Literature Study GuidesPericlesAct 3 Scene 1 Summary

Pericles | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Pericles | Act 3, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Pericles, who is on deck of the ship as it pitches in the storm, is worried about his wife giving birth to their child below deck. He calls first for the nurse, then prays "Lucina, O / Divinest patroness and midwife gentle / To those that cry by night, convey thy deity." The nurse Lychordia brings to Pericles his tiny daughter but also tells him his wife has died. Despite his grief, Pericles takes the baby and marvels at the rough birth in the midst of a terrible storm. He hopes she will have a gentler life for it. Sailors approach the new father to inform him the corpse of the dead mother must be put off the ship, saying, "The sea / works high, the wind is loud, and will not lie till / the ship be cleared of the dead." Pericles reluctantly agrees. He asks Lychordia to bring him "spices, ink, and paper, / My casket and my jewels." The sailors offer they also have a "chest beneath the hatches, / caulked and bitumed ready." Realizing the tiny baby would likely not survive a journey to Tyre, Pericles orders the ship to make for the nearest coast, which happens to be Tarsus. His plan is to leave his daughter there.

Analysis

Lucina is another name by which the goddess Diana is invoked and in particular refers to the first light of the world into which a baby is brought from the darkness of its mother's womb. Pericles has hardly a breath with which to mourn his dead wife before sailors persuade him to put the corpse off the ship, which they believe must be done to save the ship from disaster. Pericles knows his own life and that of his infant daughter depend upon the agility and skill of these seamen. Rather than defy their belief, Pericles reluctantly agrees to release his wife's body to the sea. Although he knows he will have the nurse's help in keeping the baby alive, the child will have to endure serious stress during the long voyage it would take to reach Tyre. Given his estimation of this state of affairs, Pericles orders the ship to sail for the nearer shores of Tarsus and the people he has previously saved from starvation.

A box that is "caulked and bitumed" has been treated like a miniature boat to keep sea water out. Bitumen is a natural substance that is a form of raw petroleum. In places it seeps to the surface where it can be easily harvested. Such was the case in ancient times, when people collected bitumen and used it to waterproof containers and boats. The sealant was pressed between wood slats to prevent water from filling the container. Pericles supposes the watertight casket in which he has placed Thaisa has a chance to reach some shore and be found so her body can be properly buried by anyone who finds it. He places jewels in the box with her body to pay for her burial, but he also includes fragrant spices to go with it and a letter stating who she was. Her body is accompanied by sweet smells, which symbolize her goodness. This is in direct contrast to the foul smell surrounding the body of the evil Antiochus and his daughter that was so terrible no one could get near to bury them, as reported by Gower in the Act 3 Chorus.

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