Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In Syria, King Antiochus’s wife died in giving birth to a daughter. By the time the child has grown to lovely womanhood, King Antiochus has conceived an unnatural passion for her. Her beauty attracts suitors to Antioch from far and wide, but King Antiochus, reluctant to give up his daughter, poses a riddle to each suitor. If the riddle goes unanswered, the suitor is executed. Many men, hoping to win the princess, lose their lives in this way.
Prince Pericles of Tyre arrives in Antioch to seek the hand of the beautiful princess. Having declared that he is willing to risk his life for the hand of the king’s daughter, he reads the riddle posed to him, the solution to which discloses an incestuous relationship between King Antiochus and his daughter. Pericles understands but hesitates, prudently, to reveal his knowledge. Pressed by King Antiochus, he hints that he has fathomed the riddle. King Antiochus, unnerved and determined to kill Pericles, invites the young prince to stay at the court for forty days, in which time he can decide whether he will forthrightly give the solution to the riddle. Pericles, convinced that his life is in great danger, flees. King Antiochus sends agents after him with orders to kill the prince on sight.
Pericles, back in Tyre, is fearful that King Antiochus will ravage Tyre in an attempt to take Pericles’ life. After consulting with his lords, he decides that he can save Tyre by going on a journey that lasts...
(The entire section is 1388 words.)
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Gower, the Chorus, reveals that Antiochus, the king of Antioch, is engaged in an incestuous relationship with his daughter, and that both Antiochus and his daughter have grown accustomed to the situation and cease to consider it abnormal. The daughter of Antiochus is renowned for her great beauty, and princely suitors from around the world flock to Antioch to try and solve the riddle Antiochus insists they must solve if they are to wed his daughter. If they are unsuccessful in solving that riddle, they are put to death. Pericles, the prince of Tyre, arrives to try his luck. He is greatly impressed with the beauty of Antiochus's daughter and decides to risk his life. He solves the riddle but is reluctant to announce the solution because it refers to the incestuous relationship between father and daughter. He tells Antiochus's daughter that he no longer finds her desirable and tells Antiochus that the solution is best left unsaid since it would bring shame to the king. Antiochus knows that Pericles has solved the riddle. Publicly, he claims that Pericles has provided the wrong answer but, because he is so favored, will be given another forty days to figure it out. Secretly, he determines to kill Pericles before the secret of incest is revealed. He enlists Thaliard to kill Pericles, who knows Antiochus will kill him in order to keep his secret. Pericles flees during the night, and Thaliard is ordered to follow, not returning until he has killed...
(The entire section is 2261 words.)