During storms at sea, Thaisa seemingly dies giving birth to a daughter. Pressured by the crew, Pericles allows Thaisa’s sealed coffin to be cast overboard. Pericles changes course to land at Tarsus. He leaves the newborn baby, named Marina, along with her nurse Lichorida, in the care of his friends, Cleon and Dionyza, before returning to Tyre. 

Who makes the fairest show means the most deceit

— Pericles, Prince of Tyre, Act 1 Scene 4

Early the next morning, people discover a sealed box near the seashore of Ephesus. They call a doctor, who finds Thaisa’s sleeping body inside, along with jewels and a letter from Pericles. After some work, the princess is revived. She becomes certain that her husband and baby have drowned at sea. Without hope of finding them, Thaisa goes to live in the nearby temple of the goddess Diana.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre, RSC, 1969
Pericles, Prince of Tyre, RSC, 1969

Act IV

The poet Gower explains how fifteen years pass as Marina grows up with Cleon’s daughter Philoten. Soon, however, Dionyza becomes jealous on behalf of Philoten of Marina's beauty and plans her murder. Just as Marina is about to be killed, pirates capture the girl and carry her off to Mytilene to be sold as a prostitute. Marina’s reported beauty attracts many men. But she persuades everyone not to violate her virginity. In fact, many men leave resolved to better their lives. Eventually, the owner of the brothel lets her leave to become a waiting maid, developing and using skills in singing, sewing, and dance.

Meanwhile, Pericles and Helicanus return to Tarsus to see Marina. Instead they are shown Marina’s (false) tomb. Distraught by his daughter’s supposed loss, Pericles resolves never to enjoy life again and takes to sailing the seas at random. When his ship arrives finally at Mytilene, the governor Lysimachus welcomes him. Lysimachus hears of the Prince's withdrawn depression and sends for Marina. He has heard of her virtuous and inspirational reputation.

O, come, be buried A second time within these arms.

— Pericles, Prince of Tyre, Act 5 Scene 3

Act V

Pericles initially rejects Marina, but when she tells him her name and the story of her birth at sea, Pericles realises she is his lost daughter. He is overcome with happiness. That night, while he sleeps, he dreams of Diana’s temple at Ephesus. He resolves to give thanks at the temple and sails with Marina. She, meanwhile, has become betrothed to Lysimachus. In Ephesus, Pericles tells his story to the priestess, only to discover that she is his wife, Thaisa. Everyone is joyously reunited, and they return to Tyre. Gower ends the tale with news that Cleon and Dionyza have been killed by an uprising, due to their treatment of Marina.

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