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 until King Antiochus has died. Thaliard, a Syrian lord who has come to Tyre to take Pericles’ life, learns of Pericles’ departure and returns to Antioch to report the prince’s intention. Meanwhile, in the remote Greek province of Tarsus, Cleon, the governor, and his wife, Dionyza, grieve because there is famine in the land. As they despair, it is reported that a fleet of ships stands off the coast. Cleon is sure that Tarsus is about to be invaded, but actually the ships are those of Pericles, who has come to Tarsus with grain to succor the starving populace. Cleon welcomes the Tyrians, and his people invoke the Greek gods to protect their saviors from all harm.
Pericles receives word from Tyre that King Antiochus’s agents are pursuing him relentlessly, and he is no longer safe in Tarsus. He thereupon takes leave of Cleon and sets sail. On the high seas the Tyrians meet disaster in a storm. The fleet is lost; Pericles is the only survivor. Washed ashore in Greece, he is helped by simple fishermen. Fortunately, the fishermen also retrieve Pericles’ suit of armor from the sea.
With the help of the fishermen, Pericles travels to Pentapolis, the court of King Simonides, where a tournament is being held to honor the birthday of Thaisa, the king’s lovely daughter. Among the gallant knights he meets, Pericles presents a wretched sight in his rusted armor. Even so, he defeats all antagonists and is crowned king of the tournament by Thaisa. At the banquet following the tournament, Pericles, reminded of his own father’s splendid court, lapses into melancholy. Seeing his dejection, King Simonides drinks a toast to him and asks him who he is. He discloses that he is Pericles of Tyre, a castaway. His modesty and courteous deportment make an excellent impression on King Simonides and Thaisa.
Meanwhile, in Antioch, King Antiochus and his daughter, riding together in a chariot, are struck dead by a bolt of lightning. In Tyre, Pericles has been given up for dead, and the lords propose that Helicanus, Pericles’ deputy, take the crown. The old lord, confident that his prince is still alive, directs them to spend a year in search of Pericles. In Pentapolis, Thaisa, having lost her heart to Pericles, tricks her other suitors into leaving by reporting that she will remain a maiden for another year; she and Pericles are then married.
A short time before Thaisa is to give birth to a child, Pericles learns that King Antiochus is dead and that Helicanus has been importuned to take the crown of Tyre. Free to...
(The entire section is 3,649 words.)