Study Guide

Pericles, Prince of Tyre Sex

By William Shakespeare

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Sex is pretty complicated in Pericles. When the play opens, our hero tries to marry a princess who turns out to be sleeping with her own father. Yikes. Later, Pericles's daughter Marina is kidnapped, sold to a brothel, and threatened with rape.

So what's up with all the incest and prostitution?

Well, on the one hand, the play suggests that healthy sex is the best and fastest way to achieve immortality and political power. The idea is that desire between a man and a woman leads to babies (like Marina), who will eventually grow up and take over ruling their parents' kingdoms... and everyone gets to live happily ever after.

On the other hand, this play goes out of its way to show that incestuous relationships and unlawful sexual hookups lead to death. Literally. The brothel's prostitutes and customers drop like flies from STDs, and the incestuous father and daughter get struck by a ball of fire when they're out joyriding in their chariot.

Sex can be good or bad in this play... but when it's bad, it's really bad.

Questions About Sex

  1. Why does Pericles run away from Antiochus's court?
  2. How does the play contrast the sexual desires of Thaisa and her foil, Antiochus's daughter?
  3. What happens to Marina in the brothel? How does she manage to escape?
  4. Why do you think the gods punish Antiochus and his daughter? What does this suggest about the play's attitude toward sexuality?

Chew on This

This play is super anxious about the threat of incest between fathers and daughters.

According to <em>Pericles,</em> incestuous relationships are a dead-end street: they never lead to new generations of families.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre Sex Study Group

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