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Pericles, Prince of Tyre

Pericles, Prince of Tyre is a play written partly by William Shakespeare and included in modern editions of his collected plays. Scholars generally agree that an unidentified (and rather untalented) collaborator wrote the first nine scenes, with Shakespeare writing the remaining thirteen. There are, however, phrases scattered throughout the early scenes that sound like the work of Shakespeare.

Table of contents
1 Plot Synopsis
2 History
3 Classification

Plot Synopsis

The play begins at the court of Antiochus, king of Antioch. Pericles, the young Prince (ruler) of Tyre, is there to win the hand of his beautiful daughter by answering a riddle. However, if he fails, he will be killed, like many suitors before him. Upon hearing the riddle, Pericles realizes its meaning: That Antiochus is engaged in an incestuous relationship with his daugther. Pericles realizes that he is trapped - he will be killed if he reveals the truth, but he will be killed if he answers wrongly. Thus, instead of answering outright, Pericles hints to Antiochus that he knows the answer to the riddle, and asks for more time to think. Antiochus grants him forty days, and Pericles uses the time to flee from Antioch.

Pericles returns to Tyre and confers with his trusted friend and councilor Helicanus, who advises him to leave the city, for Antiochus surely will hunt him down. Pericles agrees, leaving Helicanus as regent in his place, and indeed an assassin arrives in Tyre shortly after Pericles departs. The young prince sails from Tyre to Tarsus, a city beset by famine. The generous Pericles gives the rulers of the city, King Cleon and Queen Dionyza, grain from his ship to save their people. The famine ends, and after being thanked profusely by Cleon and Dionyza, Pericles continues on.

However, Pericles' voyage is diverted by a storm that shipwrecks his vessel and washes him up on the shores of Pentapolis. He is rescued by a group of poor fishermen who inform him that the King of Pentapolis, Simonedes, is holding a tournament the next day and that the winner will receive the hand of his daughter Thaisa in marriage. Fortunately, Pericles' suit of armor washes up to shore that very moment and the prince decides to enter the tournament. Although his equipment is shoddy, Pericles wins the tournament and the hand of Thaisa (who is deeply attracted to him) in marriage. Although Simonedes initally expresses doubt about the union, he soon comes to like Pericles and allows them to wed.

Meanwhile, in Tyre, the noblemen learn of the death of Antiochus and his daugther in a charioteering accident and are anxious at the long departure of their king. They propose crowning Helicanus in his stead, but Helicanus is a loyal friend to Pericles and refuses the offer. However, he eventually agrees that if the noblemen search for Pericles in vain, Helinacus will consent to become king.

A letter sent by the noblemen reaches Pericles in Pentapolis, who decides to return to Tyre with Thaisa, who is pregnant. However, a storm arises while at sea, and Thaisa dies giving birth to her child, Marina. The sailors on board insist that Thaisa's body is set out to sea in order to calm the storm. Pericles grudgingly agrees, and decides to stop at Tarsus because he fears that Marina may not survive the storm.

Luckily, Thaisa's casket washes up to shore near the residence of Lord Cerimon, a magician who brings her back to life. Thaisa becomes a priestess in the temple of Diana.

To be concluded...

Each act of the play preceded by a prologue spoken by John Gower, a 14th century English poet and contemporary of Chaucer.


Pericles was written from 1607 to 1608, and is one of Shakespeare's later plays. It was based on the classical story of Apollonius of Tyre, as retold in Book Eight of Confessio amantis (The Lovers' Confessions) by John Gower, a 14th century English poet whom Shakespeare uses to narrate the story.


Pericles is most often classed among Shakesepeare's plays as a tragicomedy or a romance. The latter classification is due to the play's redemptive plotline with a happy ending involving the reuniting of long-separated family members and fantastical elements that lead to a deus ex machina. This is the first of Shakespeare's romances, followed by Cymbeline.

Pericles is one of Shakespeare's least-regarded plays, due to the fact that the author of the early scenes (possibly George Wilkins) is a very poor writer. It was extremely popular in its own day, however, going through two quarto editions in 1609, and another two years later. When George Wilkins republished the prose "Painful Adventures of Pericles", a prose tale which used th same sources as Shakespeare's play, he added a special note claiming that he followed the pattern of the stage-play - an indication of the play's popularity.

The existing text is manifestly corrupt; the play was not included in the First Folio, and the quarto text (which remained the same in all published quartos) seems to be a pirated text reconstructed from memory by someone who witnessed the play (much like the 1603 "bad quarto" of Hamlet). As Harold Bloom has pointed out, however, the play holds the stage very well.