David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s PERICLES, PRINCE OF TYRE: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scenes 3-4

 — 1.3 —

Thaliard had arrived in Tyre on his mission to assassinate Pericles, its Prince.

Standing in an antechamber of the palace, he said to himself, “So, this is Tyre, and this is the court. Here I must kill King Pericles, and if I do not kill him, I am sure to be hanged at home. This job is dangerous.

“Well, I perceive that the ancient poet Philippides was a wise fellow, and had good discretion, in that, when he was told to ask for what he wanted from the King, he desired that he might know none of his secrets. Now I see he had some reason for it, for if a King orders a man to be a villain, that man is bound by the contract of his oath to be a villain!

“Quiet! Here come the lords of Tyre.”

Helicanus and Escanes, and other lords of Tyre, entered the antechamber. Helicanus immediately recognized Thaliard, who was an important lord of Antioch, but pretended not to see him. The information that he was going to now give to the lords, he knew would be overheard by Thaliard.

Helicanus said, “You shall not need, my fellow peers of Tyre, to question me further about your King’s departure. His commission, which bears the royal seal and gives me authority to act for him, he left in trust with me. It communicates sufficiently that he’s gone to travel.”

Thaliard thought, What! King Pericles is gone!

Helicanus continued, “If you want further information about why, without your loving permission, he would leave Tyre, I can give some light to you. While he was at Antioch …”

Thaliard thought, What about his being at Antioch?

Helicanus continued, “… royal Antiochus — for what reason I don’t know — took some displeasure at him; at least Prince Pericles judged this to be the case. And fearing lest that he had erred or sinned, to show his sorrow, he decided to reprimand himself, and so he put himself to the toil of a sailor, to whom each minute can bring life or death. Pericles is now traveling on the seas.”

Thaliard thought, Well, I see that I shall not be hanged now, although I would be if Pericles were here and I did not kill him. But since Pericles has gone, the King’s ears will be pleased to hear that Pericles has escaped death on the land, only to perish at sea. I will tell King Antiochus that Pericles drowned at sea. But now I’ll present myself to Helicanus.

He said loudly, “Peace to the lords of Tyre!”

Helicanus was a good advisor and a good leader. He wished the peace between Antioch and Tyre to continue, and so he intended to treat Thaliard well.

He said, “Lord Thaliard from Antiochus is welcome.”

Thaliard replied, “From him I have come with a message for Princely Pericles, but since my landing I have understood that your lord has taken himself to unknown travels, and so my message must return to where it came from.”

“We have no reason to desire to see the message,” Helicanus replied, “since it is addressed to our master, not to us. Yet, before you depart, we desire, since we are friends to Antioch, that we and you may feast in Tyre.”

 — 1.4 —

Cleon, the governor of Tarsus, and his wife, Dionyza, were outside the governor’s house in Tarsus. Around them were other people, including starving citizens of Tarsus.

Cleon said, “My Dionyza, shall we rest ourselves here,and by relating tales of the griefs of other people, see if it will help us to forget our own?”

“To do so would be like blowing on a fire in hopes to put it out,” Dionyza replied. “Whoever digs on a hill to lower it because it rises high accomplishes nothing except to move dirt from one spot to another. He throws down one mountain only to cast up a higher.My distressed lord, our griefs are like that.Here we feel them, and we look around and see them with our eyes because they afflict other people, but our griefs are similar to groves; after they are pruned, they rise higher. If we were to try to forget our griefs by talking about the griefs of other people, it would only make us feel our griefs more sharply.”

“Oh, Dionyza,who lacks food, and will not say he wants it?Who can conceal his hunger until he starves?Our sorrowful tongues deeply soundour woes into the air; our eyes weep while our lungs draw in breath so that our tongues may proclaim our griefs louder so that, if the gods slumber while their creatures lack food,our tonguesmay awaken the gods so that the gods may comfort their creatures.I will now talk about our woes, which we have felt for several years. When I lack breath to speak, help me with your tears.”

“I’ll do my best, sir,” Dionyza replied.

“This is Tarsus,” Cleon said, “over which I govern. It is a city over which Copia, the goddess of abundance and plenty, held out a full hand,for she strewed riches even in the streets. Our city’s towers bore tops so high they kissed the clouds,and strangers never beheld our city without admiring it. Our city’s men and dames so strutted and adorned themselves that each was like a mirror for another person to use while dressing. Their tables were heaped full of food, to gladden the sight,and the purpose of the food was not so much to feed on as to delight. All poverty was scorned, and pride was so great that people hated to use the word ‘help.’”

“That is so true,” Dionyza said.

“But see what Heaven can do!” Cleon said. “Just recently, the earth, sea, and air, although theygave their creatures in abundance, were all too little to content and please the mouths of our citizens. But thingshave changed, and these mouths are like houses that become dirty and polluted because they are not used — these mouths are now starved for want of exercise. They have nothing to chew and eat.Those palates that, not even two summers ago,required fresh, novel dishes to delight the taste,would now be glad to taste bread, and they beg for it. Those mothers who, to rear and bring up their babes,thought nothing too finely and elaborately made, are so hungry that they are ready nowto eat those little darlings whom they loved.So sharp are hunger’s teeth that man and wifedraw lots to see who first shall die to lengthen the other’s life. With one dead, the other has more food, and the living may feast on the dead. Here stands a lord and there stands a lady weeping. Here many sink dead to the ground, yet those who see them fallhave scarcely enough strength left to give them burial.Is not this true?”

“Our hollow cheeks and hollow eyes are evidence that it is true,” Dionyza said.

“Oh, let those cities that of the goddess of plenty’s cupand her prosperities so largely tastewith their wasteful, indulgent behavior hear this weeping and see these tears!The misery of Tarsus may be theirs.”

A lord arrived and asked, “Where’s the lord governor?”

“Here,” Cleon said. “Speak out your sorrows that you bring in haste,for comfort is too much for us to expect. We no longer expect to hear good news — only bad.”

“We have sighted, upon our neighboring shore,stately sails of ships coming here.”

“This is bad news,” Cleon said. “I thought as much. One sorrow never comes but it brings an heir that may follow as its inheritor. And so it happens with our sorrow. We are weak from famine, and so some neighboring nation, taking advantage of our misery, has stuffed these hollow vessels with their soldiers to beat us down, although we are down already. They want to make a conquest of unhappy me, although there is no glory in overcoming someone as weak as me.”

“We need not worry about that,” the lord said, “for, by the appearance of the white flags the ships are displaying, they bring us peace and have come to us as helpers, not as foes.”

“You speak like a person who has not been taught to recite this proverb: Who makes the fairest show means the most deceit. But bring they what they will and what they can, what need we fear? The ground’s the lowest we can fall, and we are halfway there. We are on our knees and stooped over. Go tell their general we await him here to find out why he comes, from where he comes, and what he wants.”

“I go to do my duty, my lord.”

The lord exited.

“Welcome is peace, if their general on peace insists. If he insists on war, we are unable to resist,” Cleon said.

Pericles arrived with some attendants and said to Cleon, “Lord governor, for so we hear you are, let not our ships and the number of our men be like a beacon set on fire to terrify your eyes.”

People of the time guarded the coast. If they saw enemy ships arriving, they lit beacon fires to alert others that an invasion was coming.

Pericles continued, “We have heard about your miseries as far away as Tyre, and we have seen the desolation of your streets. We do not come to add sorrow to your tears, but to relieve them of the heavy sorrows that cause them. These our hollow ships, which you perhaps may think are like the hollow Trojan Horse that was stuffed with bloodthirsty soldiers waiting to come out and overthrow the city, are instead stored with grain to make your necessary bread, and give life to them whom hunger has starved half dead.”

Cleon, Dionyza, and the starving citizens of Tarsus who were present knelt and said, “May the gods of Greece protect you! And we’ll pray for you.”

“Arise, please, arise,” Pericles said. Using the royal plural, he added, “We do not look for reverence, but for friendship and harborage for ourself, our ships, and our men.”

Cleon replied, “You will have both friendship and harborage here. When anyone in Tarsus shall not give you those things, or if they repay you with unthankfulness in thought, whether it be our wives, our children, or ourselves, then may the curse of Heaven and men follow their evils! Until that time — which I hope never shall come — your grace is welcome to our town and us.”

“We accept your welcome,” Pericles said, “and we will feast here awhile, until our stars that now frown lend us a smile.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


David Bruce’s Smashwords Bookstore: Retellings of Classic Literature, Anecdote Collections, Discussion Guides for Teachers of Literature, Collections of Good Deed Accounts, etc. Some eBooks are free.

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