Pericles, Prince of Tyre "The Great Ones Eat Up The Little Ones"
by William Shakespeare

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"The Great Ones Eat Up The Little Ones"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

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Context: Pericles, Prince of Tyre, has gone to the court of Antiochus, King of Antioch, to woo his daughter. The hand of the princess can, however, be won only by the man who solves a riddle propounded by her father. The failure to do so brings death to the suitor. Pericles is able to solve the riddle; but in so doing, he uncovers the terrible secret of incest between Antiochus and his daughter. The king knows that Pericles has discovered this secret and resolves upon the prince's death, but Pericles escapes from Antioch and returns to Tyre. But even in his own palace he is not safe from the vengeance of Antiochus, and he is advised by a faithful nobleman, Helicanus, to travel incognito until Antiochus either forgets his anger or dies. Pericles accepts the advice and starts on a voyage, just in time to escape Thaliard, an agent sent by Antiochus to murder him. The prince stops for a while at Tarsus; but he is not safe even there, so he resumes his voyage. His ship is wrecked in a storm, and Pericles is the only survivor. As he wanders by the seashore, he meets three fishermen who are discussing the storm and the shipwreck and the dangers of the sea. Their comments on the struggle for survival among the fish are a satirical description of the struggle among men, even among such rulers as Antiochus and Pericles:

PATCH-BREECH. . . Master, I marvel how the fishes live in the sea.FIRST FISHERMANWhy, as men do a-land; the great ones eat up the little ones. I can compare our rich misers to nothing so fitly as to a whale; 'a plays and tumbles, driving the poor fry before him, and at last devours them all at a mouthful. Such whales have I heard on a th' land, who never leave gaping till they've swallowed the whole parish, church, steeple, bells and all.PERICLES [aside]A pretty moral.