Literature Study GuidesPericlesAct 2 Scene 3 Summary

Pericles | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Pericles | Act 2, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

The tilting of the knights for the entertainment of Simonides's court and to honor Thaisa's birthday has ended with Pericles receiving a wreath of victory from Thaisa, who says "I ... crown you king of this day's happiness." Simonides is likewise impressed with Pericles, giving him an honored seat at the feast, but when directed to sit there Pericles hesitates, saying, "Some other is more fit." Both Simonides and Thaisa are very curious about the mysterious knight and his graceful manners, Thaisa remarking to herself, "All viands that I eat do seem unsavory, / Wishing him my meat."

She and her father tease each other that they are both not only curious about but also attracted to the unknown knight, who seems to hold himself apart from the general merrymaking. Upon her asking, Pericles tells Thaisa only that he is "a gentleman of Tyre ... after shipwrack driven upon this shore." When this misfortune is related to Simonides, he sympathizes with the plight of Pericles, and orders all the knights to dance with the ladies while still wearing their armor. In particular, Simonides wants to see how Pericles dances with his daughter. This Pericles manages to do to the satisfaction of both Thaisa and her father, such that Simonides has at length to command them to "unclasp" and end the dance.

Analysis

The rather indelicate wish of Thaisa to have Pericles as her "meat" correlates with the play's larger theme of eating and being eaten; Shakespeare's heroines usually do not speak so suggestively about their feelings. The young lady is also evidently so taken with Pericles her father must command them to "unclasp" with an emphasis indicating they are holding each other in an embrace that is both close and too long for decency.

It would be no mean feat to dance with a lady while wearing a suit of armor (especially a rusted one), requiring both agility and endurance, for armor could weigh from 66 to over 100 pounds. The request of Simonides that the knights who jousted for his daughter's birthday dance in their armor afterward would appear to be something of a test of their endurance. The episode points up the kind of indeterminate time and place of this play. It appears to take place in ancient Greece, but in this scene knights joust in full armor (implied by the fact that Pericles's face is covered by a visor in the previous scene) as might have occurred in the Middle Ages. At the same time, nobles such as Pericles have not only servants but also gentleman advisers who are not nobly born, as would be common in the courts of Shakespeare's day. However, a very popular book tends to tie these eras together. Courtly accomplishments for a gentleman (who may—or may not—be of noble blood) included not only the ability to manage horse and sword but also to have learned the arts, such as how to dance and how to write music and poetry. The quintessential handbook detailing the accomplishments of a gentlemen was the Italian Baldassar Castiglione's The Book of the Courtier (1528). It is likely that many members of the audiences attending the first performances of Pericles were familiar with these rules of courtly behavior. For example, one of them urged a gentleman "Not to praise himself unshamefully and out of reason" and "to daunce well without over nimble footings or to busie trickes." The book enjoyed wide popularity even into Shakespeare's time, and its English translation by Sir Thomas Hoby under the title of The Courtyer of Count Baldassar Castilio was first published in 1561.

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