Scene by Scene Synopsis
Scene: Antioch, Tyre, Tarsus, Mytilene, and other ancient Greek ports.
Act I, Chorus: The ghost of John Gower identifies himself and introduces the play as the enactment of an ancient tale. It opens in Antioch, where King Antiochus practices incest with his beautiful Daughter. He has stipulated that she may only marry the suitor who can solve a certain riddle, and that any suitor who attempts to do so and fails will be executed.
Act I, Scene 1: Pericles, Prince of Tyre, hears the riddle, and realizes that its solution reveals Antiochus' incest. He declines to give his answer, but he makes it clear that he knows the secret. The king decides to humor him and grants him a 40-day respite before he must answer. Pericles realizes that Antiochus will attempt to silence him, and he decides to flee. Antiochus orders Thaliard to kill Pericles, but word comes that Pericles has left Antioch. Thaliard is sent in pursuit.
Act I, Scene 2: In Tyre, Pericles fears that Antiochus, who is a much more powerful ruler, will attack and devastate his country. A group of fawning courtiers appears, but among them is Helicanus, who strongly disapproves of flattering a monarch. Pericles admires his spirit and confides his fears to him. Helicanus advises him that he should travel for a time, until Antiochus' rage has cooled. Pericles agrees and decides to go to Tharsus. He appoints Helicanus to rule in his absence.
Act I, Scene 3: Thaliard has come to Tyre. He learns of Pericles' departure and leaves to inform Antiochus.
Act I, Scene 4: Cleon, the Governor of Tharsus, and Dionyza, his wife, are worried because a famine has overtaken their once-rich country. Pericles has heard of their plight, and arrives with shipments of food.
Act II, Chorus: Gower tells the audience that Pericles is adored in Tharsus. In a Dumb, Pericles receives a message, which Gower tells us is from Helicanus, who warns the prince of Thaliard's evil intent and suggests further flight. Gower tells us that Pericles fled by sea and was shipwrecked.
Act II, Scene 1: Shipwrecked, Pericles encounters three Fisherman, who inform him he is in Pentapolis. They tell him that their king, Simonides is holding a tournament the next day at which knights will joust for the hand in marriage of his daughter. Pericles' amour is brought up in the Fishermen's net, and he decides to use it in the king's tournament.
Act II, Scene 2: At the tournament, the king's daughter, Thaisa, receives greetings from each Knight who will compete for her hand. Pericles' rusty amour is ridiculed by some courtiers, but cheers celebrate his victory off-stage.
Act II, Scene 3: At a celebratory banquet, Pericles is welcomed by Thaisa as the victor and therefore her fiancÚ.
Act II, Scene 4: In Tyre, Helicanus tells Escanes that the gods have punished Antiochus and his daughter by killing them with a heavenly fire. A group of noblemen declare that they cannot be without a king any longer and ask Helicanus to declare himself king. He refuses, but agrees to do so if Pericles has not returned after another year.
Act II, Scene 5: To test Pericles, Simonides pretends to be angry that the young man has falsely gained the affection of Thaisa, and he calls him a traitor. Pericles rejects the insult manfully, to Simonides' secret delight. Thaisa appears and says it would please her if Pericles loved her. Simonides reveals his pleasure and declares that she and Pericles shall marry
Act III, Chorus: Gower reveals that Thaisa, now married to Pericles, is pregnant. In a dumb show, Pericles receives another letter, which he shows to Thaisa and Simonides. Gower tells us that the letter is from Helicanus, summoning Pericles to Tyre. He goes on to report that Pericles and Thaisa leave by ship, only to be caught in a great storm.
Act III, Scene 1: Aboard ship, during the tempest, the nurse Lychordia tells Pericles that Thaisa has died in childbirth. She shows him the infant, a daughter. A Sailor insists that Thaisa must be buried at sea or the ship is cursed, and the distracted Pericles agrees. Pericles orders the ship to stop at Tharsus where he will leave the infant. He is afraid she may not survive a longer voyage.
Act III, Scene 2: At Ephesus a chest washed up by the great storm is brought to the nobleman and physician Cerimon. He opens it and finds the apparently dead Thaisa, but he recognizes that she is merely unconscious and revives her with medicines.
Act III, Scene 3: At Tharsus, Pericles leaves his daughter Marina in the care of Cleon and Dionyza.
Act III, Scene 4: In Ephesus, Thaisa decides to enter a convent devoted to the goddess Diana since she will never find her husband again.
Act IV, Chorus: Gower tells us that Marina has grown into a gracious and beautiful young woman. So fine a person is she, he says, that she overshadows Cleon and Dionyza's daughter. Dionyza has become so jealous that she decides to have Marina killed.
Act IV, Part 1: Dionyza reminds Leonine of his oath to murder Marina, for he is reluctant. Marina appears and is persuaded to take a walk on the beach with Leonine. As he prepares to kill her, a boat-load of Pirates come ashore and kidnap her. Leonine escapes and is relieved not to have to kill Marina. He plans to tell Dionyza that he has done so anyway.
Act IV, Scene 2: In a brothel in Mytilene the Pandar, the Bawd, and their servant Boult discuss the sorry state of business. They regret that they don't have more attractive young women to offer. A Pirate appears and offers to sell them Marina, and they accept. Despite Marina's pleas and objections, they make plans to offer her to their customers.
Act IV, Scene 3: In Tharsus Cleon is distressed to learn that Dionyza has had Marina murdered. She has also poisoned Leonine to keep him quiet. She is cynically pleased with the success of her plan, and tells Cleon that they will inform Pericles that Marina died naturally.
Act IV, Scene 4: Gower appears by Marina's gravestone in Tharsus with the information that Pericles has come to get his daughter. A dumb show presents his grief when he is shown the tomb by Cleon. Gower reads the flowery epitaph on the monument, and contrasts its flattery with Marina's unhappiness in Mytilene.
Act IV, Scene 5: Two gentlemen of Mytilene discuss the wondrous virtue of a harlot they have encountered, and they vow to reform their lives.
Act IV, Scene 6: The Bawd, the Pandar, and Boult despair at the damage Marina is doing to their business. Lysimachus, the Governor of Mytilene, appears and is offered Marina. She implores him as an honorable man not to use her as a harlot, and he declares that his intention has merely been to test her virtue, of which he has heard. He leaves, but he refuses to give money to Boult. Boult angrily threatens to deflower Marina himself so that her virtue will not further upset the brothel's business. However, she shames him into agreeing instead to help her establish herself as a teacher of music, dance, and handicrafts to young women.
Act V, Chorus: Gower tells of Marina's success in Mytilenian society. He adds that the grief-stricken Pericles, who has been wandering at sea, has arrived in Mytilene.
Act V, Scene 1: Lysimachus boards Pericles' ship to greet the visitor, but he is informed by Helicanus that the prince has been made speechless by his grief. A Mytilenian courtier suggests that the charms of Marina could cure Pericles, and she is sent for. When she arrives she is left alone with Pericles, and he speaks because he is startled by her resemblance to Thaisa. In the course of their conversation their relationship becomes apparent and they are happily reunited. Exhausted by the excitement, Pericles is left alone to sleep and the goddess Diana appears to him in a vision. She directs him to go to her temple in Ephesus and proclaim the history of Marina's birth and their separation and reunion.
Act V, Scene 2: At the Temple of Diana in Ephesus, Thaisa, the High Priestess, stands by the altar. Gower appears and tells us that Lysimachus and Marina are engaged but will not marry until Pericles fulfils Diana's instructions, so the couple have accompanied Pericles to Ephesus.
Act V, Scene 3: At the Temple altar, Pericles identifies himself and tells of Marina's birth and adventures. Thaisa recognizes him and faints. Cerimon is present, and he reveals her identity to Pericles. When Thaisa recovers, she and Pericles are reunited, and Thaisa and Marina meet for the first time since Marina's birth. When he learns of Simonides' death, Pericles declares that he and Thaisa shall reign in Pentapolis and Lysimachus and Marina will rule in Tyre.
Epilogue: Gower compares the heavenly destruction of Antiochus and his daughter with the ultimate happiness for Pericles, Thaisa, and Marina. He goes on to praise Helicanus and Cerimon, and adds that the people of Tharsus were enraged when they heard of Marina's murder, and massacred Cleon and Dionyza. He then announces that the play is now over.
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