Literature Study GuidesPericlesAct 2 Scene 4 Summary

Pericles | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Pericles | Act 2, Scene 4 | Summary

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Summary

Meanwhile, back in Tyre, Helicanus has received word that Antiochus and his daughter have been struck by "A fire from heaven" as they rode together in a chariot. Their remains were so foul no one could even get close enough to their charred bodies to see to their burial. Not missing the moral of this divine justice against sin, Helicanus states Antiochus's "greatness was no guard to bar heaven's shaft, / But sin had his reward."

The lords of Tyre approach Helicanus and complain Pericles has been gone a long time. They want to know if he is living or dead, and if living they want him to return to Tyre and rule. They want to set out at once to find Pericles, but Helicanus urges them to wait "a twelve-month longer." The lords reassure Helicanus they think he's has been a good governor, but they persuade Helicanus that the best course of action now would be to go in search of Pericles and bring him back to Tyre. He agrees, saying, "Whom if you find and win unto return, / You shall like diamonds sit about his crown." In so doing Helicanus is reassured the kingdom of Tyre will survive intact, since the nobles are in agreement.

Analysis

There is an element of suspense embedded in Helicanus's hesitation to encourage the lords of Tyre to go in search of Pericles now that Antiochus and his daughter have died. After all, the play has been filled with characters who say one thing to appease public opinions and then do something else in secret quite according to their own wishes. However, seeing that the lords are determined to learn the fate of Pericles, Helicanus wishes them well on the perilous journey. These lords effectively reassure him their wish to find Pericles in no way reflects on their opinion of the wise stewardship of the kingdom Helicanus has managed in his absence.

The exchange between the lords and Helicanus is honest, above board, and mutually respectful, prompting Helicanus to observe it is this kind of behavior that keeps a kingdom secure. The exchange between Helicanus and the lords is a study in the formation of trust between men who bear out their words in deeds. Just as Helicanus has proved up to the trust Pericles has in him, he now gives these lords a chance to prove his trust in them. He observes this is the only way a state can survive. But this exchange, in which appearance and reality mirror one another, stands in stark contrast to the relationship between Antiochus and his daughter, or to the forthcoming behavior of Dionyza.

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