Study Guide

Pericles, Prince of Tyre Deception

By William Shakespeare

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Which to prevent he made a law,
To keep her still, and men in awe,
That whoso ask'd her for his wife,
His riddle told not, lost his life[...] (1.Prologue.35-38)

As we know, Antiochus is having an incestuous affair with his daughter and he doesn't want anyone to know about it. The thing about monarchs like Antioch is that they have enough power to hide their immoral behavior, and there's not much anyone can do about it. Here, we learn that Antioch doesn't want anyone to marry his daughter, so he's come up with a riddle for potential suitors to try to solve. Anyone who guesses incorrectly loses his life. (We're guessing the same thing happens if a suitor guesses correctly.)

[<em>Aside to the Princess</em>] Fair glass of light, I loved you,

and could still, Were not this glorious casket stored with ill: (1.1.76-77)

Before he learns the truth about Antiochus's daughter, Pericles is totally hot for her and assumes that she's a good person and worth risking his life for. Why? Because she's hot, that's why. Then he discovers the truth and learns a huge lesson about outward appearance vs. inner beauty.

Here, he uses two metaphors to describe the princess's deception. First, he calls her a "fair glass of light," or a mirror that reflects light on the outside but is totally dark on the inside. Then he refers to her as a "glorious casket," which is just another way of calling her a jewel box that looks gorgeous on the outside but is full of evil instead of something precious and valuable. Of course, his use of the word "casket" also reminds us of a coffin and makes us think of death.

How courtesy would seem to cover sin,
When what is done is like an hypocrite,
The which is good in nothing but in sight! (1.1.121-123)

Pericles is totally disgusted when King Antiochus pretends to be courteous when it's obvious he's going to try to have Pericles murdered so he can keep his secret hidden. Pericles learns a really important lesson at Antiochus's court: just because you're a king and you know how to act polite and generous, it doesn't mean you're not totally corrupt on the inside.

Peace, peace, and give experience tongue.
They do abuse the king that flatter him[...] (1.2.36-37)

This is where Helicanus gets mad at the lords at court who do nothing but flatter Pericles and tell the monarch what he wants to hear. The court seems like a place where it's particularly difficult to distinguish appearance from reality.

Rise, prithee rise. Sit down. Thou art no flatterer:
I thank thee for it; and heaven forbid
That kings should let their ears hear their faults hid! (1.2.60-62)

Pericles is grateful that Helicanus always tells him the truth—even if it's unflattering. This passage reminds us that the lords at court can be just as deceptive and manipulative as tyrant rulers like Antiochus. Pericles recognizes this truth and is grateful to have Helicanus as a trusted advisor. 

He had need mean better than his outward show
Can any way speak in his just commend;
For by his rusty outside he appears
To have practised more the whipstock than the lance. (2.2.48-51)

When our boy Pericles shows up at the jousting tournament wearing some janky armor that's all rusty, the knights just assume that he's got no game, since he looks more like a cart driver who uses a "whipstock" than a knight who uses a "lance." 

Opinion's but a fool, that makes us scan
The outward habit by the inward man.

While the knights stand around and bag on Pericles's rusty armor, King Simonides actually says something smart: he isn't ready to judge Pericles's inner worth based on the guy's outward appearances. 

To me he seems like diamond to glass. (1.3.36)

Thaisa seems like a pretty good judge of character, don't you think? Even though Pericles has presented himself at her dad's court as some kind of "country gentleman," she thinks he's pretty awesome. By the way, why the heck does Pericles lie about his identity at Simonides's court? Why not just come right out and tell everyone he's a king? Is he trying to be more careful after what happened at Antiochus's court? Is he trying to be judged on his own merits, rather than on his title?

[...] nor have I time
To give thee hallow'd to thy grave, but straight
Must cast thee, scarcely coffin'd, in the ooze[...] (3.1.58-60)

So, by this time in the play, Pericles has figured out how to be a better judge of character. During the rest of the play, though, he totally misinterprets some important situations. When it appears that Thaisa has died giving birth to the couple's child, Pericles hastily agrees to toss her body over the side of the ship to appease the superstitious sailors. Of course, Thaisa's not dead, but the decision has major consequences for our hero. It seems like a big part of his maturing process is about learning to be a better judge of his circumstances.

<em>Enter PERICLES, at one door, with all his TRAIN; CLEON and DIONYZA, at the other. CLEON shows PERICLES the tomb; whereat PERICLES makes lamentation, puts on sackcloth, and in a mighty passion departs. Then exeunt CLEON and DIONYZA.</em> (4.4.Dumb Show)

When Pericles sees the monument Dionyza has erected for Marina, he just accepts it as evidence that his daughter is dead. Yep: this is another huge mistake for our hero, who doesn't realize that Cleon and Dionyza are lying to him about his daughter. By the way, if you want to argue that this is evidence that Pericles is still a lousy judge of character, go right ahead. Nobody here is gonna stop you. 

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