Pericles: Viral Virtue

A couple of days back, I played with the idea of Marina as quasi-protagonist in Pericles. There’s so much bad sex in the play, that what she stands for–virginity and virtue–seems all the more important.

After the incest of Antioch, the relative normality of Pentapolis feels like a haven. Here, the daughter is not incestuous, but rather “beauty’s child, whom nature gat” (II.ii.6). But Simonides, being Simonides, sort of ruins it with the line’s continuation: “For men to see, and seeing wonder at” (II.ii.7). Check out my daughter, boys. Is this a case of: you can look but you better not touch?

In the Chorus to Act Three, Gower tells of of the loss of Thaisa’s virginity on her and Pericles’ wedding night: “Hymen hath brought the bride to bed, / Where, by loss of maidenhead, / A babe is molded” (III.Ch.10-2). Thaisa fertile, Pericles virile, or this is another case of that which “nature gat.”

In the Chorus for Act Four, Gower describes Philoten, daughter of Cleon and Dionyza, as being “even right for marriage sight” (IV.Ch.17). One would assume a virgin.

When Marina is brought to the bawds, her virginity is attested to by the pirates in the wonderfully comic response to the question asking if she is a virgin, “O, sir, we doubt it not” (IV.ii.40). This is a good thing for Marina, but an even better one for the bawds, as financially “such a maidenhead were no cheap thing” (IV.ii.56).

If only they could get her to give it up.

Virtue protects virginity, and in doing so, spreads itself. Viral virtue.

She converts the two prospective customers in Act Four, Scene Five, as well as Lysimachus in the next scene, who he tells her, “Thou art a piece of virtue” ( And she convinces her panders and bawds to allow her to spread her goodness to other “honest women” (

When Marina teaches the others, “she sings like one immortal, and she dances / as goddesslike” (V.Ch.3-4). I wonder which goddess…but I get ahead of myself…

When she unknowingly introduces herself to the mourning Pericles, her first description of herself is “I am a maid” (V.i.80). Her virginity is so important that it has become a part of her introduction. Once the father-daughter reunion has taken place, Pericles becomes a kind of latter-day Semonides, telling Lysimachus, “You shall prevail, / Were it to woo my daughter; for it seems / You have been noble towards her” (V.i.252).

And for that immortal goddess, do you think that’s a subtle (or not-so-subtle) reference to the goddess Diana? If not then, it should be. The final familial reunion takes place at the temple of Diana in Ephesus, and “Diana” is among the first words Thaisa speaks upon her miraculous revival (III.ii.105). Interestingly, “Diana” appears only 34 times in all of the Canon. In this play, “Diana” appears more than in any other (11 instances, 9 in dialogue [because yes, I know, Diana is a character in the play, but that character’s the actual goddess]); only All’s Well That Ends Well, which includes a human character named Diana who is important to the plot in the second half of the play (7 dialogue references), comes close; after that, the most it appears in any play is twice.

Oh, and what is Diana the goddess of?