“Where am I? Where’s my lord? What world is this?”


Act Three, Part Two

By Dennis Abrams


From Tanner:

pericles painful“Act III finds Pericles in the middle of a terrible storm at sea, and also finds Shakespeare beginning to write in his recognizably late style. Pericles gains a daughter in these impossible conditions:

     Now, mild may be thy life!

For a more blusterous birth had never babe;

Quiet and gentle thy conditions! For

Thou art the rudeliest welcome to this world

That ever was prince’s child. Happy what follows!

Thou hast as chiding a nativity

As fire, air, water, earth and heaven can make,

To herald thee from the womb.


Having welcomed a daughter, he has (as he thinks) to bury a wife – the close conjunction of things dying with things newborn is a distinguishing feature of the atmosphere of the Last Plays.

A terrible childhood hast thou had, my dear;

No light, no fire. Th’ unfriendly elements

Forgot thee utterly; nor have I time

To give thee hallowed to thy grave, but straight

Must cast thee, scarcely coffined, in the ooze;

Where, for a monument upon thy bones,

And e’er-remaining lamps, the belching whale

And humming water must o’erwhelm thy corpse,

Lying with simple shells. O Lychorida,

Bid Nestor bring me spices, ink and paper,

My casket and my jewels


It is a beautiful exequy – touchingly intimate and solicitous (‘my dear’); awed, at the bleak indifference of the elements; somehow tranquillizing, with the ‘humming water;’ and finally mysteriously peaceful, with his wife at rest ‘lying with simple shells.’ The undersea world seemingly has its own placating processes – to which Pericles will dispatch his wife, suitably accompanied by spices and jewels. Disaster has been turned into ritual.

We shortly see him leaving the new-born Marina with Cleon and Dionyza at Tharsus (they owe him a favor since he relieved their starving city) who promise to bring her up like their own daughter. But before that, there is a strange scene with Lore Cerimon which affords us perhaps the first certain intimation that we have entered the world of Shakespeare’s late romances. Cerimon is a master of ‘secret art:’

     ‘Tis known, I ever

Have studied physic, through which secret art

By turning o’er authorities, I have,

Together with my practice, made familiar

To me and to my aid the blest infusions

That dwells in vegetives, in metals, stones;

And I can speak of the disturbances

That nature works, and of her cures.


We have met herbalists and apothecaries before; and, seeking to allay the suffering of her father, Cordelia prays:

All bless’d secrets,

All you unpublished virtues of the earth,

Spring with my tears! be aidant and remediate

In the good man’s distress!

(King Lear, IV.iv.15-18)

Her ‘blest secrets’ are Cerimon’s ‘blest infusions,’ and his ‘vegetives’ are her ‘virtues of the earth’ ( = medicinal plants). Shakespeare has already shown an interest in good or white magic, and mysterious remedies; you may recall Helena’s dead father (in All’s Well) ‘whose skill was almost as great as his honesty; had it stretched so far, would have made material immortal’ (I.i.20-23, my italics). But it didn’t – though he handed on some powerful secret recipes to his daughter. Just what ‘aidant and remediate’ powers man’s art may draw out of nature to cure ‘disturbances’ which nature herself ‘works,’ is an increasing concern for Shakespeare. Marina is successfully ‘aidant and remediate’ to her father in this play in a way which is debarred to Cordelia in the intractably bleak world she moves through. And remember that, as Gower indicated at the start, the whole story is intended to serve as a ‘restorative’ – for all of us.

Cerimon values ‘cunning’ (skill) more than ‘riches’ because ‘immortality attends the former,/Making a man a god’ (III.ii.30-31); and it does indeed come to seem that he has attained the skill that Helena’s father just fell short of. When some gentlemen bring in the casket/coffin containing the ‘corpse’ of Thaisa, he calls for his ‘boxes,’ a fire, and some ‘still and woeful music,’ saying:

Death may usurp on nature many hours,

And yet the fire of his life kindle again

The o’erpressed spirits. [I have read

Of some Egyptians, who after four hours’ death

Have raised impoverished bodies, like to this,

Unto their former health.]


(The lines in brackets are hopelessly garbled in the Quarto, and the much clearer words from Wilkins’ prose narrative have been inserted.) Cerimon, it seems, has learned the ‘secret art’ of resurrection. Thus his triumphant speech:

The music there! I pray you, give her air.


This queen will live: nature awakes, a warmth

Breathes out of her. She hath not been entranced

Above five hours. See how she ‘gins to blow

Into life’s flower again!

And Thaisa wakes – as if returned from the grave:

Where am I? Where’s my lord? What world is this?


A resurrection! It is, as the amazed watching Gentlemen declare, ‘most strange!’, ‘most rare!’ Cerimon is, as Wilson Knight long ago pointed out, an early sketch for Prospero.”


And with that perfect cue, more from G. Wilson Knight:

Pericles_Pio-Clementino_Inv269_n2“Act III is introduced by a striking chorus, describing the still house after the marriage-banquet, the silence broken only by heavy snores and crickets at the ‘oven’s mouth’:

The cat, with eyne of burning coal,

Now couches fore the mouse’s hole…

The association of marriage-feast, midnight and the sleeping house recalls the final scene of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, though nothing there quite touches the warm realism of our short passage, which has a fine Shakespearian ring.  The bride is ‘brought to bed’ by ‘Hymen.’  There follows a dumb-show depicting Thaisa ‘with child.’ After revealing his royal identity, Pericles sets sail, with his queen, for home; but the voyage is ill-starred:

And so to sea. Their vessel shakes

On Neptune’s billow; half the flood

Hath their keel cut; but Fortune’s mood

Varies again; the grisled north

Disgorges such a tempest forth,

That, as a duck for life that dives,

So up and down the poor ship drives.

The action next opens with Pericles on ship-board addressing the storm. Sea-tempest, so long a favorite image, and brought so near to us in Act II, has become at last the focus of dramatic action, and never before was it given such poetic thunder as in Pericles’ opening lines:

Thou God of this great vast, rebuke these surges,

Which wash both heaven and hell; and thou, that hast

Upon the winds command, bind them in brass,

Having call’d them from the deep. O! still

Thy deafening, dreadful thunders; gently quench

Thy nimble, sulphurous flashes. O! how Lychorida,

How does my queen? Thou stormest vemenously;

Wilt thou spit all thyself? The seaman’s whistle

Is as a whisper in the ears of death,

Unheard. Lychorida! Lucina, o!

Divinest patroness, and midwife gentle

To those that cry by night, convey thy deity

Aboard our dancing boat; make swift the pangs

Of my queen’s travails!

The nurse brings the child with news of its mother’s death:

O you gods!

Why do you make us love your goodly gifts,

And snatch them straight away?

Continually we are pointed to these seemingly meaningless shifts of fortune which characterize the action. Pericles now speaks to the child born, as it were, amid a living death, commenting on its rude welcome to the stage of life:

Thou hast as chiding a nativity

As fire, air, water, earth, and heaven can make,

To herald thee from the womb; even at the first

Thy loss is more than can thy portage quit

With all thou can’st find here.


Observe the exact mention of the elements, natural and divine. The storm is generalized; the child’s birth shown as an entry into the turmoils of nature, widely understood, an entry into storm-tossed mortality recalling the crying child of old Lear’s lunatic sermon (King Lear, IV.vi.187); and when the child is called ‘this fresh new sea-farer’ only a response most insensitive to Shakespeare’s storm-poetry in general, and his use of it in Pericles in particular, will limit the meaning to the immediate occasion. As again in The Winter’s Tale, the association of child and tempest holds a general, if unemphasized, implication.

The superstitious sea-men insist that Thaisa be immediately buried at sea and Pericles, with another passage of supreme poetry, gives way:

A terrible childhood hast thou had, my dear;

No light, no fire. Th’ unfriendly elements

Forgot thee utterly; nor have I time

To give thee hallowed to thy grave, but straight

Must cast thee, scarcely coffined, in the ooze;

Where, for a monument upon thy bones,

And e’er-remaining lamps, the belching whale

And humming water must o’erwhelm thy corpse,

Lying with simple shells.

Nowhere else does Shakespeare’s sea-poetry move with quite so superb an ease, the one word ‘humming’ doing more than long passages of earlier description; as though, in this extraordinary story, with all the normal restrictions gone, except indeed for the necessity of prime concentration on this favorite theme, his deepest genius was enjoying a liberty hitherto unknown. Perhaps only whilst desultorily working over an old plot in which he scarce half-believed could such unsought-for excellence have matured. Notice that the text, when Shakespeare’s hand is indisputably at work, seems remarkably pure.

Pericles asks for spices, his ‘casket’ and ‘jewels,’ and includes them, with some writing, in the coffin, which is cast overboard. The ship makes for Tarsus.

We move to Ephesus, where we meet Cerimon, a descendant of Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet, deeply versed in the understanding of mineral and vegetable properties, and indeed at home with the inmost ‘disturbances that nature works and of her cures’ (III.ii.37). He is a magician, of ‘secret art’ (III.ii.32), like Prospero in The Tempest. He is, too, noble, a man of Timon-like lustre, renowned for his generosity, who has, like Timon, ‘poured forth’ his charity, till ‘hundreds’ are indebted to his skill, personal labors, and ‘purse’ (III.ii.43-8). He defines his own life-wisdom for us:

     I hold it ever,

Virtue and cunning were endowments greater

Than nobleness and riches; careless heirs

May the two latter darken and expend,

But immortality attends the former,

Making a man a god.

His art holds a deeper content

Than to be thirsty after tottering honour

Or tie my treasure up in silken bags

To please the fool and death.

The contrast already suggested between the substantial and the ephemeral, the real and the deceptive, is here more sharply defined and given a personal center. Cerimon is an almost superhuman figure living out a truth expressed throughout the New Testament, as in the parable of the rich man summoned by death, and such phrases as ‘the body is more than clothes,’ ‘consider the lilies of the field.’

We meet him at night-time, called from his rest to help shipwrecked mariners, while people comment on the storm in the usual Shakespearean manner, saying how it exceeds all previous experience. When servants bring in Thaisa’s coffin, Cerimon’s wryly humorous comment recalls the sea’s throwing up of Pericles’ armor at Pentapolis:

If the sea’s stomach be o’ercharg’d with gold,

‘Tis a good constraint of fortune it belches upon us…

Gold is present, in spite of Cerimon’s former repudiation, as a preliminary to the sudden disclosure of wondrous riches enclosing the sparkling richness of the supreme jewel, Thaisa. The chest has a marvelous scent: it smells ‘most sweetly,’ with a ‘delicate odor’ (III.ii.60-1), phrases pointing on to The Winter’s Tale, III.i.I; and The Tempest, II.i.44, 49). The body itself is

Shrouded in cloth of state; balm’d and entreasur’d

With full bags of spices.

Pericles’ written message asks that ‘this queen worth all our mundane cost’ be buried in return for the ‘treasure’ enclosed, and for charity’s sake (III.ii.70-7). Notice how Thaisa is surrounded by clustering impressions of wealth: they are to continue.

Cerimon sets to recover her with the help of ‘fire’ and ‘music.’ He gives his orders busily, in language aptly broken by colloquial pauses:

Death may usurp on nature many hours,

And yet the fire of life kindle again

The overpress’d spirits. I heard

Of an Egyptian, that had nine hours lien dead,

Who was by good appliances recover’d

The reference to an Egyptian is peculiarly apt in a scene so strongly reminiscent of the magic for which ancient Egypt was renowned. The miracle is now worked before our eyes:

Well said, well said: the fire and cloths.

The rough and woeful music that we have,

Cause it to sound, beseech you.

The viol once more; — how thou stir’st, thou block!

The music there! I pray you, give her air.


The queen will live; a nature awakes, a warmth

Breathes out of her; she hath not been entranc’d

Above five hours. See! How she ‘gins to blow

Into life’s flower again.

Music, for so long Shakespeare’s normal dramatic antithesis to tempestuous death, becomes directly implemental: and will be so again, in The Winter’s Tale, as the agent of Hermione’s release. Cerimon’s skill goes beyond science, in the modern sense, resembling rather the raising of the dead in the New Testament, a reading borne out of the reaction of those who attend:

     The heavens

Though you increase our wonder and set up

Your fame for ever.

Cerimon’s next words mark the culmination of the imagery of jewels and riches so persistent throughout Pericles:

    She is alive! behold,

Her eyelids, cases to those heavenly jewels

Which Pericles hath lost,

Begin to part their fringes of bright gold:

The diamonds of a most praised water

Do appear to make the world twice rich. Live,

And make us weep to hear your fate, fair creature,

Rare as you seem to be!

‘Rare’: the word is to characterize everything most wondrous in this and later plays. The original direction – pointing on, as did ‘warmth’ earlier, to The Winter’s Tale – is ‘she moves.’ The poetic excitement is breathlessly intense: we are watching the key-incident that unlocks the whole range of Shakespeare’s later work. His imagery, his poetry, dictates the action. From his earliest plays he had been deeply engaged with sea-tempests and death; with true and false appearance; with riches, real and unreal, in relation to love; and with wealth strewn on the sea’s floor (as in Clarence’s dream), the treasures it has gorged; and more than once with a jewel thrown into the sea, as a symbol of love, for ever lost; and, continually, with music as an almost mystical accompaniment of love, reunion, and joy. All are together here, as the supreme jewel, Thaisa, is given back.

Her first words are, ‘O dear Diana!’ She wonders, like Lear waking after madness, where she is: ‘What world is this?’ The watchers marvel at the strangeness of the act, this miracle ‘most rare.’ But Cerimon hushes their exclamations of wonder and removes Thaisa to a chamber of rest. Later he gives her the jewels from the chest and she, despairing of seeing her lord again, decides to take on a ‘vestal livery,’ and is accordingly introduced by Cerimon to Diana’s temple.

We have moved very far beyond gnomic rhymes and moral precepts; beyond psychological lessons and social comment; have advanced beyond ethic altogether to a dramatic disclosure metaphysical rather than moral, indeed visionary rather than metaphysical, as we watch life blossom and glow from the very jaws of death, warmed into renewed existence by Cerimon’s fire and music. This is the new thing that has come, spontaneously, from Shakespeare’s novel attempt in free narrative; something quite unlike any previous incident; which yet could not, perhaps, have been born before Antony and Cleopatra; but which, once touched, insists on re-expression till the end.

Pericles leaves his child, called Marina because she was born at sea (III.iii.13), with Cleon and his queen Dionyza. Cleon grieves for the ‘shafts of fortune’ that have so mortally attacked their former benefactor, and Pericles answers:

     We cannot but obey

The powers above us. Could I rage and roar

As doth the sea she lies in, yet the end

Must be as ‘tis.


Thaisa’s death is no peculiar misfortune, but rather the general fate and fact or mortality. Pericles worn with disaster, vows “by bright Diana,’ who has by now become the play’s presiding deity, to leave his hair ‘unscissor’d’ until his daughter’s marriage (III.iii.27-9); and departs, after being recommended by Cleon to ‘the mask’d Neptune and the gentlest winds of heaven’. The verse continues to maintain a high Shakespearean standard.”


And finally, from Frank Kermode:

Per69RS“Recognition is a regular feature of dramatic plots, and in the course of business Shakespeare had written many recognition scenes, but the one in Pericles has a special importance. Aristotle treated recognition (anagnorisis) as that part of the plot which presented ‘a change from ignorance to knowledge,’ a change produced by what he called peripeteia, a reversal or turning point; the moment when the direction of the story is altered in preparation for the recognition that, ‘against expectation,’ as Aristotle puts it, brings it to an end by discovering at last its true course, hitherto concealed. The peripety may signal or occasion the downfall of a tragic hero; in comedy it may bring about an unexpected prosperity. Thus in Oedipus Rex the hero’s belated understanding that he has killed his father, married his mother, and brought the plague to Thebes is a recognition following on peripety, a sudden shift in the action.

Recognition is often, but not necessarily, recognition of a person or a relationship established in the past and obscured by time. Whether the term applies to the new knowledge of both the audience and the characters is a disputed point. A familiar form of recognition occurs in fiction, and especially in romantic stories. In the Odyssey the recognition of Odysseus is brought on by the identification of his scar; in other stories it may be a birthmark or some token of identity. The actual scene of recognition may be very long, as in the Aethiopica of Heliodorus, a third-century Greek romance.

Such ancient tales, which have much in common with later romances, were clearly of interest to contemporaries of Sidney and Spenser. Romance plots were popular at the time. Shakespeare builds up the Plautine elements of The Comedy of Errors into a framework consisting of such a romance story. Two old romantic plays, Mucedorus and The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune, seems to have enjoyed a renewed popularity at the time of Pericles and Shakespeare’s other romances; his company performed Mucedorus in 1610. It has some resemblance to The Tempest, and it has been argued that The Rare Triumphs anticipates aspects of Cymbeline.

The revival of these old plays may reflect a more general resurgence of interest in plays surviving from the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Philaster, a play by Shakespeare’s younger associates Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, is ‘full of echoes’ of Philip Sidney’s Arcadia – and the name ‘Philaster’ is a version of Astrophel, ‘star-lover,’ which was Sidney’s pseudonym. Philaster (1610) was a Blackfriars play, more or less contemporary with Cymbeline, which is certainly a Globe play, but was very likely performed at Blackfriars also. Pericles lacks the fashionable aspect of these later tragicomedies, but may still owe its existence to a new interest in Elizabethan romance and chivalry.

The later romances are affected by a new interest in the possibilities of tragicomedy, and Pericles is closer than they to the form and shape of its ultimate ancient source. It is simple in its episodic structure, and one feels the whole of Shakespeare’s enterprise was to see what could be made of the recognition scene, how it could be drawn out, given the greatest possible emotional force. Like its original, the story begins with incest and ends, by a kind of inversion, in the recognition of Marina by her desolate father, and their subsequent reunion with her mother, Thaisa, long supposed dead. Plots of this kind, in which the heroine is born, suffers vicissitudes of fortune, and is a mature young woman at the end, calls for episodic treatment; here a Chorus, the old poet Gower, speaking a fake old-fashioned language, is used to maintain continuity. In The Winter’s Tale, based on a modern romance story by Greene, Perdita is born at the outset and married by the end, and Shakespeare uses the bolder and in the event more subtle device of introducing Time himself to explain the passage of sixteen years.

It is agreed that in the beginning of what is usually called Act III, as Pericles on shipboard prays against the storm for the safe delivery of his child, and then laments his wife’s death, the voice is certainly the voice of Shakespeare:

A terrible childhood hast thou had, my dear;

No light, no fire. Th’ unfriendly elements

Forgot thee utterly; nor have I time

To give thee hallowed to thy grave, but straight

Must cast thee, scarcely coffined, in the ooze;

Where, for a monument upon thy bones,

And e’er-remaining lamps, the belching whale

And humming water must o’erwhelm thy corpse,

Lying with simple shells.

And he places the necessary tokens in the coffin. Here is mature Shakespearean verse, the mixture of end-stopping and overrunning, the violence of ‘belching,’ ‘humming,’ the strong concluding final line of the sentence (a favorite device), with ‘Lying’ in sudden contrast to the activity of the sea and its inhabitants. Behind this passage there may be a recollection of Clarence’s dream in Richard III (I.iv.9-33)

Marina is the first of the virgin paragons, the magical and nowadays virtually unplayable romance heroines. When we first encounter her, she is carrying a basket of flowers but complaining in authentic accents: ‘Ay me! poor maid,/Born in a tempest when my mother died,/This world to me is a lasting storm,/Whirring me from my friends’ (IV>i.17-20). She is as yet unaware of the magical quality of her birth, attended by all the elements: ‘Thou hast as chiding a nativity/As fire, air, water, earth, and heaven can make/To herald thee from the womb’ (III.i.32-34). This is virtually a divine nativity. The noun could be used as a synonym for birth in the ordinary way, but usually had a theological or astrological inflection; this is, at least, an unusual child, a child of spiritual power.”


Our next reading: Pericles, Scenes 15-19, “Act IV”

My next post:  Sunday evening/Monday morning

Enjoy.  And enjoy your weekend.

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4 Responses to “Where am I? Where’s my lord? What world is this?”

  1. GGG says:

    Pericles the play is also reminding me of a fairy tale like the Grimms recorded. The characters are somewhat one-dimensional although the poetry is beautiful. The play does seem divided into “good’ and “bad” characters.

  2. Joe Simon says:

    “more than once with a jewel thrown into the sea, as a symbol of love, for ever lost;”

    So…Rose from the Titabic movie knew her Pericles. 🙂

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