Literature Study GuidesPericlesAct 5 Scene 1 Summary

Pericles | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Pericles | Act 5, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

The Lord Lysimachus arrives on board Pericles's ship and is greeted by Helicanus. Lysimachus, as a good host to strangers to Mytilene, invites the ship's company to come ashore and celebrate Neptune's feast day. Helicanus explains they have come from Tyre and the king voyaging on the ship has fallen into such deep grief over the death of his daughter that he eats very little and has not spoken to anyone for three months. Lysimachus is reminded of Marina, whose "sweet harmony / And other chosen attractions, would allure." He sends for her to come, and she says she will attempt to bring the king out of his melancholy.

Marina begins by singing a song, but it has no effect on Pericles. Marina then tells him the story of her life, explaining her parentage "Might equal yours, if both were justly weighed." This causes Pericles to stir enough to take a closer look at her. He marvels to himself "A one my daughter might have been" and begins to question her. When she tells him her name is Marina, he thinks he's being fooled by the gods. Little by little as she reveals what happened to her, Pericles slowly realizes she is his own long-lost daughter who has been badly used by her foster parents Cleon and Dionyza. Pericles can't believe his good fortune at having found her, and when she tells him her mother's name was Thaisa, he is convinced and cleared of all doubts. Such is his joy that Pericles declares he hears music and, exhausted, falls asleep. In a vision dream, the goddess Diana appears to Pericles and instructs him to go to her temple at Ephesus, telling him to make a sacrifice to her there and tell his story. Pericles wakes and tells Helicanus that instead of making for Tarsus to punish Cleon for his betrayal, their next stop will be Ephesus.

Analysis

Having a divine or supernatural being advise the main character on a course of action is a time-honored device in storytelling since ancient times, and it is amply utilized in Shakespeare's plays. But a comparison between Shakespeare's earlier play of Hamlet (1603) and Pericles reveals a distinction in how such a device was handled at different periods of Shakespeare's career. Whereas in Hamlet the ghost of his father urges him to take revenge for murder, the instructions of the goddess Diana urge Pericles to immediately go to her temple and tell his story there before doing anything else—including taking a trip to Tarsus to punish Cleon and his wife. The revenge Hamlet takes is delayed somewhat due to his doubts and circumstances, but it is accomplished even as he dies. Pericles, on the other hand, delays taking revenge on the orders of Diana in order to accomplish (as it turns out) the reunion with his wife. Justice meted out to Cleon and Dionyza for their evil is removed from direct implementation at the hand of Pericles because he first attends to Diana's orders.

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