Study Guide

Pericles, Prince of Tyre Writing Style

By William Shakespeare

Advertisement - Guide continues below

Writing Style

Iambic Pentameter; Tetrameter Couplets; Prose

We've said it before and we'll say it again, folks. Shakespeare's plays tend to be written mostly in iambic pentameter. You know the drill: that's five feet of two syllables with the accent on the second syllable of each foot. It's just like a heart beating five times:


Much of Pericles is written that way, too, but the play is famous for its blend of writing styles. That makes sense to us, especially given that Shakespeare probably co-wrote this play with another writer.

Rhymed Tetrameter Couplets (Gower)

In the prologues to Acts 1-3 and in the middle of Act 5, Gower speaks in rhymed tetrameter couplets. Check it out:

To sing a song that old was sung

From ashes ancient Gower has come. (1.Prologue.1-2)

If pentameter means five feet, guess what tetrameter means? Right: four feet. With the accents in, that quote above reads like this:

To SING a SONG that OLD was SUNG

From Ashes ANcient GOWER has COME.

This is pretty much the same meter we find in John Gower's medieval text Confessio Amantis (1393), which is a major literary source for this play. Gower also tends to use a lot of medieval words like "wight" (man), "killen" (kill), and "eyne" (eyes), which is the kind of language we find in 14th-century texts like Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, and not in Shakespeare, who wrote in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Why does this matter? Gower's meter and language would have seemed super old-fashioned to Shakespeare's original audiences. (To us, too.) It has the effect of reminding audiences that we're watching a really old-school play—and that we should just kick back and enjoy the story, even if it seems hokey or completely unrealistic.

By the way, a lot of literary critics think that a dude named George Wilkins (not Shakespeare) wrote most of Gower's early prologues.


The brothel scenes and the conversations between the fishermen are written in plain old prose, which is how a lot of Shakespeare's lower-class characters speak in his plays. The brothel scenes in Pericles are notorious for being coarse and bawdy. Check out how Bawd complains when she says the brothel is running low on prostitutes:

We were never so much out of creatures. We have but
poor three, and they can do no more than they can
do; and they with continual action are even as good as rotten.

Translation: The brothel is down to three "wenches" who aren't very productive because they're all sick with STDs. Sounds brutal, right? Shakespeare was always writing this kind of stuff. In fact, it totally reminds us of the brothel scenes in Measure for Measure. Check out the way Mistress Overdone grumbles about her business in that play:

Thus, what with the war, what with the sweat, what
with the gallows and what with poverty, I am
custom-shrunk. (Measure for Measure,

Translation: Business at Overdone's brothel is really slow, what with "the war," the bubonic plague, the lousy economy, and the rate at which her clients are being thrown in jail. There just aren't enough customers anymore.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre Writing Style Study Group

Ask questions, get answers, and discuss with others.

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

This is a premium product

Please Wait...