Pericles | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Pericles | Themes


Fathers and Daughters

The interest in the family bonds of daughters and fathers in Pericles might be a reflection of Shakespeare's late-life connection to his own daughter. Pericles is among Shakespeare's later works, in which the plots frequently revolve around the relationships between fathers and daughters. These include The Tempest with Prospero and his daughter, Miranda, and Henry VIII with Henry and his (as yet unborn) daughter, Elizabeth. Pericles bears striking similarity of plot with another of Shakespeare's plays, The Winter's Tale. In it a nobleman loses both wife and daughter only to be reunited with them both at the end of the play.

Examples of pairs of fathers and daughters in Pericles range from the incestuous Antiochus and his daughter to the gently tolerant Simonides and Thaisa. Cleon assumed the role of foster father to Marina, and in this role he saw to it she received a good upbringing and education, although he failed to protect her from his wife's evil jealousy. These very different father-daughter relationships highlight the duty and responsibility placed on Pericles to secure his daughter's safety.

Appearances Are Deceptive

The play starts right off with the glaring example of the appearance of Antiochus's daughter, who has been "clothed like a bride" and whose arrival on the scene is heralded with music. Pericles is certainly very taken with this vision of beauty, "her face the book of praises" (Act 1, Scene 1). But it is significant that although he has a conversation with Antiochus, he doesn't even speak with the daughter. The rash young man is willing to risk his life for something he has only the image of to go on. As it turns out, however, the daughter is in reality (as revealed by the solution to the riddle) entirely despoiled by her incest with her father. Pericles has a different experience with Thaisa, with whom he both talks and dances (Act 2, Scene 3). In a similar fashion, it is only by conversing with Marina that Lysimachus is able to discern she is a maid of quality and intellect despite the fact she is housed in a brothel. Circumstances, too, are frequently deceptive: Thaisa seems so convincingly dead that Pericles agrees to throw her overboard, even though she is still alive. The elaborate funeral Dionyza constructs for Marina hides the fact that Marina is not actually dead. And even virtuous characters, like Helicanus and Simonides, are willing to deceive others to bring about a desired result.

Feast and Famine

Food and eating are frequently referred to throughout Pericles. Cleon and Dionyza lament the famine of several years' duration in Tarsus. The citizens have been driven almost to the point of cannibalism before Pericles arrives with stores of corn to save them (Act 1, Scene 4). Pericles is wise not to accept Antiochus's invitation to a feast and instead flees the country before his would-be murderer has a chance to kill him (Act 1, Scene 3). The murderer who pursues him to Tyre then delays in that city to attend feasts laid out for him. When Pericles washes up on the shore of Pentapolis in Act 2, Scene 1, the fishermen comfort him not only with a cape to warm him but also with a description of the good food waiting for him. They say, "Come, thou shalt go home, / and we'll have flesh for holidays, fish for fasting / days, and moreo'er, puddings and flapjacks, and / thou shalt be welcome."

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