Study Guide

Pericles, Prince of Tyre

By William Shakespeare

Pericles, Prince of Tyre Introduction

Read the full text of Pericles with a side-by-side translation HERE.


Once upon a time, there was a young, adventure-seeking prince who solved a riddle about an incestuous king, fled for his life, saved a city from famine, survived a ship wreck, won a jousting tournament, married a beautiful princess who gave birth to a daughter, lost his wife at sea during a tempest, left his infant with a murderous foster mom, grieved like crazy after being told his child was dead, and then wandered around the Mediterranean until he just so happened to bump into his beloved daughter, who had been captured by pirates and sold to a brothel. Oh, did we mention that our prince also managed to reunite with his long lost wife after over 15 years of separation?

We know what you're probably wondering, Shmoopers: is this a fairy tale or a Shakespeare play? Well, it's both. Pericles, Prince of Tyre was written around 1606-1608, late in our shipwreck-loving playwright's career. Around that time, Will Shakespeare was all about experimenting with the genre of romance. He was totally obsessed with stories about families being torn apart and then miraculously reuniting after long periods of heartache and suffering. (Go read The Winter's Tale, The Tempest, or Cymbeline if you don't believe us.)

These days, not many folks have even heard of Pericles, though it seems like it's becoming more popular with modern theater audiences. Heck, it's the only Shakespeare play that's been adapted into only one movie. (Compare that to, say, the 50+ film versions of Hamlet.) But here's the thing about Pericles. Back in the 17th century, the play was crazy popular. How do we know? It was published at least five times in a 30-year period. Take it from us: that's kind of a big deal, considering the printing technology back then.

Shakespeare probably didn't write all of Pericles on his own. Because the first two acts seem totally different (in terms of verse style and language) from the final three acts, literary critics think that Shakespeare either 1) collaborated with a dude named George Wilkins, or 2) dug up some lousy old play and rewrote the last three acts (source).

In case you were wondering, collaboration and plagiarism were no big whoop back in the day. A ton of playwrights co-wrote plays, and everyone "borrowed" storylines from other writers. In fact, Pericles is based on a story that dates back to at least the 5th century—the tale of Apollonious of Tyre. Shakespeare's major source texts for the story are John Gower's Confessio Amantis (1393) and Lawrence Twine's The Pattern of Painful Adventures (c.1594).

What is Pericles, Prince of Tyre About and Why Should I Care?

So, if you're anything like Shakespeare's greatest frenemy—that would be fellow playwright Ben Jonson—you might be thinking, "Hey, why the heck should I care about some crazy old story that's totally unrealistic and full of ridiculous and improbable events?" (Jonson is famous for calling Pericles a "stale" and "mouldy tale" (source) but if you ask us, we think the dude sounds just a bit jealous.)

Sure, the play's got a bad rap for being chock full of highly unlikely situations and characters. Like, say, those crazy pirates who come out of nowhere and kidnap Marina. What can we say? Shakespeare loves him some pirates. He even finds a way to stick them in Hamlet.

And sure, we can see how that might bug some people. But here's a news flash, Shmoopers: Pericles is a fairy tale, a fantasy, and a huge departure from the kinds of stuff Shakespeare was writing early in his career. It's not supposed to be real, and it's kind of a big deal, so just kick back, relax, and enjoy.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre Resources

Websites

Shmoop-SPEARE
We've got all the dirt on Will Shakespeare, plus links to other great resources.

Read Pericles Online
Here it all is, with some nifty search options to boot.

BBC Shakespeare
The BBC's Shakespeare portal, with lots of multimedia and the latest skinny on Shakespeare. 

Movie or TV Productions

The BBC's Made-for-TV Movie (1984)
So far, this is the only movie version of Pericles. What's that all about?

Articles and Interviews

Podcast from Folger Shakespeare
Short intro to Pericles from the people at the Folger.

Audio

Free Audio of the Play
Compliments of LibriVox.

Images

Pericles Learns Antiochus's Dirty Little Secret
Hannah Tompkins's oil on canvas. Pretty creepy, huh? 

Marina Sings to Pericles
Thomas Stothard's oil on canvas (c. 1825) Marina singing before Pericles. 

Diana Appears to Pericles in a Dream
From the Play Makers Repertory Company's production of Pericles. Look at those great big eyes.