Pericles – midpoint: huh?

Using Professor Rodes’ midpoint theory, let’s take a look at Pericles.

There are 2329 lines in in the play, which means the midpoint is at line 1165, or at Act Three, Scene Two, line 5. According to Dr. Rodes’ theory, you could find at this midpoint–or within twenty lines either way–a speech that perfectly sums up a major theme of the play (the 20-line leeway was to help remove the differences in prose line lengths between individual editions).

At the end of Act Three, Scene One, Pericles readies for the body of Thaisa (the “dead” wife) to be cast overboard and buried at sea (because of the superstitions of the sailors). He also states that they will head to Tarsus because the newborn Marina is too weak to make it all the way back to Tyre; and we learn he has decided to “leave it / At careful nursing” (III.i.81-2). Long-time readers know how disdainfully I look at this decision…and the use of “it” doesn’t make me any more likely to hold kind feelings for our prince of Tyre.

But that’s Act Three, Scene One. What about Act Three, Scene Two?

That takes us to Ephesus, where the chest containing Thaisa’s body will soon come ashore. But not yet. In the first few dozen lines of the scene–where the actual midpoint takes place–we meet Lord Cerimon of Ephesus, a kind of wise old man/shaman/healer. We learn of his skills…which will come into play at the end of the scene in the revival of Thaisa’s body. But here, it’s just exposition.

This sequence, this midpoint, just feels weird, awkward. But the more I think about it, it sort of fits. Pericles is a main character who does very little to drive the plot or narrative forward. His agency is about as non-existent as one could have in a main character, and still be the main character. Why should he be directly involved in this midpoint? Why shouldn’t it have at its core a supporting character who will do more in this one scene than Pericles does in much of the play. The speech at midpoint may not speak to the themes of Pericles…but the lack of Pericles’ (or even Thaisa’s) presence there speaks volumes about how weirdly (poorly?) this play is structured.

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