Study Guide

Pericles, Prince of Tyre Setting

By William Shakespeare

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Ancient Mediterranean Cities

It's too bad they didn't have frequent-flyer (or maybe frequent-sailor) memberships back in ancient times, because Pericles would have racked up some serious mileage. In this play, Pericles sails ALL OVER the Mediterranean, probably around 200 B.C.E. When he's not in the middle of the ocean during some horrific tempest or another, he's making pit stops in various ancient port cities: Antioch, Tharsus (Tarsus), Pentapolis (Cyrenaica), Meteline (Mytilene), Ephesus, and his own hometown of Tyre.

It's no surprise that Shakespeare's hero travels around so much. When this play was written, England was all about world exploration, trade, and expansion. Even though this play is set around 200 B.C.E., we can see why Pericles's travels and adventures would have captured the imaginations of early 17th-century audiences.

At the same time, the cities Pericles visits are old, which means they're full of the kinds of kings and princesses that give the play a fairy tale vibe.

That said, there is one location that sticks out like a sore thumb from all the fairy-tale-like kingdoms in this play. That's the brothel in Meteline, which looks and sounds a whole lot like the kind of joint you'd find in Shakespeare's London, where "bawdy houses" were a dime a dozen and located in the same neighborhoods as the theaters. What can we say? Shakespeare had a thing for injecting a modern vibe into his plays.

One more thing: why is it that Pericles travels so much? Why he is all over the Mediterranean, all the time? Well, Pericles's long journey is kind of a metaphor for life, right? He suffers, he gets tossed around from one place to the next, he loses everything... and then he finds it all again and gets to go home.

Watching Pericles bump around from shipwreck to shipwreck kind of makes us think: yeah, life is like that. You never can predict what's coming next, and you never can predict where you're gonna end up.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre Setting Study Group

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