Study Guide

Pericles, Prince of Tyre Summary

By William Shakespeare

Pericles, Prince of Tyre Summary

Read the full text of Pericles with a side-by-side translation HERE.


Our boy Pericles (a.k.a. the Prince of Tyre) travels to Antioch, where King Antiochus is hosting a little contest. It's called: "Whoever guesses this riddle can marry my smokin' hot daughter, but anyone who guesses wrong gets his head mounted on my wall." Pericles goes for it and immediately solves the riddle, which reveals a dirty little secret— King Antiochus has been sleeping with his own daughter. Incest. Yikes.

Naturally, wicked Antiochus wants Pericles dead, so our hero high-tails it back home, where he puts his friend Helicanus in charge of ruling Tyre and goes on the lam before Antiochus's hit man can show up. Pericles sails to a city called Tharsus, which is experiencing the worst famine ever. In exchange for safe haven, Pericles hooks up the Governor (Cleon) and his wife (Dionyza) with a boatload of food to feed their people. Now these two owe Pericles big time.

When Pericles hears that Antiochus's hit man is hot on his tail, he has to hop back on his boat and sail away.

Pericles doesn't get very far when a random storm wrecks his ship just off the shores of Pentapolis. There, a bunch of fishermen tell him about King Simonides, who is hosting a jousting tournament the next day to help decide who gets to marry his daughter, Thaisa. Awesome, right? Pericles is still in the market for a princess. At the tourney, he impresses everyone, and long story short, he marries Thaisa, who gets preggers right away.

When Pericles finds out that Antiochus is dead and he can go back home, he and his pregnant wife set sail for Tyre. Halfway there, another terrible storm hits. Thaisa goes into labor on the ship and appears to die in childbirth. The sailors make Pericles toss Thaisa's body overboard in a casket. Pericles is devastated and worried his newborn baby won't make it back to Tyre, so he makes a pit stop in Tharsus so that Cleon and Dionyza can help him.

Meanwhile, Thaisa washes up in Ephesus, where a brilliant doctor manages to revive her. Hooray—Thaisa's alive. Too bad Pericles thinks she's dead.

Twelve months pass before Pericles leaves Tharsus and heads back to Tyre. He leaves his daughter, Marina, with Cleon and Dionyza, who promise to raise her like their own child. Meanwhile, Thaisa thinks she'll never see her family again, so she decides to live as a nun and moves into Diana's temple in Ephesus.

Years go by, and we check in with Marina, who has grown up to be a beautiful young woman. Her foster mom, Dionyza, is jealous because her biological daughter is living in Marina's shadow. Dionyza orders her henchman to kill Marina, but before the guy can do it, a bunch of pirates show up out of nowhere and kidnap her.

The pirates sell Marina to a brothel in "Meteline" (a.k.a. Mytilene), where Marina keeps her V-card and starts converting the brothel's best customers into virtuous men by preaching to them. (Pretty impressive, right?) The owners get fed up with Marina ruining their business and send her to an "honest house" where she can make them some money by sewing, singing, and teaching.

Pericles shows up in Tharsus (after 14 years of not seeing his kid) to visit Marina and hears that his daughter is dead. Crazy with grief, he hops back on his boat (again) and sets sail. Eventually, he winds up in Meteline, where a guy named Lysimachus introduces him to Marina. Before Pericles can do something creepy like ask his own kid out on a date, dad and daughter recognize each other and have a big, dramatic family reunion.

Pericles falls asleep and has a dream about the goddess Diana, who tells him to get back on his ship ASAP and head to her temple in Ephesus. Marina gets engaged to a dude named Lysimachus, and they all head to Ephesus, where Pericles finds his long-lost wife. And they all live happily ever after...