David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s PERICLES, PRINCE OF TYRE: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scene 2

 — 1.2 —

Pericles had returned to Tyre and was standing in a room of his palace.

Pericles said to the lords who were just outside the room, “Let no one disturb us.”

He then said to himself, “Why should this change of thoughts, this sad companion, this dull-eyed melancholy, be my so accustomed guest that not an hour, whether in the Sun’s glorious walk across the sky, or in the peaceful night, which is the tomb where grief should sleep, can produce for me quiet? I used to be happy, but now I am continually melancholy.

“Here pleasures court my eyes, but my eyes shun them, and danger, which I feared, is at Antioch, the aim of whose King seems far too short to hit me here. Yet neither pleasure’s art can add joy to my spirits, nor can danger’s distance comfort me.

“Then this must be true: The passionate feelings of the mind, which have their first conception by misdread — the fear of evil — have later sustenance and life by worry. And what was at first only fear of what might happen, grows elder now and takes action so that what is feared does not happen.

“And so it is with me. The great Antiochus, against whom I am too little to contend, since he’s so great that he can do whatever he wants, will think I am speaking to others about his sin, although I swear that I am silent. Nor will it help me if I say that I honor him if he suspects that I may dishonor him by revealing his sin. Knowing that it would make him blush if it were known, he’ll stop the course by which it might be known. To keep me from talking about his sin, he will kill me.

“With hostile forces he’ll overspread our land, and with the show of war he will look so huge that terror shall drive courage from our state. Our men will be vanquished before they resist, and our subjects will be punished although they have never thought of causing offense.

“My concern for them, not pity for myself, who am no more but as the tops of trees, which guard the roots they grow by and defend them, makes both my body pine and my soul languish, and it punishes me before Antiochus can punish me.”

Helicanus, who was an older lord, and some other lords entered the room.

The first lord said to Pericles, “May joy and all comfort be in your sacred breast!”

The second lord said, “May joy and all comfort, until you return to us, keep you peaceful and comfortable!”

The lords were aware that Pericles had been melancholy lately. They were wishing peaceful and comfortable feelings for Pericles until he returned to normal and became a man of action again.

Helicanus, however, objected to this. Instead of the lords’ encouraging Pericles to be inactive, he felt that they should encourage him to immediately cast off his melancholy and immediately become a man of action again.

“Peace, peace, and let an experienced man speak,” Helicanus said. “They who flatter the King abuse him, for flattery is the bellows that blows up sin. The thing that is flattered is only a spark, to which the blast of the bellows gives heat and stronger glowing. Flattery misleads Kings and encourages them to do the wrong thing.

“In contrast, reproof, when obedient and in order, befits Kings, as they are men, for men and Kings may err.”

Referring to the second lord, Helicanus said, “When Signior Flattery here advises peace for you, he flatters you: He tells you that your inactivity is justified, and in so doing he makes war upon your life.”

Seeing that Pericles looked angry, Helicanus knelt and said, “Prince, pardon me, or strike me, if you please. I cannot be much lower than my knees.”

Pericles said to the other lords, “All except Helicanus leave us, but take care to go to the harbor and see what ships and cargoes are there. I must be on the lookout for ships from Antioch. Once you are done, return to us.”

This may have gladdened Helicanus — Pericles was taking at least a little action. However, Pericles was angry at Helicanus’ criticism of the second lord — and Pericles wanted to wallow in his melancholy.

The lords exited, and using the royal plural, Pericles said, “Helicanus, you have moved us emotionally. What emotion do you see in our face?”

“I see an angry brow, deeply honored lord.”

“If there is such an arrow in the frowns of Princes, how can your tongue dare to make me angry and show anger in our face?”

“How dare the plants look up to Heaven, from whence they receive their nourishment?”

“You know that I have the power to take your life from you,” Pericles said.

“I have sharpened the axe myself; all you have to do is strike the blow.”

Pericles stopped being angry; Helicanus was a good and loyal lord.

“Rise, please, rise,” Pericles said. “Sit down. You are no flatterer. I thank you for it, and Heaven forbid that Kings should let their ears hear words that hide the Kings’ faults! You are a fitting counselor and servant for a Prince, who by your wisdom make a Prince your servant — a wise Prince will follow wise advice. What do you want me to do?”

“I want you to bear with patience such griefs as you yourself lay upon yourself. I want you to stop moping about and become again a man of action.”

Pericles replied, “You speak like a physician, Helicanus, who gives a potion to me that you would tremble to take yourself.

“Listen to me, therefore, and let me give you more information about what has happened to me. I went to Antioch, where as you know, against the face of death, I sought the acquisition of a glorious beauty with whom I might have children — children who are a strength to Princes and a joy to the Prince’s subjects. Her face was to my eye beyond all wonder. The rest — listen carefully — was as black as incest. After the sinful father realized that I knew that he had committed incest, he put on an appearance. Instead of striking me, he flattered me with smooth words. But as you know, it is time to fear when tyrants seem to kiss.

“Such fear so grew in me, I fled back home, here, under the protective covering of night, which seemed to be my good guardian, and, once I was here, I thought about what was past, and what the future might bring.

“I knew that Antiochus was tyrannous, and we know that tyrants’ fears do not decrease — instead, they grow faster than the years. And should he fear, as no doubt he does, that I should reveal to the listening air how many worthy Princes had their blood shed to keep his incestuous bed of blackness secret, then to stop that fear he’ll fill this land with weapons and soldiers, and pretend that I have done something wrong to him.

“I realize that everyone in this land, including the innocent, must feel war’s blow because of my offense — if I can call it offense. I love all of my subjects, of which you yourself are one, and you just now criticized me for my melancholy —”

“Alas, sir!”

“I know that a tempest is coming to this land. I have drawn sleep out of my eyes and blood from my cheeks, and I have placed musings into my mind, along with a thousand fears, as I tried to find a way for me to stop this tempest before it came, but I found little that would comfort and relieve my mind. I thought it Princely charity to grieve for my subjects. This is why I have been melancholy.”

“Well, my lord, since you have given me leave to speak, I will speak freely,” Helicanus said. “You regard me as a wise and loyal counselor, and I will try to give you wise and loyal advice. You fear Antiochus, and justly, too, I think. You fear the tyrant, who either by public war or by private treason will take away your life and kill you.

“Therefore, my lord, I advise you to go and travel for a while, until Antiochus’ rage and anger are forgotten, or until the Destinies — the Fates — cut his thread of life.

“Delegate your authority to rule to anyone you choose; if you delegate it to me, day will not serve light more faithfully than I’ll serve you.”

“I do not doubt your loyalty,” Pericles said, “but what if he should wrong my liberties — my royal prerogatives, my territories, my subjects’ freedoms — in my absence?”

Helicanus’ advice was good. If Pericles were not at Tyre, Antiochus’ making war against Tyre would not result in Pericles’ death. Therefore, Antiochus was much less likely to attack Tyre if Pericles were no longer there. Still, Pericles was cautious. He wanted his subjects to be safe.

Helicanus knew that sometimes force had to be met with force, although it is better to use diplomacy and seek peace.

He replied, “If that should happen, we’ll mingle our bloods together in the earth, from whence we had our being and our birth.”

Pericles became a man of action again.

He said, “I now look away from you, Tyre, and I intend to travel to Tarsus, where I’ll hear from you, Helicanus, and I’ll act in accordance with the information I read in your letters to me. The care I had and have to ensure my subjects’ good I lay on you whose wisdom’s strength can bear it. I have acted to take good care of my subjects, and in my absence I give you my authority, which I expect you to use to take good care of my subjects. I’ll take your word that you will do this, and I will not ask you to take an oath. Anyone who will break his word will also break his oath. But in our separate spheres of action, we’ll live so honestly and trustworthily that time shall never confute this truth of both of us: You are a loyal subject and I am a true Prince.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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