Pericles – Act Four: betrayal, buccaneers, and bawds (oh my!)

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. The king sends one of his lords to find Pericles and kill him. In Tyre, Pericles worries of the king sending an army to Tyre; his loyal lord Helicanus convinces Pericles to leave and 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 the birthday celebration tournament for the hand of the country’s princess, Thaisa. Of course, our hero wins, impressing both king and princess. Back in Tyre, the lords of Tyre are tired of waiting for Pericles to return; if Pericles doesn’t return within a year, they will name Helicanus king. In Pentapolis, father and daughter reveal their loves for Pericles, and our Prince of Tyre agrees to marry Thaisa. In the third act, in another storm, Pericles learns of the birth of his daughter but the death of his wife. The sailors of the ship tell Pericles of their superstitions and that Thaisa’s body must be off-shipped. Her body is placed in a chest with spices, jewels and a note from Pericles; the chest is put into the sea. In Ephesus, we are introduced to Lord Cerimon, a kind of philosophical doctor or medicine man. Local sailors arrive with a chest, which they open, finding Thaisa and a note of woe from Pericles. Cerimon then, with his knowledge and tools, revives Thaisa. Pericles spends a year in Tarsus with Cleon and Dionyza, decides to return to Tyre, but leaves Marina (the daughter) in Tarsus. The act ends with Thaisa, believing Pericles is dead, deciding to become a vestal priestess in a remote temple of Diana.

The fourth act of Pericles begins, as all the previous ones have, with a Gower chorus. Time has passed, he tells us, and Marina has grown up with the daughter of Cleon and Dionyza. Which is fine, only Marina outshines, “gets / All praises” (IV.Cho.33-4), and “Cleon’s wife, with envy rare” (IV.Cho. 37), has decided to have Marina killed. Oh, and by the way, “Lychorida, our nurse, is dead” (IV.Cho.42). The first scene of the act flies directly from this information, with Dionyza preparing the murderer Leonine to take on the task. Marina enters alone. Dionyza tells Marina that Leonine with walk with her; Marina tries to refuse, saying she doesn’t want to take Dionyza’s servant from her, but Dionyza is convincing, and leaves the two alone. Leonine tells Marina to say her prayers, as he is about to kill her. And just as he is about to do so, three pirates come in and steal Marina away. Leonine hopes that they will kill Marina, but he’s concerned that they might just “please themselves upon her, / Not carry her aboard” (IV.i.100-101); so he follows them to finish off Marina if she still lives.

The second scene of the act takes us to Mytilene, and to a whole different universe. Gone are the heroes of antiquity, here are the purveyors of iniquity: a pander, a madam and their underling, Boult (any bawdy connotation with his name being a phallic object is purely coincidental; I’m sure). So we get some bawdy humor before the pirates enter with Marina. The pirates want to sell Marina to the bawds; when the bawd asks if she’s a virgin, we get a comic response, “O, sir, we doubt it not” (IV.ii.40). The bawds, thinking they can bring in a great many customers and a great deal of cash for this fresh meat, agree to buy her. Marina, for her part, now laments that “Leonine was so slack, so slow” (IV.ii.60); dying would have been a better fate. After a conversation that swings back and forth between shock (Marina) and bawdy (the bawds, natch), they take her home to prepare her for the night to come.

Scene Three takes us back to Tarsus. Cleon is dismayed and shocked to learn what Dionyza has done (we learn she’s also poisoned Leonine); he fears what Pericles will do. Dionyza says that he’ll say nothing because they will tell Pericles that she died in the night. And since they are building a “monument” (IV.iii.42) for her, their love will appear sincere. Cleon doesn’t know what to do, but Dionyza does: “I know you’ll do as I advise” (IV.iii.51).

Now for the first time in the play, we get a non-act-opening appearance by Gower. He shows up for another 50+ line monologue (again, complete with dumbshow). 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 swears not to “wash his face nor cut his hairs” (IV.iv.28)…remember he hasn’t shaved since he left Marina in Tarsus. He and his ship leave Tarsus.

The fifth scene of the play takes us back to the streets of Mytilene, as two men are leaving the brothel. They’re a little discombobulated: they had come for sex, but instead get “divinity preached” (IV.v.4) to them by Marina. In fact, her divinity has them wanting to turn over new leaves: they plan to visit the vestals, and do “anything now that is virtuous” (IV.v.8).

At the brothel (and the beginning of the sixth and final scene of the act), the bawds are bemoaning their state, wishing they had “twice the worth of [Marina if only] she had ne’er come here” (IV.vi.1-2). There’s much bawdy humor before the governor of Mytilene, Lysimachus, arrives in disguise (so he won’t be seen?); he indulges them with more dirty jokes. Lysimachus want a lil’ sumthin’-sumthin’ and the bawds tell him, “We have one here, sir if she would — but there never came her like in Mytilene” (IV.vi.24-5)–truth in advertising (to the letter if not the spirit of the bawds). He decides to see her, and they bring her in; the bawd begs her to stop her “virginal fencing…[since Lysimachus] will line [her] apron with gold” (IV.vi.52,53). They leave Marina with the governor, and so begins a game of cat-and-mouse. It’s not much of a game: the governor never stood a chance. Within 40 lines, he is convinced of her virtue and pays her for her strength and “goodness” (IV.vi.109). When the bawds return, Lysimachus–now a changed man–curses them and leaves. 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:

If that thy master would gain by me,
Proclaim that I can sing, weave, sew, and dance,
With other virtues which I’ll keep from boast,
And will undertake all these to teach.
I doubt not but this populous city
Will yield many scholars.
  • IV.vi.175-180

She’ll turn her part of the brothel into a kind of school to teach “honest women” (IV.vi.188) honest trades (singing, sewing, weaving, and dancing); she’ll let the bawds have a cut of her educational earnings. The act and scene ends with the bawds’ consideration of the offer.

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