Pericles – Act Five: reunited…and it feels so good

Previously on Pericles: In the first act, Pericles leaves Antioch (after figuring out that the princess is having an incestuous relationship with her father), fearing for his life. In Tyre, Pericles worries of the king sending an army to Tyre; his loyal lord Helicanus convinces Pericles to travel. In Tarsus, the governor and his wife, bemoan their drought and failing country, but Pericles saves the day with food. He is welcomed as a hero. The second act begins with Pericles caught in a storm and shipwrecked in Pentapolis. He learns of birthday celebration tournament for the hand of the country’s princess Thaisa, whose hand (and father’s love) our hero wins. Back in Tyre, if Pericles doesn’t return within a year, the lords will name Helicanus king. In the third act, in another storm, Pericles’ daughter is born, but Thaisa dies. The sailors of the ship tell Pericles his wife’s body must be off-shipped. Her body is placed in a chest, and put into the sea. In Ephesus, that chest is discovered by a Lord Cerimon; when they open it, find Thaisa. Cerimon then revives Thaisa. Pericles spends a year in Tarsus with Cleon and Dionyza, decides to return to Tyre, but leaving his daughter Marina in Tarsus. The act ends with Thaisa, believing Pericles is dead, deciding to become a vestal priestess in a remote temple of Diana. In the fourth act, time has passed, and Marina has grown up with the daughter of Cleon and Dionyza, but Marina outshines her companion, and an envious Dionyza decides to have Marina killed. Dionyza brings Marina and the murderer Leonine together. Just as he is about to kill her, three pirates come in and steal Marina away. In Mytilene, a pander and a madam engage in some bawdy humor before the pirates enter with Marina. The pirates sell Marina to the bawds, who think they can bring in new customers and a great deal of cash for this fresh meat. Pericles and Helicanus travel to Tarsus to pick up Marina. He arrives in Tarsus to learn his daughter is dead, and he is devastated. He and his ship leave Tarsus. At the brothel, the bawds are bemoaning their state, with Marina turning their customers into good men. The governor of Mytilene, Lysimachus, arrives, and the bawds bring Marina in. Within 40 lines, he is convinced of her virtue and pays her for her strength. When the bawds return, they prepare to drag her off and rape her (so she’ll no longer be able to cite her virtue and virginity), when she offers them a bargain: let her teach singing, weaving, sewing and dance, and she’ll give them a cut of her educational earnings. They consider the deal.

The fifth and final act of Pericles begins, again, with Gower, who tells us that Marina’s offer is accepted, and that her school is a success. Gower also tells us that still depressed Pericles–again lost at sea–has arrived in Mytilene.

Act Five, Scene One, puts us on Pericles’ ship, with news that the governor Lysimachus is coming out to greet them. Helicanus (so old he’s almost wishing for death [V.i.14]), greets the governor and tells him that the ship contains the King of Tyre, “who for this three months hath not spoken / To anyone, nor taken sustenance” (V.i.22-3). So Pericles hasn’t even eaten in the last three months (has it been three months since he was at Tarsus? Must be.). Lysimachus asks to see Pericles, and Helicanus says that he can, not that it’ll do him any good. It doesn’t.

But then one of lords of Mytilene reminds Lysimachus of that “maid of Mytilene [who] would win some words of him” (V.i.38, 39). The governor sends for this maid, and we know where this is going. Marina arrives. When Helicanus comments on her bearing and beauty, Lysimachus says that if he could only know that she came from “kind and noble stock” (V.i.64) or parentage, he’d marry her himself. They let Marina try to break through to the silent (and one would assume, hairy) king: she sings to him, she speaks to him; he tries to push her away. Then Marina tells her story in oblique terms; she thinks it’s doing no good, but at the same time something is “whisper[ing] in [her] ear, “Go not till he speak” (V.i.91).

And he does, saying, “My fortunes – parentage – good parentage – / To equal mine – Was it not thus? What say you?” (V.i.92-3). He has heard something that makes him want to hear more (of course, that’s because her story is his story). Pericles questions her, and her answers spur him on to request to hear her story in detail, and when she does tell it, Pericles realizes the truth.

Father and daughter are reunited.

No longer crushed by waves of an unloving ocean, Pericles now feels “this great sea of joys rushing upon [him]” (V.i.196). He calls for fresh robes, is horrified by his own looks, and speaks of music–”the music of the spheres” (V.i.222) that only he can hear. Exhausted, he calls for rest, and the others leave him to sleep. During this nap, the goddess Diana “descends from the heavens” (V.i.230 stage direction). She tells him that he must go to her temple in Ephesus. She leaves, he wakes, and calls in the others to direct them to take him to Ephesus.

The second scene is another Gower chorus, taking us to Ephesus, where the final scene of the play takes place. At the temple, Pericles, with his entourage enters from one side, the vestals with Cerimon from the other. The king prays to Diana, telling his story, and for the first time, we learn how many years have passed: Marina was “fourteen” (V.iii.8) when she was threatened with murder in Tarsus. One of the vestals recognizes him: “Voice and fabor — / You are, you are — O royal Pericles!” (V.iii.13-4). It is Thaisa, and she faints.

Pericles doesn’t understand but Cerimon does; he tells the king that if what he prayed was true, the fainting nun is his wife. Pericles can’t believe it, as he himself threw her overboard. Cerimon says that the items in the chest will prove it, and Thaisa awakes.

Mother and father and daughter, husband and wife, are reunited.

And all that’s left is for Pericles to announce that his son (Lysimachus) and daughter (who marries the governor) will reign in Tyre, and for Gower to wrap it all up, with a note that the people of Tarsus rose up against “wicked Cleon and his wife” (Epi.11), and killed them for their intended murder of Marina. And then wishing joys upon us, he ends the play.

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