Literature Study GuidesPericlesAct 3 Scene 2 Summary

Pericles | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Pericles | Act 3, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

The scene opens in the early morning on the shores of Ephesus after the sea storm has passed. The healer Cerimon is up and seeing to the needs of the sick. Two gentlemen approach and express surprise he is at his work so early, but Cerimon isn't nearly as interested in leisure as he is in learning about healing herbs and the illnesses they can cure. This activity is for Cerimon "A more content in course of true delight / Than to be thirsty after tottering honor, / Or tie my pleasure up in silken bags."

Servants bring in a heavy chest that has washed up on the shore, and Cerimon orders it opened, noting that it smells sweet. Inside they find a richly shrouded body "With full bags of spices. A passport too!" Cerimon reads the letter, which identifies the body as that of a queen lost by King Pericles who urges whoever finds the casket to give her a proper burial and take the jewels he has packed in with the body as a fee. Cerimon suspects she isn't quite dead, and he orders his healing supplies, napkins, and fire be brought to him. He also orders music to be played as part of the plan to revive her. Thaisa does indeed awake, asking where she is. But she is still very weak, so Cerimon orders she be moved to shelter so he can prevent a relapse, saying, "Come, come; / And Aesculapius guide us."

Analysis

Ephesus (called Ephesos in Greek) was located in Asia Minor (western Turkey) close to the sea. It had a famed temple to Diana that was reputed to have been one of the "seven wonders of the ancient world." Although dedicated to the chaste huntress Diana, the rituals to honor her were also reputed to have included (according to Christian sources) ritual prostitution. Whether or not this was true, given that Christians were intent on emphasizing the immoral behavior of pagans who worshipped goddesses it is certain audiences of the plays were familiar with this reputation. The dual implication as a haven for Thaisa in her determination to remain faithful to Pericles, standing in opposition to ritual prostitution, likely caught the attention of the audience. Already the lurid details of incest (Act 1, Scenes 1 and 2) and cannibalism (Act 1, Scene 5) have been dangled before them, and the threat of prostitution will be revived again for Pericles's daughter, Marina.

Aesculapius was the god of healing and medicine. Human healers of the ancient world such as Cerimon believed their powers of healing were granted to them only by the grace of this god. A human doctor might do all in his power to restore a patient to health, but the fate of anyone who had suffered illness or injury ultimately lay with divine intervention. Aesculapius is reputed to have been the son of Apollo, whose twin sister is Diana.

A "passport" had a particular significance in Shakespeare's time because itinerant players and entertainers were required to submit a passport (license) to the officials in each town before being allowed to set up their productions. This passport was given to them by a wealthy patron and certified that the members of the company of players weren't thieves or ruffians intent upon mischief. A passport, then, verifies the legitimacy and identity of the person carrying it. By placing a letter (passport) beside the body of Thaisa and dressing her in costly fabrics, Pericles validates her identity as his queen in hope that whoever finds her will give her body an appropriate burial that wasn't possible at sea.

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