Study Guide

Pericles, Prince of Tyre Art and Culture

By William Shakespeare

Advertisement - Guide continues below

Art and Culture

To sing a song that old was sung,
From ashes ancient Gower is come[...] (1.Prologue.1-2)

Gower acts as the chorus in this play, which means he's kind of like a narrator. Here, he rolls out on stage and tells us he's come back from the dead to share an ancient story with us. This immediately gives the play an old-school vibe, because the English poet John Gower (1327-1408) was the dude who wrote Confessio Amantis, which is one of the major literary sources for this play. Gower died about 200 years before Shakespeare (co-)wrote Pericles. Oh, yeah: did we mention that the story of Pericles dates back to 5 C.E.? John Gower didn't invent the story—he just retold it. This is one story that's been around for a really long time, and this play goes out of its way to remind us that it's an ancient tale.

To glad your ear, and please your eyes.
It hath been sung at festivals,


And lords and ladies in their lives

Have read it for restoratives. (1.Prologue.4-8)

This is a pretty bold statement, don't you think? Gower suggests that storytelling has the power to heal, and that it's even better than medicine ("restoratives"). This idea appears in other parts of the play, too. When Marina prepares to sing to her father and tell him the story of her life in Act 5, Scene 1, Lysimachus compares her to a physician or "sacred physic" (5.1.74).

When wit's more ripe, accept my rhymes [...] (1.Prologue.12)

When Gower says "rhymes," he's referring to verses of poetry in general, but he also literally rhymes throughout his prologues, and that helps give this play an old-school vibe. Even Shakespeare's 17th-century audience would have found this old-fashioned, since they were used to his plays being mostly in iambic pentameter. (More on this in "Writing Style.")

And that to hear an old man sing [...] (1.Prologue.13)

By the way, Gower doesn't actually "sing." Singing is a metaphor for the story he's going to help narrate. 

So for her many a wight did die [...] (1.Prologue.39)

Hey, folks, did you notice how Gower uses a ton of medieval words like "wight" (person), "killen" (kill), and "eyne" (eyes)? By the time Shakespeare wrote <em>Pericles</em>, those terms were way, way, way out of date. Again, this gives the play an old-school flavor and reminds us that we're watching a fairy tale.

Here have you seen a mighty king
His child, I wis, to incest bring [...] (2.Prologue.1-2)

We just love it when Gower comes out and reminds us of what we just saw happen on stage. You know, just in case we missed something the first time around. Why do you think Gower always reiterates what we've just seen happen on the stage? How does this impact our experience of the play?


<em>Enter at one door PERICLES talking with CLEON; all the train with them. Enter at another door a Gentleman, with a letter to PERICLES.</em> (2.Prologue)

Pericles is a play full of dumb shows, which are basically little mini-skits that are acted without anyone speaking. The thing about dumb shows is that they can be a little confusing, and they often have to be explained to the audience, which means that Gower has an opportunity to control the narrative.

This is the rarest dream that e'er dull sleep
Did mock sad fools withal: this cannot be:
My daughter's buried. Well: where were you bred?
I'll hear you more, to the bottom of your story,
And never interrupt you. (5.1.161-165)

This play really is obsessed with storytelling. Here, Pericles keeps interrupting Marina and asking her to repeat herself as she tells him about her life.

Reverend sir,
The gods can have no mortal officer
More like a god than you. Will you deliver
How this dead queen re-lives? (5.3.62-65)

Even Cerimon, a brilliant doctor, gets in on the storytelling action of this play. When Pericles is finally reunited with Thaisa, he begs Cerimon to tell him about how Thaisa was revived and brought back from the dead. The action of the play ends with Pericles's family following Cerimon inside "to hear the rest untold" (5.3.84). See, we told you that storytelling and healing go hand in hand.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre Art and Culture 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...