Pericles – Act Three: birth, non-death, shipwreck, abandonment

Previously on Pericles: In the first act, we go to Antioch where a princess has had a number of suitors attempt to win her hand. But her father, with whom she is having an incestuous relationship, has come up with a riddle: if you get the riddle right, you get the girl; if not, the king gets your head. Pericles tries this out, and understands the riddle (which is a [thinly] veiled admission of the incest) and is deeply disturbed. He leaves the country, 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 another chorus from Gower (complete with stage-directed dumbshow), recapping the first act, and saying that Pericles was caught in a storm and shipwrecked. Pericles lands in Pentapolis, and befriended by some fishermen, learns that the next day the good king will celebrate the birthday of his daughter Thaisa with a tournament, then is reunited with his armor, and decides to tourney for her love. Of course, our hero wins, but humble, he does not celebrate at the night’s party. Regardless, he has impressed both king and princess. Back in Tyre, we learn Antiochus and his daughter are dead, killed by lightning. The lords of Tyre are tired of waiting for Pericles to return, and tell Helicanus that if Pericles doesn’t return within a year, they will name Helicanus king. In Pentapolis, the king–already ready for Pericles to become his son-in-law–toys with him until Thaisa arrives, at which point they each reveal their love for Pericles, and our Prince of Tyre agrees to marry Thaisa.

The third act begins with another chorus from Gower. He once again gives us a recap, as well as news that the couple is now married and Thaisa, Pericles’ wife, is now pregnant, then we dive into the story (dive being an apt verb, as you shall see). Pericles again is on a ship in a storm. Only this time, he’s not shipwreck. It’s better. And worse, much worse. Lychorida, the nurse for Thaisa enters with a baby (yay) but Thaisa is dead (damn). Two sailors come in and tell Pericles of their superstition: the ship will continue to be struck by the storm because of the the dead body. So the “queen must be overboard” (III.i.48). Pericles agrees, and they prepare her body in a chest, also with “spices, ink and taper…and jewels” (III.i.67-8). It just so happens that they are somewhat near Tarsus, so Pericles announces that they will go there because “the babe / Cannot hold out to Tyrus” (III.i.80-1).

The second scene of the act takes us to Ephesus, where we meet a Lord Cerimon, who seems to be some kind of doctor or medicine man (he gives a terminal prognosis for one man), he also appears to be pretty philosophical (“Virtue and cunning were endowments greater than nobleness and riches…” [III.ii. 26-27]). (Hmmm, some kind of philosophical man of science…can anyone say Friar Laurence?) Anyway, a couple of sailors arrive with a chest they’ve found on the shore. Anybody see where this is headed? They open the chest, find Thaisa and a note of woe from Pericles.

“If thou livest, Pericles, thou hast a heart / That ever cracks for woe” (III.ii.77-78), Cerimon says. He then calls for his “boxes in his closet” (III.ii.82) and with those boxes and “rough and woeful music” (III.ii.89), he is able to revive Thaisa. They then take her away to maintain her recovery.

Act Three, Scene Three takes us back to Pericles, who is in Tarsus with the husband and wife team of Cleon and Dionyza. And it’s a year later (“My twelve months have expired” [III.iii.2]), and Tyre is in trouble (“a litigious peace” [III.iii.3]). Pericles he decides he must leave them. We learn that Pericles has named the baby girl Marina (“for she was born at sea” [III.iii.13]), and he has decided to leave her and her nurse (the ever-surviving Lychorida) in Tarsus under the care and “training” (III.iii.16) of the royal couple. He says he will not cut his hair or shave (“unscissored” [III.iii.28]) until Marina is married. Sure. OK. And he leaves her and the nurse behind.

The last scene of the third act is a short one back in Ephesus. Cerimon confers with Thaisa over the note found in her chest. She recognizes it as coming from Pericles, whom she feels she will “ne’er shall see again” (III.iv.8), and because of this, she decides to become a vestal priestess in a remote temple of Diana.

I think we’re supposed to keep this in mind in the acts to come.

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