Pericles is the main protagonist of the play. He is a noble-born young man who always seeks the right course of action, seemingly never tempted to go astray or pursue selfish ends. He goes through a great deal of suffering when he loses his wife and then his daughter, but his determination to endure the hardships of storms at sea and reversals of fortune remains steadfast. Although as a young prince he is unable to draw upon experience to know when he is being deceived, he survives to develop a healthy sense of discernment to know when appearances are deceiving. His reversals of fortune forge within him the more mature man who becomes king of Tyre. He develops the capacity to listen to people regardless of status or appearances, and this ability enables him to recognize his own lost daughter.
The spirit of John Gower appears as an old man who acts as an intermediary between the events and characters of the play and the audience. He adopts a grandfatherly attitude toward the audience, urging them to sit down and be quiet so he can tell them a story before they go off to bed. Gower presents several dumb shows and then explains them so the audience can understand what happens in the gaps between scenes and acts of the play. He also assures the audience that evil is always punished and good is rewarded.
Beautiful and virtuous, Thaisa chooses Pericles for her husband from among the knights in competition for her hand in marriage. While it is clear she is the instigator of the romance with Pericles, she also has a strong sense of her own moral value and virtue. Given the opportunity to support herself without compromise when she finds herself bereft of family, she willingly serves at the Temple of Diana.
Marina is a beautiful and vulnerable young princess who grows up to have many accomplishments, a strong intellect, and moral fortitude. Like her mother and father, Marina survives the most difficult reversals of fortune with patience. She engages aid from the most unlikely sources. So compelling is Marina's unassailable virtue that men entering the brothel to have pleasure leave having been converted from their lewd intentions.
Cleon makes noble speeches with the greatest of ease. He is, however, more concerned with his public reputation than with the truth. He objects to Dionyza's evil acts against Marina, who has been given into their care by Pericles. But fear of public exposure of the truth forces him to go along with the deception his wife plays upon Pericles and Marina.
Dionyza is, like her husband, Cleon, more concerned with public image than the truth. When she realizes Marina receives more praise than her own daughter, she plots to have her killed. Strong, passionate, and calmly devoid of moral standards, Dionyza manipulates her husband into joining her in covering up their treatment of Marina.
Simonides's relationship with his daughter, Thaisa, provides a good example of what a virtuous father and child should be like. He is a good ruler who is respected by his people, from his exalted lords to humble fishermen. Simonides is also an astute judge of character, for despite Pericles's appearance Simonides gives him a chance to compete for the hand of his daughter.