Theatre: Pericles, Prince of Tyre
Gower: To sing a song that old was sung,
From ashes ancient Gower is come;
Assuming man's infirmities,
To glad your ear, and please your eyes.
It hath been sung at festivals,
On ember-eves and holy-ales;
And lords and ladies in their lives
Have read it for restoratives:
The purchase is to make men glorious;
by William Shakespeare
. It's one of his less-known and less-liked plays, and it's theorized that it was co-written or script-doctored by a less accomplished writer. It doesn't help that the surviving text is corrupt, possibly a pirate copy from memory; various scholarly attempts have been made to produce an improved version. It is certainly based on the Chivalric Romance Apollonius
, which has never been noted for coherent plot — the "moldy tale" Ben Jonson
termed it — which could not have helped.
The story is framed by a narrator called Gower. He tells the story of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, a virtuous adventurer who encounters many hardships on his road to happiness. Pericles gets in trouble for uncovering an incestuous relationship between a king and his daughter, and sails the world trying to avoid their assassination attempts. He meets and marries Thaisa, another princess, and sets sail to return home. A storm hits and Thaisa dies during childbirth; Pericles puts her body in a coffin and dumps it in the sea, which wards off the storm. Her body washes up on shore, and we learn Thaisa is not, in fact, dead; believing she survived a shipwreck and that her family is dead, she becomes a priestess in a temple of Diana.
Pericles fears his newborn daughter Marina will die before they get home, so he leaves her with the governor of Tarsus and his wife. Time passes, and Pericles decides to retrieve her. Marina has grown up beautiful, and the governor and his wife are angry because she is more beautiful than their own daughter. They plan to kill her, but she is captured by pirates and sold into prostitution. Marina is so virtuous that she not only remains a virgin, but also convinces her potential customers to leave and seek meaning in their lives. She eventually gets a respectable job in Mytilene, working for a lord as a musician/singer.
Pericles arrives in Tarsus, and the governor tells him his daughter is dead. Grief-stricken, he heads to sea, arriving in Mytilene. The lord tries to cheer him up by having Marina sing for him. Father and daughter are reunited. The goddess Diana appears to Pericles in a dream, saying he should go to her temple and tell his story there. He does, and Thaisa overhears; the whole family is finally reunited. Gower returns to the stage, saying that the villains have been punished, and the virtuous have been rewarded.
Pericles, Prince of Tyre provides examples of: