Study Guide

Pericles in Pericles, Prince of Tyre

By William Shakespeare

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Before we roll up our sleeves and talk about this guy, let's get one thing straight: Pericles is not like Hamlet (or Macbeth or Othello or Romeo or any other super complex character Shakespeare has created). In other words, his character doesn't have a whole lot of depth or dimension, so we can't really tell you too much about the dude's "personality." Some scholars don't even think he has one (source).

Come to think of it, none of the characters in this play are particularly complicated. For the most part, Shakespeare draws them in pretty black-and-white terms—they're character types, and they're either good or they're bad. End of story.

In romance, it's the story itself that is complex and interesting—not so much the characters.

But that doesn't mean Pericles isn't an interesting figure. He's a romance hero on a quest, just like Odysseus or Luke Skywalker. That means his story is about adventure, suffering, loss, and, in the end, joy and redemption. In other words, his story is all about the ups and downs of the journey through human life. (Check out what we have to say in "Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis" for the 411 on the stages of Pericles's journey as a typical quester.)

So, what is it that our hero is looking for? To start a family and broaden his kingdom, that's what. Plus, he's willing to risk his life to get the job done. When we meet him, he has arrived in Antioch to take a crack at a riddle so he can marry King Antiochus's daughter.

Right off the bat, Pericles looks and sounds like a hero straight out of a fairy tale, as he declares that he "think[s] death no hazard in this enterprise"(1.1.5). Feeling cocky and excited, he even compares himself a "bold champion" who's ready for a jousting tournament (1.1.61).

As we know, Pericles doesn't get hitched to Antiochus's daughter, but he does manage to create a family (he marries Thaisa, who becomes pregnant right away). Of course, he loses that family about 0.5 seconds later and remains separated from them for more than 14 years: Thaisa appears to die while giving birth, and her body gets tossed over the side of the boat. Plus, Pericles leaves his newborn daughter with foster parents while he goes back to Tyre. When he shows up to visit Marina 14 years later and is told she's dead, he grieves like crazy.

The rest of our hero's journey is all about reuniting with his family, even though Pericles has no idea that it's even possible. It's as if Pericles isn't ready get what he wants yet. Maybe he's too immature to have a family and a kingdom, and it's only through tests and trials that he can be made worthy of those goals. Even though the world must seem pretty bleak to Pericles during this time, we know that sooner or later, he's going to find out that everything was okay all along.

Check out what Pericles has to say after he discovers his long-lost Marina in Meteline and begins to realize that good things are going to happen to him, after all:

O, come hither,
Thou that beget'st him that did thee beget […]

Wow, Shmoopers. That is quite a statement about the importance of parent-child relationships in this play. Pericles means that finding his daughter is like experiencing a rebirth. This passage can be a little tricky, so let's break it down. First, the word "beget" means "to give life to." So, Pericles is saying that, on the one hand, Marina is the daughter that he "did beget" with his wife. (You know, on their wedding night.)

At the same time, Pericles feels like his daughter has also given him life. There are plenty of ways to read this, Shmoopers. If you ask us, it seems like this family reunion has made him a new man and renewed his will to live. (Pericles was totally bummed right before he found his kid. Remember how he stopped speaking and refused to cut his hair?)

It's also a sign that the weird father-daughter relationship from the beginning of the play—the totally incestuous one between Antiochus and his daughter—has been overcome and made right. Whereas in the beginning of the play, we had death, incest, and lost identities, at the end of the play, we have life, a healthy family, and identity regained.

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