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Synopsis: Pericles

NOTE: The articles in these study guides are not meant to mirror or interpret any particular productions at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. They are meant, instead, to be an educational jumping-off point to understanding and enjoying the play (in any production at any theatre) a bit more thoroughly. Therefore the stories of the plays and the interpretative articles (and even characters at times) may differ from what is ultimately produced on stage.

Also, some of these articles (especially the synopses) reveal the ending and other “surprises” in some plays. If you don’t want to know this information before seeing the plays, you may want to reconsider studying this information.

Pericles, prince of Tyre, is one of the suitors for the hand of the beautiful daughter of Antiochus, king of Antioch, who has told all suitors that they must correctly answer a riddle he gives to earn her hand; if they fail, they are executed. When the riddle is given, Pericles deciphers the shameful answer, but replies so that only the guilty father and his daughter may know that he has learned of their incestuous relationship. Fearing for his life, Pericles then hastens home. Still fearing Antiochus’s wrath will follow him, he puts to sea for parts unknown.

Learning that Tarsus is famine-stricken, he mercifully comes ashore there for a short time to leave a shipload of provisions; then he puts to sea again.

In a terrible storm at sea, his ship is wrecked and Pericles is the only survivor. He is saved by two fishermen when he is cast up on the shore of Pentapolis, the kingdom of the good king Simonides. Hearing that the king is about to give a tournament in honor of his beautiful daughter, Thaisa, Pericles enters the tourney, and the princess falls deeply in love with him and swears that she will marry no one else. Her father approves her choice, gains the unknown knight’s joyous consent, and the wedding takes place.

After Pericles and his bride have been living quietly at the palace for some time, Helicanus, who has been ruling wisely in Tyre in the absence of Pericles, sends word that Antiochus has died and it is safe for Pericles to return home. Thus, revealing at last his identity to his delighted wife and her father, he plans to start at once. On the stormy voyage to Tyre, however, Thaisa dies in giving birth to a daughter. Yielding to the sailors’ superstitions, her grieving husband has her body placed in a box and put overboard, where it is soon cast ashore in Ephesus. A physician who opens it finds the woman is not dead and restores her to health, and she (thinking her family is dead) becomes a priestess of Diana.

Meanwhile Pericles leaves his new daughter, Marina, with the governor of Tarsus, Cleon, to be reared by him and his wife, and continues on to Tyre. After living with Cleon fourteen years Marina grows so beautiful that jealousy of her adopted daughter causes Cleon’s wife, Dionyza, to arrange for her murder. However,Marina is at the last moment captured by pirates who bear her to Mytilene and sell her into a brothel. But, not only does she refuse to become a prostitute, but she soon converts many others to her virtuous ways. Her father, in the meantime, visits Tarsus, and is so grief-stricken at the news of her supposed death that he refuses to speak for months.

The sorrowing Pericles, sailing for Tyre, is blown by the wind to Mytilene, where the beautiful Marina, who is now delighting the city with her dancing and singing, is brought to cheer this dejected king. With surprise and great joy he recognizes his lost daughter, and soon after, in obedience to a vision, he visits Diana’s shrine at Ephesus, where he is finds his long lost wife, and the family is reunited.

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