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Theatre / Pericles, Prince of Tyre

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As the play is Older Than Steam and most twists in Shakespeare's plots are now widely known, all spoilers on this page are unmarked.

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...

A comedy / romance by William Shakespeare. It's one of his less-known and less-liked plays, and it's theorized that it was co-written with fellow dramatist George Wilkins, due to the stylistic discontinuity between the first two acts and the remaining three. 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 he 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:

  • And Knowing Is Half the Battle: Gower's epilogue sums up how good is ultimately rewarded, and evil ultimately punished.
  • Born During a Storm: Thaisa gives birth to the appropriately-named Marina in the middle of a storm at sea. Fitting with the drama of the trope, Thaisa is presumed dead and Marina is left in the care of Cleon and Dionyza.
  • Bus Crash: The incestuous king and princess motivate the plot for the first act. Helicanus later reports that both Antiochus and his daughter have conveniently been killed by being hit by a meteor/lightning/fire from the sky.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The entire final third of the story to varying degrees, although the appearance of Diana could imply that this is her divine influence rewarding their virtue.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: Thaisa becomes a nun in a temple of Diana.
  • Deus ex Machina:
    • Marina is saved from being killed by Dionyza's servant when pirates attack and abduct her.
    • Literally, in the form of Diana telling Pericles where to find Thasia.
  • Doom as Test Prize: Solving Antiochus's riddle means discovering that the king is engaging in incest with his daughter, which leads to death by He Knows Too Much.
  • Easy Evangelism: How Marina keeps her virginity: converting the Brothel's potential customers. Anybody who wants to bed her is moved by her beauty and purity into leaving her alone.
  • Engagement Challenge: Antiochus's riddle is actually a trap to prevent his daughter from getting married. If you can't solve it you die, and if you solve it, you'll also die for knowing too much. Not that anyone's lived to figure out that second part before Pericles...
  • Friend to All Living Things:
    Marina: I never kill'd a mouse, nor hurt a fly:
    I trod upon a worm against my will,
    But I wept for it.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Dionyza hates Marina for showing up Dionyza's daughter Philoten.
  • He Knows Too Much:
    • Antiochus tries to have Pericles killed, because Pericles has figured out that Antiochus practices incest.
    • Dionyza poisons Leonine, the servant she hired to kill Marina, so that he can't spill the beans.
  • Idiot Ball: Antiochus puts down that he and his daughter are having incest in a riddle. It seems like Pericles is the first to figure out the (fairly obvious) meaning, but it could be that Antiochus simply kills everyone who takes the challenge and claims they got it wrong.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Marina is so pure that she is able to maintain her virginity by convincing every customer at the brothel not to touch her.
  • Luke, You Are My Father: When Pericles and Marina meet again for the first time in 14 years, she reveals her name is Marina. He recognizes the name as his daughter's, and she explains that her father, who was a king, gave her that name. Putting two and two together, he asks for more details of her past. Quickly it becomes clear that this Marina is his lost daughter Marina.
  • Minion with an F in Evil:
    • Thaliard the assassin decides not to kill Pericles, based on the logic that traveling by boat is certain death.
    • The folks who run the brothel see Marina as far too bad at being a "bad girl", since her Incorruptible Pure Pureness is ruining their business.
  • Made a Slave: Marina is enslaved by a brothel. Thankfully, she is so bad for their business that they can't wait to get rid of her.
  • Morton's Fork: Failing to solve Antiochus's riddle means death. Solving it also means death because the solution reveals his incestuous relationship with his daughter. When Pericles tries to Take a Third Option by getting more time, Antiochus decides to just have him killed anyway.
  • Only Mostly Dead: Thaisa seems to die in childbirth, and is thrown overboard. Her casket reaches the shore of Ephesus, and when it's opened, Thaisa wakes up and turns out to be alive after all.
  • Rags to Royalty: Both Pericles before he encounters Simonides, and Marina before Pericles finds her (although they are both royalty all along, they've fallen on very hard times).
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Marina attracts the hatred of Dionyza for being more beautiful than
  • Taking the Veil: Thaisa becomes a nun in the temple of Apollo.
  • Tears of Remorse: Marina cried from pity when, in the past, she stepped on a worm.
  • Too Dumb to Live: It isn't clear why Antiochus uses a (very unsubtle) riddle about a real secret he would kill to keep when he could just make up a nonsense riddle with no answer.
  • Villainous Incest: Antiochus has a sexual relationship with his (very willing) daughter.
  • Virgin Tension: Marina's subplot regarding her desire to keep her virginity.

Alternative Title(s): Pericles