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

 — Prologue —

Addressing you the reader, John Gower said, “Here you have seen a mighty King, Antiochus, indeed, his child to incest bring. You have also seen a better Prince and benign lord — Pericles — who will prove to be worthy of awe both in deed and word. He will be quiet and patient, as men should be, until he has endured adversity.

“I’ll show you that those who among troubles reign, by losing a mite, a mountain gain. Pericles, who is good in conduct and to whom I give my blessing, is still at Tarsus, where each citizen thinks that everything he speaks is holy writ, and to commemorate what he does and has done, they build a statue of him to make him glorious. But tidings to the contrary — bad tidings — are now brought before your eyes, so what need do I have to speak?”

A dumb show — a show without speaking — appears in your brain, and you see Pericles and Cleon walk through one door with all their train of attendants following them. A gentleman bearing a letter walks through another door and gives the letter to Pericles, who reads it and then shows it to Cleon. Pericles then gives the messenger a monetary reward and knights him. Pericles exits through one door, and Cleon exits through another door.

John Gower said, “Good Helicanus stayed at home, not to eat honey — the result of the labor of others — like a drone, but instead to strive to kill bad and to keep good alive as well as to fulfill his Prince’s desires. Good Helicanus always sends word to Pericles of all that happens in Tyre. In this letter, he told Pericles about how Thaliard came fully determined to sin and had the intention of murdering him. Helicanus also advised Pericles that he ought not to stay longer in Tarsus — it was not best for him there to make his rest.

“Pericles, taking Helicanus’ advice, sailed on the seas, where when men are, there is seldom ease. Now the wind begins to blow, and with thunder above and deeps below, the winds create such unquiet that the ship that should keep Pericles safe is wrecked and split, and he, good Prince, having lost everything, by waves from coast to coast is tossed. All the men perish, all possessions are lost, and no one and nothing escapes except himself. Finally, Lady Fortune, tired with doing bad, threw Pericles ashore, to make him glad.

“Look, here he comes. What shall be next, pardon old Gower, for he shall not tell you — what shall be next belongs to the text.”

 — 2.1 —

Pericles, dripping wet, stood on a seashore of Pentapolis, whose King was Simonides. The day was still stormy, although the storm was lessening.

Pericles addressed the stars: “Now cease your ire, you angry stars of Heaven! Wind, rain, and thunder, remember that Earthly man is just a substance that must yield to you, and I, as befits my Earthly nature, obey you.

“Unfortunately, the sea has cast me on the rocks, washed me from shore to shore, and left me breath — life — with nothing to think about except my ensuing death.

“Let it suffice the greatness of your powers to have bereft a Prince of all his fortunes, and having thrown him from your watery grave, here to have death in peace is all he’ll crave.”

Three fishermen were on the shore, but they did not notice Pericles. Because of the loudness of the lessening storm, they talked loudly.

The third fisherman was deep in thought. The first and second fishermen were ready to get to work.

The first fisherman called to the third fisherman, “What, ho, Pilch!”

A pilch is a leather jacket.

The second fisherman called, “Ha, come and bring away the nets!”

The fisherman called, “What, Patchbreech, I say!”

In addition to wearing a leather jacket, the third fisherman wore patched trousers.

“What do you want, master?” the third fisherman asked.

“Look at how you are waking up now! Get busy and start working, or I’ll fetch you with a vengeance. I’ll beat you to wake you so that you can work.”

“Truly, master, I am thinking of the poor men who were cast into the sea and drowned in front of us just now,” the third fishermen said to explain his pensiveness.

“Oh, those poor souls,” the first fisherman said. “It grieved my heart to hear what pitiful cries they made to us to help them, when, sadly, we could scarcely even help ourselves.”

“Master, didn’t I say as much when I saw the porpoise bounce and plunge in the sea — a sure sign of a storm?” the third fisherman said. “People say porpoises are half fish and half flesh — a plague on them. Every time I see them, I expect to be washed into the sea. Master, I wonder how the fishes live in the sea.”

“Why, they live in the sea just like men do on land,” the first fisherman said. “The great ones eat up the little ones. I can compare our rich misers to nothing as suitably as to a whale. The whale plays and plunges, driving the poor fry — the small fish — before him, and at last devours them all at a mouthful. I have heard that such whales are living on the land; they never close their mouths until after they’ve swallowed the whole parish — church, steeple, bells, and all.”

Pericles said softly to himself, “A pretty moral.”

The third fisherman said, “But, master, if I had been the sexton, and in charge of the bells, I would have been that day in the belfry.”

“Why, man?” the second fisherman asked.

“So that the whale would have swallowed me, too,” the third fisherman said. “When I would be in his belly, I would have kept such a jangling of the bells that he would never have left until he vomited bells, steeple, church, and parish up again. But if the good King Simonides were of my mind —”

Pericles said softly to himself, “Simonides.”

The third fisherman continued, “— we would purge the land of these lazy drones who rob the bee of her honey.”

Pericles said softly to himself, “These fishermen tell about the infirmities of men, using what they have learned from the finny subjects of the sea. From the fishes’ watery empire, these fishermen gather up all that men may approve or men may detect to be evil!”

Deciding to reveal himself to the three fishermen, Pericles said loudly, “Peace be at your labor, honest fishermen.”

The second fisherman said to Pericles, who looked bedraggled and as if he might be a beggar, “Honest and good fellow, what’s that? Peaceful labor! On a stormy day like this! If you think this is a good day, take it out of the calendar and examine it closely. Nobody will go looking for it!”

“You may see that the sea has cast upon your coast —”

The second fisherman interrupted, “What a drunken knave was the sea to cast you in our way!”

Pericles continued, “— a man whom both the waters and the wind, in that vast tennis court, have made the ball for them to play with, a man who entreats you to pity him. This he asks of you although he is a man who never used to beg.”

“No, friend, cannot you beg?” the first fisherman said. “Some people in our country — Greece — get more with begging than we do with working.”

“Can you catch any fishes, then?” the second fisherman said.

“I have never done the work of a fisherman,” Pericles replied.

“Then you will surely starve,” the second fisherman said, “for there’s nothing to be got here nowadays, unless you can fish for it.”

“What I have been, I have forgotten,” Pericles said.

Of course, Pericles had lived like the Prince he was, but now he was needy.

He continued, “But what I am, need teaches me to think on — I am a man burdened by cold. My veins are chilled, and they have no more of life than may suffice to give my tongue enough heat to ask for your help. If you should refuse to help me, then when I am dead, please see that I am buried because I am a man.”

“When he is dead, he says?” the first fisherman said. “Gods forbid! I have a sea-coat here. Come, put it on; it will keep you warm. Now, I say, here is a handsome fellow! Come, you shall go home and stay with me, and we’ll have flesh for holidays, fish for fasting days, and also we’ll have sausages and pancakes, and you shall be welcome.”

“I thank you, sir,” Pericles said.

“Listen, my friend,” the second fisherman said. “You said you could not beg.”

Pericles replied, “I did not beg, but I did crave.”

This was a bit of a joke because begging and craving are much the same thing.

“Crave!” the second fisherman said. “Then I’ll turn craver, too, and so I shall escape whipping.”

“Why, are all your beggars whipped, then?” Pericles asked.

In this society, the beadle punished able-bodied beggars by whipping them.

“Oh, not all, my friend,” the second fisherman replied, “not all; for if all your beggars were whipped, I would wish no better job than to be beadle.”

He then said to the first fisherman, “But, master, I’ll go draw up the net.”

The second and the third fishermen exited.

Pericles thought, How well this honest mirth becomes their labor!

The first fisherman asked him, “Sir, do you know where you are?”

“Not well.”

“Why, then I’ll tell you,” the first fisherman said. “This place is called Pentapolis, and our King is the good Simonides.”

“The good King Simonides, do you call him?” Pericles asked.

“Yes, sir, and he deserves to be called good because of his peaceful reign and good government.”

“He is a happy King, since he gains from his subjects the name of good for his government,” Pericles said. “How far is his court from this shore?”

“Sir, half a day’s journey, and I’ll tell you that he has a fair daughter, and tomorrow is her birthday; and Princes and knights have come from all parts of the world to joust in a tournament for her love.”

“If my fortunes were equal to my desires, I could wish to make one there,” Pericles said.

“Oh, sir, things must be as they may,” the first fisherman said, “and what a man cannot get, he may lawfully deal for his wife’s soul.”

No man can beget a child by himself alone, but he can beget a child — lawfully — by marrying a woman and becoming one with her. That is the way that things are.

If Pericles is to have his fortunes equal to his desires, he will need help from others. He cannot do it alone. That is the way that things are.

The second and the third fishermen came back, dragging their net.

The second fisherman said, “Help, master, help! Here’s a fish caught in the net, like a poor man who is in the right, according to the law; it will hardly come out.”

This was a cynical joke. A poor man, although he is in the right, may be trapped in the legal system and find it difficult to escape, just like a poor fish caught in a net. Still, the joke did not say that it was impossible to escape.

The second fisherman pulled the “fish” out of the net and said, “Ha! The plague on it! The ‘fish’ has come out at last, and it has turned into rusty armor.”

“Armor, my friends!” Pericles said. “Please, let me see it.”

He recognized it as his father’s armor, which had been on board the ship that wrecked, and he prayed, “Thanks, Lady Fortune, who, after all my crosses, have given me something with which to repair myself.”

Pericles intended to repair his fortunes by fighting in and winning the tournament.

Pericles continued his prayer to Lady Fortune, “You gave this armor to me although it is my own, part of my heritage, which my dead father bequeathed to me. He gave me this strict charge, even as he left his life, ‘Keep it, my Pericles; it has been a metaphorical shield between me and death. Because it saved me, keep it; in like necessity — which I pray the gods will protect you from! — this armor may protect you.’”

He said to the fishermen, “Wherever I have gone, I have taken this armor — I kept it where I kept myself because I so dearly loved it — until the rough seas, which spare no man, took it away from me in rage, although the seas, now calmed, have given it to me again.

“I thank you for it: my shipwreck is now not so ill since I have here a gift that my father gave me in his will.”

“What do you mean, sir?” the first fisherman asked.

“I mean to beg of you, kind friends, this coat of worth,” Pericles said. “For it was once the protector of a King. I know it by this mark.”

Of course, the armor had been used in battle. Pericles pointed to a mark that an enemy’s weapon had made.

He added, “The King loved me dearly, and for his sake I wish the having of his armor. And I wish that you will guide me to your sovereign’s court, where with this armor I may appear as a gentleman. If my low fortune ever becomes better, I’ll repay you for your good deeds; until then I will be your debtor.”

“Do you intend to compete in the tournament for the lady, the King’s daughter?” the first fisherman asked.

“I intend to show the skill that I have in arms,” Pericles said.

“Take the armor, and may the gods give you good fortune to go with it!” said the first fisherman, who began to help Pericles put on the armor.

“Yes, but listen, my friend; it was we who made up this garment through the rough seams of the waters,” the second fisherman said.

He was punning by using words appropriate to tailoring. One job of tailors is to make up a suit that has seams.

The second fisherman added, “There are certain condolements, certain vails.”

The second fisherman wanted a reward for finding the armor. “Condolements” was a malapropism for “doles,” aka gifts. “Vails” were tips; the word also referred to the scrap material left over after a tailor finished making a garment — the tailor kept the scrap material.

“I hope, sir,” the second fisherman added, “that if you thrive, you’ll remember where you got this armor.”

“Believe it, I will,” Pericles said. He was now wearing the armor, and he looked much more like a gentleman.

He added, “By your assistance, I am clothed in steel, and, despite all the violence of the sea that has violently seized almost everything that was onboard the ship that wrecked, a jeweled bracelet still keeps its place on my arm.”

Pericles said to the jeweled bracelet, “I will use all your value to acquire a courser that I will mount and ride in the tournament. My horse’s delightful steps shall make the gazer rejoice to see him tread.”

Pericles then said to the second fisherman, “Only, my friend, I still lack a pair of bases — a divided skirt that knights wear over their armor while on horseback.”

“We’ll surely provide it,” the second fisherman said. “You shall have my best sea-coat to make yourself a pair of bases, and I’ll bring you to the court myself.”

Pericles replied, “Then let honor be a goal for my will; this day I’ll rise, or else add ill to ill.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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