CAST OF CHARACTERS
ANTIOCHUS, King of Antioch.
PERICLES, Prince of Tyre.
HELICANUS and ESCANES, two Lords of Tyre.
SIMONIDES, King of Pentapolis.
CLEON, Governor of Tarsus.
LYSIMACHUS, Governor of Mitylene.
CERIMON, a Lord of Ephesus.
THALIARD, a Lord of Antioch.
PHILEMON, Servant to Cerimon.
LEONINE, Servant to Dionyza.
BOULT, Servant to Pandar and Bawd.
The Daughter of Antiochus.
DIONYZA, Wife to Cleon.
THAISA, Daughter to Simonides.
MARINA, Daughter to Pericles and Thaisa.
LYCHORIDA, Nurse to Marina.
Lords, Ladies, Knights, Gentlemen, Sailors, Pirates, Fishermen, and Messengers.
JOHN GOWER, as Chorus.
SCENE. — Various Mediterranean Countries.
— Prologue —
Addressing you the reader, John Gower, a resurrected 14th-century contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer, and a poet who wrote on the topic of Pericles, said, “To tell a tale that was told of old, I, ancient John Gower, from ashes have come. I have taken for myself a human body and again taken on man’s infirmities so that I can gladden your ears and please your eyes.
“What you are about to hear has been sung at festivals, and on ember-eves and holy-ales.”
Embers are three-day periods of religious fasting. Often, people would enjoy themselves on the eve of an ember. A holy-ale was a happy religious festival.
Gower continued, “And lords and ladies in their lives have read this tale, which has appeared in many books, because of its restorative power — this feel-good tale is medicine for the reader. The benefit of reading this tale is to make men glorious. Et bonum quo antiquius, eo melius. Translation: And the older a good thing is, the better it is.
“If you, born in these latter times — later than my times — when learning is more sophisticated, accept my words and occasional rhymes, and if to hear an old man may bring pleasure to you, I would wish for life, so that I might spend it for you, like a burning candle that is spent as it gives light.
“Know that this location is Antioch. Antiochus the Great built up this city to be his chiefest seat, his capital. This city is the fairest in all Syria. I tell you now what I have learned from my authorities. This King took for himself a peer — a wife — who died and left a female heir, who was so lively, carefree, and beautiful of face that it was as if Heaven had lent her all his grace. The father, Antiochus, took a liking to her and provoked her to commit incest. Bad child; worse father! The father enticed his own daughter to do evil that should be done by none. But with time the incest they committed began to seem no sin to them — when one is accustomed to sin, the sin seems to be no sin.
“The beauty of this sinful dame made many Princes go to her, to seek her as a wife and bedfellow, and make her in marriage-pleasures his playfellow.
“To prevent her marrying one of her suitors, Antiochus made a law to keep her always with him and to keep men in awe so that they would not seek to wed her. The law stated that whoever asked her to be his wife must find the answer to a riddle. If he did not know the answer, he lost his life.
“So for her many a poor creature did die, as yonder grim looks do testify.”
Gower pointed to some decapitated heads that had been stuck on the ends of spikes.
He continued, “What now follows in this book, I give to the judgment of your eyes. You will be the judges of what follows and decide if it is good or bad. You will judge for yourself whether this book gladdens your spirits.”
— 1.1 —
In a garden of King Antiochus’ palace in Antioch, Antiochus and Pericles, Prince of Tyre, talked. Pericles had come to Antiochus’ palace in order to make Antiochus’ daughter his wife.
King Antiochus said, “Young Prince of Tyre, you have fully heard about the danger of the task you undertake.”
“I have, Antiochus, and with a soul emboldened with the glory of your daughter’s praise, I think that death is no hazard in this enterprise.”
“Bring in our daughter, clothed like a bride for the embraces even of Jupiter, King of the gods, himself,” King Antiochus said. “From my daughter’s conception until Lucina, goddess of childbirth, reigned, Nature gave my daughter this dowry: To gladden my daughter, the senate-house of planets all did sit and gave her their best perfections. All the astrological signs were propitious from the time my daughter was conceived until she was born.”
Music played, and King Antiochus’ daughter entered the garden.
“See where she comes, clothed like the Spring,” Pericles said. “The Three Graces — sister goddesses who bestow beauty and charm — are her subjects, and her thoughts dwell on the Kingliest form of every virtue that gives renown to men! Her face is the book of memorable praises, where is read nothing but exquisite pleasures, as if from thence sorrow had been forever erased and testy wrath could never be her mild companion.
“You gods who made me man, and made me sway in love, who have inflamed desire in my breast to taste the fruit, the daughter, of yonder celestial tree, Antiochus, or die in the attempt, be my helpers, as I am son and servant to your will — help me to achieve such a boundless happiness!”
“Prince Pericles —” Antiochus began.
Pericles interrupted, “— who would be a son-in-law to great Antiochus.”
Antiochus continued, “Before you stands this fair garden of the Hesperides, with golden fruit, but dangerous to be touched, for deadly dragons are here to fiercely frighten you.”
One of Hercules’ twelve labors was to go to the garden of the Hesperides — goddesses of the evening — and steal some golden apples that were guarded by a hundred-headed dragon.
Antiochus continued, “My daughter’s face, like Heaven, entices you to view her countless — as numerous as the stars — glories, which merit must gain. If you lack the merit to achieve my daughter, then because your eye presumes to acquire what it does not deserve, all the entire heap of your body must die.”
Antiochus pointed to the decapitated heads and said, “These once famous Princes, like yourself, drawn by reports of my daughter’s graces, made adventurous by desire for her, tell you, with the speechless tongues and pale faces, that without any covering, save a field of stars, here they stand martyrs, slain in Cupid’s wars, and with their dead cheeks they advise you to desist from going so early into the net of Death, whom none can resist.”
“Antiochus, I thank you,” Pericles said. “You have taught me to know that I am frail and mortal, and you have used those fearful objects — those heads impaled on spikes — to prepare this body, which is similar to their bodies, for what I must do someday, which is to die.
“For death remembered should be like a mirror, which tells us that life is only breath, and to trust that we will continue always to live is an error. For mortal men, death is not optional.”
Mirrors are used to see if someone is dead. The mirror is held against the person’s nose and mouth. If the person is breathing, mist appears on the mirror.
Pericles continued, “I’ll make my will then, and I will do as sick men do who know the world and see Heaven, but, feeling woe, they do not grasp at Earthly joys as formerly they did. Heaven is preferable to ill life on Earth.
“So in my will I bequeath a happy peace to you and to all good men, as every Prince should do. If I die, do not feel guilty.”
Pericles then looked at Antiochus’ daughter and said, “My riches — my body — will return to the Earth from whence they came, but I leave my unspotted and pure fire of love to you.”
He continued, “Thus ready for the way of life or the way of death, I await the sharpest blow, Antiochus.”
“Since you scorn and reject advice,” Antiochus replied, “read the riddle out loud. If you cannot solve the riddle after you have read it, it is decreed that like these Princes who tried and failed before you, you yourself shall bleed.”
Antiochus’ daughter said, “In all save this, may you prove to be successful! In all save this, I wish you happiness!”
She did not want her sin — committing incest with her father — to be made known, so she did not want Pericles to solve the riddle; however, Pericles had made enough of an impression on her that she did not want him to die.
Pericles said, “Like a bold champion, I enter the combat arena, and I do not ask help from any other thought except faithfulness and courage.”
He read the riddle out loud:
“I am no viper, yet I feed
“On mother’s flesh which did me breed.”
The first two lines referred to the belief that vipers were born by eating their way out of their mother’s body.
“I sought a husband, in which labor
“I found that kindness in a father:
“He’s father, son, and husband mild;
“I mother, wife, and yet his child.
“How they may be, and yet in two,
“As you will live, resolve it you.”
Pericles solved the riddle immediately, but solving it gave him no pleasure: King Antiochus and his daughter were incestuous lovers.
Of course, the daughter was the child of King Antiochus. Because she was sleeping with him, it was as if she were his wife. Because she was sleeping with him, it was if she had taken the place of her mother.
Of course, King Antiochus was the father of his daughter. Because he was sleeping with her, it was as if he were her husband. Because he was sleeping with his daughter and because it was as if she had taken the place of her mother, it was as if he were her son-in-law.
Pericles thought, The last line of the riddle is strong medicine. If I want to live, I must solve the riddle, and I must show that I have solved it by stating the answer out loud. Since King Antiochus will hardly want his sin to be publicly known, I will be killed whether I speak up or not.You powers who give Heaven countless eyes — stars — to view men’s acts, why haven’t you clouded those eyes perpetually and kept this sin hidden if this sin is true — this sin which makes me pale to read it?
Pericles looked at Antiochus’ daughter and said to her, “Fair glass of light, I loved you, and could still, were not this glorious casket stored with ill.”
The daughter was like a looking glass, a mirror. It reflected but did not contain light. Its appearance was beautiful, but its reality was not beautiful. The daughter’s body was like a beautiful casket, but what was inside — her soul — was ill.
Pericles continued, “But I must tell you, now my thoughts revolt — he’s no man on whom perfections wait who, knowing sin is within, will touch the gate.”
In this society, “gate” was slang for “vagina.”
Pericles continued, “You are a fair viol, and your body and senses are the strings. If your strings were fingered to make lawful music for a man, as a husband and a wife can lawfully do, then Heaven and all the gods would come down to Earth to listen.
“But your strings have been played upon before the right time. Only Hell dances to so harsh a music.
“Truly, I do not care for you.”
Pericles made a movement that King Antiochus interpreted as Pericles’ being about to touch his daughter, and he immediately warned him, “Prince Pericles, do not touch my daughter, upon your life. If you touch her, you die. That’s an article within our law — this article is as dangerous as anything else in our law. Your time is up. Either give the answer to the riddle now, or receive your sentence.”
“Great King,” Pericles said, “few love to hear the sins they love to act; it would touch yourself too nearly for me to tell the answer to the riddle. Whoever has a book of all the actions that monarchs do will be safer if he keeps that book shut than if he shows it to others.
“Vice gossiped about is like the wandering wind. As the gossip spreads his news, he blows dust in others’ eyes. Sometimes the gossip deceives others, and sometimes the news is true. The gossip’s news irritates both the hearers and the guilty parties. This is done at a high price. After the gossip has spread the news, the sore eyes of the guilty see clearly who is spreading the news, and to stop the news being spread further, they hurt the gossip.
“The blind mole casts peaked hills — molehills — towards Heaven, to reveal that the Earth is crushed by man’s sins; and the poor mole dies for it.”
A mole builds molehills like men of excessive pride built the tower of Babel to reach Heaven, and so each molehill is a reminder of men’s sin. By building the molehill and broadcasting news of men’s sins, the mole reveals its presence and the gardener kills it.
Pericles continued, “Kings are the gods of Earth; when it comes to vice, their law is their will — they do whatever they want. If Jupiter should stray and commit adultery, as he has many, many times, who dares to say that Jupiter commits a sin?
“It is enough that you know that I know, and it is fitting to smother news of a sin when the sin grows worse when it is widely known.
“All love the womb that first gave birth to their being, so then give my tongue similar permission to love my head.”
Pericles was telling King Antiochus that he preferred being silent to losing his head. He was willing to keep King Antiochus’ secret if the King would allow him to live. Earlier, the King’s daughter had made it clear that she did not want her secret sin to be revealed and that she did not want Pericles to die, so her wishes might make her father more merciful to Pericles.
King Antiochus thought, By Heaven, I wish that I had your head! I would like to have your intelligence. I also would like to have your head off your shoulders so that I can be certain that my secret is not publicly revealed. Pericles has found the meaning of the riddle, but I will speak duplicitous flattering words to him.
He said, “Young Prince of Tyre, though by the terms of our strict law, because you have not explained the riddle, we might proceed to cancel all of your days and have you killed immediately, yet hope, proceeding from so fair a tree as your fair self — we hope that you will have fruit, aka children, one day — does importune us to do otherwise. We will give you a respite of forty more days, if by which time you reveal the secret of the riddle, this mercy shows that we will take joy in such a son-in-law. Until then your entertainment here shall be as befits our honor and your merit.”
Everyone left except Pericles, who said to himself, “King Antiochus’ courtesy is an attempt to cover up his sin, but this is done by a hypocrite who is good in nothing except appearance! If it were true that I solved the riddle incorrectly, then it would be certain that you — Antiochus — were not so bad as with foul incest to abuse your soul. However, you’re both a father and a son-in-law because of your ill and untimely claspings with your child. That kind of pleasure is fitting for a husband, not a father, and she has become an eater of her mother’s flesh because of her defiling of her parents’ bed. She has taken her mother’s place in her father’s bed, and she has taken the pleasure reserved for the mother. Both are like serpents, for although father and daughter feed on sweetest flowers, yet they breed poison.
“Antioch, farewell! Wisdom knows that those men who do not blush as they perform actions blacker than the night will shun no course of action to keep those black actions from the light.
“One sin, I know, another does provoke; murder is as near to lust as flame is to smoke. Poison and treason are the hands of sin, yes, and also the shields to ward off the shame.
“So then, lest my life be cut down to keep you, King Antiochus, clear, with my flight I’ll shun the danger that I fear.”
Pericles left the garden, and King Antiochus returned to it.
King Antiochus said to himself, “Pericles has found the meaning of the riddle, for which we mean to have his decapitated head. He must not live to trumpet forth my infamy, nor tell the world that I, Antiochus, sin in such a loathed manner, and therefore immediately this Prince must die, for by his fall my honor must remain high.”
He said loudly, “Who is waiting on us?”
Thaliard, an important lord, entered the garden and asked, “Is your Highness calling me?”
Using the royal plural, King Antiochus replied, “You are of our inner circle, and you know our secrets. Because of your faithfulness to us, we will advance and promote you.”
He gave Thaliard some items and said, “Thaliard, look, here’s poison, and here’s gold. We hate Pericles, the Prince of Tyre, and you must kill him. Don’t ask the reason why. It is enough that you know we want you to kill him. Tell me, will it be done?”
“My lord, it will be done.”
A messenger, out of breath because he had hurried to bring King Antiochus important news, ran into the garden.
King Antiochus said to him, “Let your breathing cool yourself as you tell us the reason for your haste.”
The messenger said, “My lord, Prince Pericles has fled,” and then he left.
King Antiochus said to Thaliard, “If you want to continue to live, run after Pericles, and like an arrow shot by a much-experienced archer hits the target that his eyes aim at, make sure that you never return here unless you can tell me, ‘Prince Pericles is dead.’”
Thaliard replied, “My lord, if I can get him within the range of my pistol, I’ll kill him — he will be sure to do no damage to you. So, farewell to your Highness.”
King Antiochus said to himself, “Until Pericles is dead, my heart can lend no relief to my head.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved