Literature Study GuidesPericlesAct 2 Scene 1 Summary

Pericles | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Pericles | Act 2, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Pericles has made it to shore in an unknown land where he thinks he will probably die. Three fishermen appear, wondering at the severity of the storm and expressing sorrow that they saw the ships sink but were unable to help because they themselves had been hard put to survive. Pericles overhears them discuss how fish and men are alike, and wonders, "How from the finny subject of the sea / These fishers tell the infirmities of men." He begs the fishermen to help him. They kindly wrap him in a "gown" against the chill and tell him he is at Pentapolis, which is ruled by "the good Simonides." They also inform him a joust is taking place the next day to win the hand of Simonides's daughter in marriage. When they draw up their nets, the fishermen find they have caught Pericles's armor in it. Although it is rusty with seawater, Pericles rejoices to have it returned to him, saying, "my shipwrack now's no ill / Since I have here my father gave in his will." Pericles determines to go to the court of Simonides to see what fortunes may be in wait for him, and one of the fishermen agrees to take him there.

Analysis

The storm and the violence it has done to Pericles's ships is metaphorically represented in the dialogue of the three fishermen: Both men and fish have the habit of either devouring smaller ones or being themselves devoured by larger ones. A powerful king like Antiochus, for example, is able to "swallow" men "smaller" than he is. Knowing this has compelled Pericles to flee before being murdered. He is no less vulnerable to the whims of sea storms that destroy his ships and almost end his life than he is to the whims of powerful kings. But Pericles does have the capacity to endure with patience until an opportunity presents itself to him to make a change. The example of how large fish consume smaller ones also refers to the theme of eating (and being eaten) that works throughout the play.

Armor for a knight and prince like Pericles is designed to protect his body from harm in battle. Because this armor, despite having rusted in the sea water, has been restored to him, Pericles states he needs nothing else to make his way because it is the source of his birthright as given to him by his father, and it serves as a representative of his identity. It might also be noted he declares "my shipwrack now's no ill / Since I have here [speaking of his armor] my father gave in his will." Readers might think this a brutish comment given that all his men lost their lives.

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