David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s PERICLES, PRINCE OF TYRE: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3: Prologue and Scene 1

 — Prologue —

John Gower said to you the reader, “Now sleep has slaked the drunken revelers at the marriage. No din can be heard except snores throughout the house, snores made louder by the overfed stomachs resulting from this most ceremonious marriage-feast. The cat, with eyes of burning coal — they glow in the dark — now crouches before the mouse’s hole, and crickets sing at the oven’s mouth, ever the happier because of their dry abode.

“Hymen, god of marriage, has brought the bride to bed, where, by the loss of her maidenhead, a babe is created. Be attentive, and use your fine imaginations to ingeniously augment what you will see in your brain — it will briefly cover what takes a long time in real life.

“What’s dumb in show I’ll explain with speech.”

A dumb show — a show without speaking — appears in your brain where you see Pericles and Simonides together and a messenger meeting them, kneeling, and giving Pericles a letter. Pericles reads the letter and shows it to King Simonides. The lords kneel to Pericles. Thaisa, pregnant, enters the room, accompanied by Lychorida, a nurse. The King shows Thaisa the letter, and she rejoices. Pericles and Thaisa, accompanied by Lychorida and some attendants, leave King Simonides, who then leaves, accompanied by all who remained.

Gower said, “With many a dark and painstaking journey, a careful search for Pericles is made with all due diligence throughout the four corners of the world. The journeys are made with horses and ships and high expense — whatever can assist the quest.

“At last from Tyre, after reports answered the most foreign and faraway inquiries, to the court of King Simonides a letter is brought. The content of the letter is that Antiochus and his daughter are dead, and that the men of Tyre would like to set the crown of Tyre on the head of Helicanus and make him King, but he immediately resists the mutiny and says to them that if King Pericles does not return home in one year, then he, Helicanus, obedient to their judgments, will take the crown. The gist of this, once brought to Pentapolis, enraptures the regions round about, and everyone applauds and begins to shout, ‘Our heir-apparent — Pericles — is a King! Who dreamed, who thought of such a thing?’

“In brief, Pericles must depart from Pentapolis and go to Tyre. His Queen with child makes her desire known — which who shall oppose? She wishes to accompany her husband.

“We omit all their distress and woe.

“Thaisa takes Lychorida, her nurse, and so they go to sea. Their vessel shakes on Neptune’s waves; half the flood has their keel cut — they have completed half their voyage. But Lady Fortune’s mood changes again; the grisly north wind disgorges such a tempest forth that, like a duck that dives to save its life, so up and down the poor ship drives. The lady shrieks, and because of fear begins to give birth.

“What ensues in this fierce storm you shall read next. I nothing will relate, but the next few pages may conveniently convey the rest better than I can tell it.

“In your imagination see the ship, upon whose deck the sea-tossed Pericles appears and is about to speak.”

 — 3.1 —

On board a storm-tossed ship, Pericles said, “Neptune,you god of this great vast sea, rebuke these high waves, which wash both Heaven and Hell. And you, Aeolus, who have command over the winds, call them away from the deep sea, bind them, and keep them behind your brass wall. Jupiter, calm your deafening, dreadful thunders; gently quench your nimble, sulfurous flashes of lightning!”

Pericles’ wife, Thaisa, was giving birth. Like other men of the time, he was not present. Understandably, he was worried — childbirth at this time was dangerous.

He called, “Lychorida, how is my Queen doing?”

He then said to the tempest, “You storm, will you maliciously spit all your winds? The seaman’s whistle that calls orders to sailors is like a whisper in the ears of a dead person — it is unheard.”

He called again, “Lychorida!”

Then he prayed, “Lucina, goddess of childbirth, divinest patroness, and gentle midwife to those who cry at night, convey your deity aboard our dancing boat; make swift the pangs of my Queen’s birth-giving! Let her give birth quickly!”

Carrying an infant, Lychorida walked over to Pericles.

“What is the news, Lychorida?” Pericles asked.

“Here is a creature too young for such a place, who, if it had rational understanding, would die, as I am likely to do. Take in your arms this piece of your dead Queen.”

The word “piece” has a double meaning. The infant was the Queen’s masterpiece; in addition, it was a piece of the Queen — she had given birth to it, and so it carried some of her chromosomes.

Hearing the phrase “dead Queen,” Pericles said, “What, Lychorida!”

“Have patience, good sir,” Lychorida said. “Be calm. Do not assist the storm by adding your violent emotions to it. Here’s all that is left living of your Queen: a little daughter. For the sake of it, be manly, and take comfort in the birth of your daughter.”

Pericles, who was not calm, said, “You gods! Why do you make us love your good gifts, and then immediately snatch them away? You gave me Thaisa, and then you took her away from me! We here below do not take back what we give to you — our sacrifices — and therein we treat you honorably.”

“Have patience and be calm, good sir,” Lychorida said. “Do it for this infant.”

Pericles said to his infant daughter, “May the rest of your life be mild! A baby never had a rougher and stormier birth than you. May your life be quiet and gentle. You have had the roughest welcome to this world that any Prince’s child has ever had. May what follows be happy and fortunate! You have had as noisy a nativity as fire, air, water, earth, and Heaven can make to herald you from the womb. Even at the beginning of your life your loss — the death of your mother — is more than can be repaid with all you find during your journey through life! Now, may the good gods throw their most propitious eyes upon this infant and its journey!”

Two sailors came over to Pericles.

The first sailor asked Pericles, “What courage do you have, sir? May God save you!”

“I have courage enough,” Pericles said. “I do not fear the squall. It has already done to me the worst it can do — it has killed my wife. Yet, because of the love I have for this poor infant, this fresh and new seafarer, I wish that the weather would be quiet.”

The first sailor ordered some other sailors, “Slacken the bow-lines there!”

He then shouted at the squall, “You won’t be quiet, will you? Then blow, and split yourself!”

The second sailor said, “As long as we have enough sea-room to maneuver and stay away from the rocks, then I don’t care if the seawater and spray kiss the Moon.”

The first sailor said, “Sir, your Queen must be buried at sea; she must go overboard. The waves are tossed high, the wind is loud, and all will not be calm until the ship is cleared of the dead.”

“That’s your superstition,” Pericles said.

“Pardon us, sir,” the first sailor said. “This has been always observed by us sailors at sea, and we strictly observe our traditions. Therefore, quickly yield her corpse to us, for she must go overboard right away.”

“Whatever you think is fitting,” Pericles said to the sailors.

He then said, “Queen, I am sorry that this is so!”

Lychorida opened the door to the room where Thaisa lay and said to Pericles, “Here she lies, sir.”

Pericles said to his wife, “You have had a terrible childbed, my dear. No light, no fire — the rooms in which women give birth are dark. The unfriendly elements forgot you utterly and raged when they should have been quiet. Nor do I have time to give you a proper funeral before you go to your grave, but immediately, with scarcely enough time to put you in a coffin, I must cast you into the sea where you will settle in the ooze at the bottom. There, in place of your tomb and the candles that would burn around your body if you were entombed on land, you will have the spouting whale and turbulent water that must overwhelm your corpse as it lies with simple shells.”

Because Pericles thought that there was a chance that the coffin would be driven ashore, he ordered, “Lychorida, tell Nestor to bring me spices to anoint the body, and ink and paper so that I can write a note to put in the coffin. Also tell him to bring me my casket and my jewels. And tell Nicander to bring me the satin coffer.”

Pericles wanted to put jewels in the coffin with Thaisa. The casket and the satin coffer would hold the jewels and a document that he intended to write.

He then said, “Now lay the babe upon the pillow by Thaisa.

“Hurry, while I say a priestly farewell to her. Be quick, woman.”

Lychorida put down the infant and then exited.

The second sailor said, “Sir, we have a chest beneath the hatches; it is already caulked and sealed with pitch. It is waterproof, and it can serve as her coffin.”

“I thank you,” Pericles replied. “Mariner, tell me what coast is this?”

“We are near Tarsus,” the second sailor said.

“We will go there, gentle mariner, instead of going to Tyre,” Pericles said. “Alter the course of this ship. When can we reach it?”

“By break of day, if the wind stops,” the second sailor said.

“Then let’s make for Tarsus! There I will visit Cleon, for the babe cannot survive the trip to Tyre, and it needs a wet nurse. There I’ll leave it so it can be carefully raised. Go to your work, good mariner. I’ll bring you the body of my wife soon.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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