Literature Study GuidesPericlesAct 4 Scene 6 Summary

Pericles | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Pericles | Act 4, Scene 6 | Summary

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Summary

Pander, Bawd, and Bolt are at wit's end to know what to do with Marina and wish they'd never have brought her into their brothel. Not only does the girl refuse to service the customers as she is expected to do, but she manages to plead her virginity with such earnestness she makes converts from sin out of the men who come to the brothel. They are interrupted in their laments by the arrival of Lysimachus, the governor of Mytilene. With some hesitation they bring Marina to him, and Bawd tries to impress Marina with this lord's exalted status, urging her to do well by him "without any more virginal fencing."

There follows a humorous exchange between Lysimachus and Marina, in which he makes clear he doesn't believe she's a virgin. She answers his questions in innocent honesty until he attempts to pull her off into a private place. Marina persuades him she has been forced into the brothel by misfortune, and her speech so compels him he gives her gold, saying, "Persevere in that clear way thou goest / And the gods strengthen thee!" As he leaves Lysimachus promises when she hears from him again he will be in the way to aid her. He hurls insults at Bolt, "thou damned doorkeeper!" This is the last straw for Bawd, who tells Bolt to take Marina away and "crack the glass of her virginity, and make the rest malleable." But left alone with her, Bolt finds himself no match for Marina's furious speech in which she tells him "Thy food is such / As hath been belched on by infected lungs." He protests he has no other way of making a living. She gives Bolt all the gold Lysimachus gave her and tells him to announce around the city she "can sing, weave, sew and dance ... And will undertake all these to teach." To this Bolt agrees.

Analysis

Noblemen of Shakespeare's time were in the habit of wearing masks to obscure their identity when they went in search of a prostitute. What is interesting in this scene is that Bawd recognizes Lord Lysimachus before he has removed his mask, making it clear to the audience he's been a frequent patron to this brothel. Like all the men who come there, Lysimachus believes every woman in the brothel is a low prostitute. Such women were presumed to be there because they can't find any honest employment, have no skills or education, and have no family or husband to support them. But Marina's modest answers to the questions Lysimachus puts to her, and the logic of her speech, display the characteristics of a cultured and noble upbringing, intellect, and virtue. This unexpected revelation of her character causes him to listen to her and believe what she tells him is true.

The theme of food is touched on again with Marina's angry statement to Bolt. In this case she turns the stomach with the idea that the food Bolt purchases by working for the brothel has been disgustingly contaminated. The fear of contagion from incurable diseases like the plague was very real throughout Shakespeare's time, and although the play Pericles is reported to have been produced at least once at the Globe, subsequent performances are recorded to have taken place in salons of the aristocracy for small indoor audiences. The reason for this change of venue is that the playhouses, including the Globe, had been closed due to outbreaks of the plague.

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