Here’s a question for you: who’s the main character of Pericles? Easy. Pericles. And that’s true. He pretty much dominates the play. According to PlayShakespeare, he is in the Top Twenty of characters in terms of the most speeches in a play; and he’s in the Top Fifteen in terms of the percentage of the play’s speeches he speaks (with 27%; for reference and comparison, Timon was in the Top Ten in total, and number one is percentage, with 35%). So, yeah: Pericles, main character.
But is he the protagonist?
Now, we tend to see protagonist and main character as the same thing. So in that case Pericles would be our protagonist. And the same applies for another quasi-definition of the term: Pericles is certainly the character in the play in whom we as an audience are emotionally invested; we’re rooting for him (though Marina’s got some argument to be made in her defense).
But there’s also the implication of this protagonist character should be aiming for a goal or working toward something (Romeo wants
to get laid, er, love; Macbeth wants the crown; Hamlet wants revenge). Does Pericles have a goal? Is he actively working toward something? (and don’t say that he’s working his way to get to Marina… not when he begins such a quest fourteen years after dropping her off in Tarsus… that does NOT seem to me to be actively working toward something).
And related to this, the protagonist is usually the character who drives the narrative forward. Does Pericles drive the story forward? I’d actually argue the opposite: I think the play contrives and drives Pericles forward.
So does Pericles have a true protagonist?