Pericles, Prince of Tyre Power
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Made many princes thither frame,
To seek her as a bed-fellow,
In marriage-pleasures play-fellow:
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: (1.1.32-38)
Not only is Antiochus a terrible father for having an incestuous affair with his own daughter, he's also a lousy ruler for lopping off the heads of all his daughter's suitors who can't guess his riddle. The play seems to go out of its way to tell us that Antiochus's behavior is not only damaging to his family; it also has some serious political consequences. Instead of planning for his kingdom's future and trying to make sure there's an heir to rule when he's gone, he spends all his time trying to prevent his daughter from getting married.
Young prince of Tyre, you have at large received
The danger of the task you undertake. (1.1.1-2)
So, technically, Pericles is a king, but he's often referred to as a "prince." What's up with that? Is Shakespeare trying to tell us that he's still a young pup and still has a lot of growing up to do? Here, Antiochus calls him a "young prince," which is pretty condescending. Clearly, Antiochus doesn't want this kid to marry his daughter and would be happy to mount Pericles's head on his wall.
And for your faithfulness we will advance you.
Thaliard, behold, here's poison, and here's gold;
We hate the prince of Tyre, and thou must kill him[...] (1.1.154-156)
No doubt about it, there's a whole lot of corruption at Antiochus's court. Here, Antiochus offers to "advance" one of his lords if he kills Pericles without asking any questions. (Kind of like King Richard having his little nephews murdered in the play Richard III).
Which care of them, not pity of myself,
Who am no more but as the tops of trees,
Which fence the roots they grow by and defend them,
Makes both my body pine and soul to languish, (1.2.29-32)
Unlike the corrupt Antioch, Pericles seems to be more worried about his innocent subjects than he is about himself. He knows that Antiochus is a tyrant and will stop at nothing to have him killed—even if it means waging war against Pericles's people. This is why Pericles makes the decision to flee Tyre and appoint a temporary ruler in his place.
[...] for if a king bid a man be a
villain, he's bound by the indenture of his oath to
be one! (1.3.7-9)
This is where Thaliard justifies why he has agreed to kill Pericles for King Antiochus—he claims he has no other choice but to obey his monarch. Is this really true? Does Thaliard have a choice? Either way, it seems like Shakespeare is telling us that when a king is corrupt, he can easily corrupt everyone else in his court.
My Dionyza, shall we rest us here,
And by relating tales of others' griefs,
See if 'twill teach us to forget our own? (1.4.1-3)
Shakespeare goes out of his way to show us that Cleon is a lousy and wimpy ruler. When we first meet him, he's boohooing to his wife about how Tharsus is suffering from a famine. Instead of being proactive and trying to do something about it, he sits around and tells stories about his people's suffering. In other words, Cleon is way too passive to be a good ruler. Later on, when his wife tries to have Marina killed, Cleon does absolutely nothing about it.
The good King Simonides, do you call him.
Ay, sir; and he deserves so to be called for his
peaceable reign and good government. (2.1.101-103)
Before we even meet him, we know that King Simonides is a foil to the wicked King Antiochus. His subjects love him because he's a good ruler and because he keeps his kingdom out of wars. Not only that, but Simonides actually <em>wants</em> his daughter to marry, since he knows his kingdom is going to need an heir when he's gone—unlike Antiochus, who wants to keep his daughter all to himself.
And knowing this kingdom is without a head,—
Like goodly buildings left without a roof
Soon fall to ruin,—your noble self,
That best know how to rule and how to reign,
We thus submit unto,—our sovereign. (2.4.35-39)
When Pericles flees his kingdom and doesn't return home for a long period of time, his subjects think he's dead. This causes a ton of chaos and fear back in Tyre because the people feel vulnerable without their monarch. Here, one of the lords says the kingdom is like a body without a "head," or a house without a "roof."
Imagine Pericles arrived at Tyre,
Welcomed and settled to his own desire.
Now to Marina bend your mind [...] (4, Prologue, 1-5)
The play seems to be asking whether or not it's possible to be a good parent <em>and </em>a good monarch at the same time. When Pericles is busy tending to his family, his kingdom suffers. When he's being a good ruler, his daughter's life is put in danger by the people he has trusted to care for her. And by the way, why the heck does Pericles leave Marina in Tharsus when he returns back home to rule Tyre?
We'll celebrate their nuptials, and ourselves
Will in that kingdom spend our following days:
Our son and daughter shall in Tyrus reign. (5.3.80)
It seems like marriage is the key to peace and political prosperity in this play. At the beginning of <em>Pericles</em>, we saw how Antiochus caused a ton of political upheaval by preventing his daughter from getting hitched. By the end of the play, Shakespeare resolves all of the political problems with the reunification of Pericles's family and Marina's marriage to Lysimachus. Not only will Pericles and Thaisa rule Simonides's kingdom, but Marina and her new hubby will rule Tyre.
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