Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
Gower checks in with us:
Here have you seen a mighty king
His child, I wis, to incest bring;
A better prince and benign lord,
That will prove aweful both in deed and word.
Be quiet then, as men should be,
Till he hath pass’d necessity.
After a dumb show, Gower explains that Helicanus has written to Pericles, warning him that Thaliard had been on his trail and that he should leave Tharsus. Pericles has sailed off but is shipwrecked and cast ashore. “And here he comes. What shall be next, / Pardon old Gower — this long’s the text” (I.39-40).
Pericles, washed ashore near Pentapolis, apostrophizes to the heavens and expects to die. But three good-natured fishermen enter. “Master, I marvel how the fishes live in the sea.” “Why, as men do a-land; the great ones eat up the little ones” (II.i.26-29). Pericles presents himself: “A man whom both the waters and the wind, / In that vast tennis-court, hath made the ball / For them to play upon, entreats you pity him” (II.i.59-61). He can’t beg, and has never fished, so he’s in trouble, but the fishermen befriend him. Their good king, Simonides, has arranged a tournament tomorrow in honor of his daughter Thaisa’s birthday. Fortunately, the fishermen immediately net Pericles’ father’s magical but rusty armor. He indulges in a moment of nostalgia and rejoices that, with some additional help from the fishermen, he can show up at the tournament.
Simonides and his daughter await the start of the tournament. “As jewels lose their glory if neglected, / So princes their renowns if not respected” (II.ii.12-13). Various knights and princes — of Sparta, Macedon, Antioch, and so forth — present their coats-of-arms and mottoes. The Macedonian has a motto in Spanish, a language that doesn’t exist yet — nor does the Italian of the Signet’s translation (Asimov 191). “The sixt and last” (II.ii.40) is Pericles, with a withered branch and the motto “In hac spe vivo” (II.ii.44): “In this hope I live.” Pericles is an embarrassment to look at, but the King distinguishes appearance from inner worth in a textually garbled couplet: “Opinion’s but a fool, that makes us scan / The outward habit by the inward man” (II.ii.56-57). Indeed, off-stage, Pericles wins the tournament.
In this scene has been recognized the type of Elizabethan tournament “where the knights, instead of coming from foreign lands, were merely dressed as if they had” (Ogburn and Ogburn 128-129; cf. Clark 69).
At the victory banquet, Simonides welcomes the guests and presents the wreath of victory to Pericles: “In framing an artist, art hath thus decreed, / To make some good, but others to exceed, / And you are her labor’d scholar” (II.iii.15-17). Although Simonides assumes Pericles is “but a country gentleman” (II.iii.33), Thaisa is particularly taken with Pericles. Simonides sends her to ask him about his origins and parentage.
A gentleman of Tyre, my name, Pericles,
My education been in arts and arms;
Who, looking for adventures in the world,
Was by the rough seas reft of ships and men,
And after shipwrack driven upon this shore.
The priority given to “arts” has been noted by Clark (70) and the elder Ogburns (129). To rouse Pericles out of his melancholy, Simonides calls for dancing: “Loud music is too harsh for ladies’ heads, / Since they love men in arms as well as beds” (II.iii.97-98). After the dance, Simonides sends everyone off to bed.
Back in Tyre, Helicanus tells Escanes, another noble, that Antiochus and his daughter, for their sins, have been killed in a chariot fire — probably caused by lightning.
A fire from heaven came and shrivell’d up
Those bodies, even to loathing; for they so stunk,
That all those eyes ador’d them ere their fall
Scorn now their hand should give them burial.
Shakespeare was likely influenced here by the “intolerable stink” of Antiochus in 2 Maccabees 9:9-10 (Asimov 192).
Other lords enter reporting rumors of Pericles’ death. They ask Helicanus to be Tyre’s ruler, but he’s a good friend and refuses: they should at least search for Pericles for a year.
Pericles says that his education has been “in arts and arms” (II.iv.82). He is also declared a “music master” (II.v.36) and “the best” at dance (II.iv.108) — all reflecting Oxford as “Castiglione’s model courtier” (Farina 100).
Thaisa has declared she will not marry for one year — Simonides doesn’t know why — perhaps to discourage all the suitors. Her letter explains that her heart is set on marrying Pericles. When he comes along, Simonides praises Pericles’ music skills (II.v.30) — something Oxfordians note in connection with the 17th Earl (Ogburn and Ogburn 129). Simonides asks how Pericles feels about Thaisa. When Pericles declares his unworthiness and shows some skepticism (presumably based on his past experience with the whole father-daughter thing), Simonides shows him the letter from Thaisa as proof. Pericles claims not to have had such thoughts about Thaisa, which disturbs Simonides, who declares “Thou hast bewitch’d my daughter” (II.v.49) and insults Pericles. Pericles defends himself nobly, and Simonides secretly admires this too. “As Antiochus had pretended friendship, and in fact planned to kill him, Simonides does the opposite: he pretends to be stern and to oppose the marriage, while actually welcoming it” (Garber 765).
Thaisa herself enters and Pericles asks her to tell her father that he never solicited her affections. She says it would have made her glad if he had. Simonides jokingly commands that they marry, and Pericles is finally convinced it’s a fine idea. All are pleased.
Early Oxfordians suggest that the name Thaisa is derived from melding the name of the muse Thalia with the ending of Elisa/Elizabeth (Clark 60-61; Ogburn and Ogburn 134).