“Come, I am for no more bawdy houses. Shall’s go hear the vestals sing?”


Act Four, Part One

By Dennis Abrams

la-et-cm-pericles-20130917-001Scenes 15-19 (Act Four):  Gower tells the story of Marina’s passage from girlhood to a beautiful young woman, and how Dionyza grew jealous of her charge, arranging to have the girl murdered by Leonine. (How Snow White!)  But before Leonine can succeed, Marina is kidnapped by pirates (!) and sold into prostitution at Mytilene. There, she resolutely refuses to cooperate with customers (much to the Bawd’s despair), and when the governor Lysimachus appears, she persuades him to help. Pericles, meanwhile, has returned to Tarsus and is told that Marina has died in his absence; he sadly vows to spend the rest of his life in mourning.

The sea and its changeability is one of the predominant themes running through the play, and perhaps the most expressive example of the sea’s changefulness appears on the horrific night of Thaisa’s loss – indeed, is the reason for her apparent death. Marina, “born in a tempest” and named after the ocean that carries away her mother, is even less rooted (if that’s possible) than her father, as she exclaims mournfully to the wicked Queen Dionyza:

The world to me is but a ceaseless storm,

Whirring me from my friends.

(15, 71-2)

After being forced to flee from the court of Cleon and Dionyza (recalling her father) and suffering “death” (recalling her mother), she is kidnapped by pirates before ending up in a brothel.  Of course.  But, cast once again to the mercy of fate (again, recalling her parents), she is nevertheless able to talk her way out through sheer strength of personality; sending her would-be clients away with prayers on their lips (and charity in the hearts), she is so chaste (as her somewhat baffled pimp exclaims), that she would “undo the whole of generation” if she could. (19,13)


From Garber:

pericles“In the center of the play we suddenly find Pericles and Thaisa each inhabiting a wasteland: bereft of wife or husband, bereft of child. Each performs an act of self-abnegation. Thaisa, like the Abbess in the early Comedy of Errors, elects a religious life and becomes a priestess of Diana, the goddess of chastity. Pericles goes into mourning, refusing to cut his hair or beard, and refusing, as well, to say a word. ‘He will not speak,’ says Helicanus. He is ‘[a] man who for this three months hath not spoken/to anyone’ (21.26, 18-19). From what we have seen about the choice of silence in other plays, it is clear that by this refusal Pericles is turning away from life toward a kind of imitative and emblematic death. The man who brought corn and fertility to Tarsus is now himself an infertile king, a sick king in a wasteland, lost in melancholy. In fact, even Marina, the creative spirit who will cure these ills, finds herself temporarily locked into a corrupt and fallen world of brothels, panders, and bawds.

The seasonal energies that animate all of the romances are very close to the surface here. For the pattern that emerges is a familiar mythic story, the classical tale of Ceres and Prosperina, the myth of the lost daughter and the lost harvest. Prosperina, or Persephone, was the daughter of Ceres, or Demeter, the goddess of corn, grain, and harvest. She was stolen away one day by Pluto, god of the underworld, who took her to make her his queen. And Ceres mourned the loss of her daughter, and the crops failed, so that winter came to the land, until Jupiter, king of the gods, promised that he would restore Prosperina to her mother – provided that she had not eaten anything in the underworld. But Prosperina had eaten a few pomegranate seeds, and so for four months of the year – as many months as seeds – she was forced to return to Pluto’s kingdom beneath the earth, and her mother mourned. When Prosperina returned each year, so did spring, and then summer and harvest. The story is thus one of life, death, and rebirth, and also of original sin, like the story of Adam and Eve in Eden, where eating forbidden fruit likewise causes a fall.

In Pericles, as in The Winter’s Tale, the Prosperina myth is presented in a very straightforward, poetic, dramatic form. The audience’s first sight of Marina as a grown woman comes as she is strewing flowers on her nurse’s grave:

     I will rob Tellus of her weed

To strew thy grave with flow’rs. The yellows, blues,

The purple violets and marigolds

Shall as a carpet hang upon thy tomb

While summer days doth last…


In the midst of this pious act she is set upon by the murderer Leonine, and is saved from death only by a band of pirates who bear her off to a more metaphorical hell in the brothel. It is not until Marina is returned to her mother at the play’s close that Pericles consents to cut his hair and beard, and that Thaisa relinquishes her chaste priesthood for a return to marriage.”


From Bloom:

“When I think of Pericles, I remember first not the final scene in Diana’s temple, where Thaisa is reunited with Pericles and Marina, but the two superbly vivid episodes of Marina’s defiance in the brothel, and then the sublime recognition scene between marina and Pericles on board ship at the onset of Act V. If the remainder of Pericles were worthy of these great confrontations, then the play would stand with the strongest of Shakespeare’s, which, alas, it does not. Act IV, at its best and worst, reads like a Jacobean Perils of Pauline, with Marina always on the verge of being either murdered or raped. For the crime of outshining their natural daughter, Marina’s guardians arrange for Marina to be slaughtered by the seaside. In the nick, pirates arrive and rescue her, but only to sell Marina to a brothel in Mytilene. The great Flaubert, in his final days, is reported to have been considering for his next novel the ideal setting ‘a whorehouse in the provinces.’ Returning to the spirit of the wonderfully rancid Measure for Measure, Shakespeare surpasses all possible rivals in the gusto with which he portrays the oldest profession:





Pand: Search the market narrowly; Mytilene is full of gallants. We lost too much money this mart by being too wenchless.


We were never so much out of creatures. We have but poor three, and they can do no more than they can do; and they with continual action are even as good as rotten.


Therefore let’s have fresh ones, whate’er we pay for them. If there be not a conscience to be us’d in every trade, we shall never prosper.


Thou say’st true; ‘tis not our bringing up of poor bastards, as I think I have brought up some eleven –


Ay, to eleven, and brought them down again. But shall I search the market?


What else, man? The stuff we have, a strong wind will blow it to pieces, they are so pitifully sodden.


Thou sayest true; there’s two unwholesome, a’ conscience. The poor Transylvanian is dead, that lay with the little baggage.


Ay, she quickly pooped him; she made him roast-meat for worms. But I’ll go search the market.


Only in the brothel scenes does Shakespeare’s mimetic art return, wonderfully refreshing in the stiff world of Pericles. Pandar, Bawd, and Boult have personalities; Pericles, Marina, and Thaisa do not. Before the formidable, indeed divine (being Diana-like) virtue of Marina, these splendid disreputables must yield, while inaugurating a mode of irony frequently imitated since. Pandar presages the stance of Peachum and Lockit in Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera: ‘If there be not a conscience to be us’d in every trade, we shall never prosper.’ The wind of mortality blows upon overworked whores and their Transylvanian client, and upon Shakespeare also (by some accounts). Anticipating a high market – a wealthy prospective client – for Marina, the Bawd makes the most poetic remark of the play: ‘I know he will come in our shadow, to scatter his crowns in the sun.’ But they do not know that Marina is in fact their nemesis. Men march out of the brothel asking one another, ‘Shall’s go hear the vestals sing?,’ and soon enough the three worthies are in the position of the unhappy kidnappers in O. Henry’s ‘The Random of Red Chief.’


Well, I had rather than twice the worth of her she had ne’er come here.


Fie, fie upon her! she’s able to freeze the god Priapus, and undo a whole generation. We must either get her ravish’d or be rid of her. When she should do for clients upon her fitment and do me the kindness of our profession, she has me her quirks, her reasons, her master-reasons, her prayers, her knees; that she would make a puritan of the devil, if he would cheapen a kiss of her.


Faith, I must ravish her, or she’ll disfurnish us of all our cavalleria, and make our swearers priests.


They are already defeated, and they know it; their comic despair exceeds their bravado, and neither they nor we believe that Boult will ever ravish her. The governor of Mytilene, Lysimachus, arrives, intending to be the designated taker of Marina’s maidenhead, and departs in love with her, and in revulsion at his own purpose. Boult next falls before her, and goes forth to advertise to Mytilene that Marina will teach singing, weaving, sewing, and dancing, after she is lodged ‘amongst honest women,’ as soon as she is. Clearly we have to regard Marina’s chastity as being mystical or occult, it cannot be violated, because Diana protects her own. Marina, after her family’s reunion, can be married to Lysimachus, both because he knows that her social rank is at least as high as his own, and also because Diana (in Pericles) accepts married chastity as an alternative for her votaress. The comedy in the brothel scenes is among Shakespeare’s most advanced; only the irony of Marina’s invulnerable status maintains the dramatic structure’s coherence, since we observe three sensible sexual pragmatists confronted by a magical maiden whom they cannot suborn, that being well beyond their power. They discover that indeed they have to with Diana (to answer the Bawd’s earlier question), who necessarily undoes them.”


And from G. Wilson Knight:

IMG_1301“Marina’s education at Tarsus is described in the chorus to Act IV. She is trained in both music and letters, and becomes so generally admired that she rouses the queen’s jealousy on behalf of her own daughter, Philoten. The two girls work in rivalry:

Be’t when she weav’d the sleided silk

With fingers long, small, white as milk,

Or when she would with sharp neeld wound

The cambric, which she made more sound

By hurting it; when to the lute

She sung, and made the night-bird mute,

That still records with a moan; or when

She would with rich and constant pen

Vail to her mistress Dian, still

This Philoten contends in skill

With absolute Marina…

The lines recall earlier remarks on Pericles’ musical skill and dancing. Music and poetry are normal Shakespearean interests, but the emphasis on needlework is both new and, as we shall see, important. Now, jealous of Marina’s excellences, the wicked mother (a forecast of the Queen in Cymbeline, Philoten corresponding to Cloten) engages Leonine to murder her.

Marina enters, grieving for the death of her nurse Lychorida. She bears ‘a basket of flowers’ and speaks lines pointing on to Perdita in The Winter’s Tale and the burial of Fidele in Cymbeline:

No, I will rob Tellus of her weed,

To strew thy green with flowers; the yellows, blues,

The purple violets, and marigolds,

Shall as a carpet hang upon thy grave,

While summer days do last. Ay me! poor maid,

Born in a tempest, when my mother died,

This world to me is like a lasting storm,

Whirring me from my friends.

‘Carpet’ may be tentatively referred to the new interest in arts of design that gives us Marina’s needlework. The generalizing of a usual thought in the concluding lines is plain – no finer example occurs in Shakespeare – with death envisaged as the supreme separator, and therefore as tempest, tempests being continually felt elsewhere as the separators and antagonists of love. As the moment of Marina’s own death seems to be approaching (she is talking with Leonine by the sea-shore) she wistfully recalls her birth:


Is this wind westerly that blows?




When I was born the wind was north.


Was’t so?

She describes the storm; how Pericles galled his kingly hands at the ropes, the los of life, the cries, the confusion. Asked again when this happened, she answers, ‘When I was born.’ The association of birth and tempest continues to exert strong poetic radiations.

Leonine reveals his murderous intentions, offering her, as Othello offers Desdemona, a space for prayer. The short following dialogue is rich with a peculiarly Shakespearean poignancy of emotional realism as Marina asserts her innocence and pleads for life, appalled at Leonine’s impossibly wicked intention:

I saw you lately

When you caught hurt in parting two that fought…

It reminds us of Arthur and Hubert in King John. The situation is saved by the Pirates, whom the dramatist uses as cavalierly as he uses the bear in The Winter’s Tale. Leonine reports to the Queen that the murder has been performed.

Dionyza is a fine study, showing the same hard-headed, unsentimental approach to crime as Lady Macbeth and Goneril. Cleon is distracted at the supposed murder, remembering Marina’s virtues:

    a princess

To equal any single crown o’ the earth

I’ the justice of compare.

What, he asks, will his wife tell Pericles? Her reply is terse and uncompromising:


That she is dead. Names are not the fates

To foster it, nor ever to preserve.

She died at night; I’ll say so. Who can cross it?

Unless you play the pious innocent,

And for an honest attribute cry out

‘She died by foul play.’


O! go to. Well, well,

Of all the faults beneath the heavens, the gods

Do like this worst.


Be one of those that think

The pretty wrens of Tarsus will fly hence,

And open this to Pericles. I do shame

To think of what a noble strain you are,

And of how coward a spirit.

Cleon answers exactly as does Macbeth when similarly taxed. The dialogue recalls, too, Goneril’s scene with Albany (King Lear, IV.ii), though it even exceeds earlier plays in its condensed clarity and psychological pith. How subtly, for example, Cleon’s weakness of will shows through his conscience-stricken protestation (‘Well, well.’) Every phrase tells, psychologically and dramatically, till the close:


Thou art like the harpy,

Which, to betray, dost with thine angel’s face,

Seize with thine eagle’s talons.


You are like one that superstitiously

Doth swear to the gods that winter kills the flies;

But yet I know you’ll do as I advise.


A formal ending, perhaps; but with what a deadly formality!

In dumb-show we see Pericles coming to Tarsus, where he hears of Marina’s supposed death, and reads Dionyza’s hypocritical inscription, on the carefully devised monument, in the ‘glittering golden characters’ (IV.iii.44) with which she disguises her ‘black villainy’ (IV.iv.44): as before, we have a golden falsity and Pericles is again deceived. He suspects nothing; receives this as but another stroke of fate; vows never now to cut his hair, ‘puts on sackcloth,’ and sets out to sea (IV.iv.28-9). His endurance reaches its limit:

     He bears

A tempest, which his mortal vessel tears,

And yet he rides it out.


Utterly broken, he now leaves his course to ‘Lady Fortune.’

There is less necessity to speak at length of the brothel scenes at Mitylene, since their merits have been generally recognized. They recall Measure for Measure, with the stark contrast of purity and vice rendered sharper by brining Marina, who corresponds (with many differences) to Isabella, actually inside the brothel and threatening her integrity. The harsh, yet often richly amusing, satire is of the finest and the persons of the Pandar, the Bawd, and Boult generously realized. To this sink of iniquity Marina is sold by the pirates. The play’s presiding deity, Diana, is aptly invoked:


If fires be hot, knives sharp, or waters deep,

Untied I still my virgin knot will keep.

Diana, aid my purpose!


What have we to do with Diana?

The incongruity dramatized by Marina’s hideous situation is painful, but even so a fine humor matures from it. Rather like Timon with the Bandits, she converts her would-be customers, who retreat shame-faced:

First Gentleman:

But to have divinity preached there! Did you

ever dream of such a thing?

Second Gentleman:

No, no. Come, I am for no more bawdy-houses.

Shall’s go hear the vestals sing?

She speedily ruins trade, to her employer’s exasperation.

Lysimachus’ visit is given a detailed presentation. He is governor of Mitylene and enters with an unpleasant bearing, but there seems no evidence that he is (as has been suggested) playing a spy-part like the Duke in Measure for Measure, to nose out the city’s vice: rather he is a loose young man, like Bertram in All’s Well that End’s Well, of enough wealth and power to gratify his desires at will. Marina’s talk, however, soon enough converts him to a shame-faced, though untrue, asseveration:

     I did not think

Thou couldst have spoke so well; ne’er dream’d

thou couldst.

Had I brought hither a corrupted mind,

Thy speech had altered it.

He asserts that he ‘came with no ill intent’ and that to him now ‘the very doors and windows savor vilely.’ Notice the emphasis on Marina’s ‘speech’: good-breeding in a prostitute is considered unthinkable. The incident’s handling clearly assumes a conventional ethic which makes sharp distinction between masculine laxity and feminine impurity:


The nobleman would have dealt with her like a nobleman, and she sent him away as cold as a snow-ball; saying his prayers too.

Even Boult, left alone with Marina and charged to break down her defenses, succumbs to her withering scorn. Finally she urges (in a speech whose nervous broken rhythms serve a clear purpose) her real value:

    O! that the gods

Would safely deliver me from this place.

Here, here’s good for thee.

If that thy master would gain by me,

Proclaim that I can sing, weave, sew, and dance,

With other virtues which I’ll keep from boast…

Her offer to teach succeeds triumphantly, though recalling Viola’s in Twelfth Night, her profession of skill is here far more important, since Marina is, as it were, art incarnate, an emphasis already strong and now driven home by the following chorus:

She sings like one immortal, and she dances

As goddess-like to her admired lays;

Deep clerks she dumbs; and with her neeld composes

Nature’s own shape, of bud, bird, branch, or berry,

That even her art sisters the natural roses;

Her inkle, silk, twin with the rubied cherry…

Arts both of melody and of design are included.”


And finally, from Tanner:

periclesSSTC-marina2“Right, says Gower, imagine Pericles back at Tyre, and Thaisa gone to Ephesus to be a votaress in Diana’s temple. ‘Now to Marina bend your mind.’ She has, he tells us, ‘gained/Of education all the grace’ which has made her ‘the heart and place/Of general wonder’ (IV Gower 5, 8-9, 10-11). To keep us fully informed in advance, he tells us we will see envious Dionyza planning her murder – which immediately we do. Marina then enters with flowers – exactly like Ovid’s Propserina – lamenting her dead nurse:

No, I will rob Tellus of her weed

To strew thy green with flowers; the yellows, blues,

The purple violets, and marigolds,

Shall as a carpet hang upon thy grave,

While summer days doth last.


‘Tellus’ is a female personification of the earth, and Marina ‘robbing’ Tellus is a gentle reminder that, in some important way, this play is concerned with the meeting-point, and interpenetration, of sea and land. The scene takes place on the seashore. Taken down the beach by her appointed murderer, she is brusquely abducted by some pirates who suddenly appear. Like Prosperina she is taken off to an infernal underworld – in her case a brothel in Mytilene; of which, again like Propserina, she will become effectively queen.

Moving to the brothel, we are back, briefly in the world of Measure for Measure. (The Last Plays often contain echoes and short reprises of features of earlier plays. IN this play, for example, the relation between the murderous Dionyza and appalled, weak Cleon, is Goneril and Albany, in little, all over again.) With the brothel scenes, Shakespeare elaborates considerably on his story material for the first time. Pander, Bawd and Boult are all his own. Their low talk outside the brothel reflects the rankness and rottenness which comes with their trade. They sorely need a fresh wench, and to that end they buy Marina from the pirates. They gather gloatingly around her. Boult is told that, since he ‘bargained for the joint,’ he will be allowed to ‘cut a morsel off the spit. (IV.ii.136-7). He in turn promises that he will inflame the lusts of the regular customers with his descriptions: ‘I warrant you, mistress, thunder shall not so awake the bed of eels as my giving out her beauty stirs up the lewdly inclined’ (IV.ii.149-51). It is all nastily lubricious and concupiscent. Marina calls on Diana to help her preserve her ‘virgin knot’ – but ‘What have we do to with Diana?’ says the old Bawd, as they lead Marina into the brothel. She seems doomed to be forced into whoredom.

Two intervening scenes show Pericles brought to the supposed tomb of Marina, erected by Cleon and Dionyza to conceal the fact she was, as they think, murdered. In dumb show ‘Pericles makes lamentation, puts on sackcloth, and in a mighty passion departs.’ Then we are back in front of the brothel, and apparently something strange has been happening. Two regulars are hurrying away:

Did you ever hear the like?

No, not never shall do in such a place as this, she being once gone. But to have divinity preached there! Did you ever dream of such a thing?

No, no. Come, I am for no more bawdy houses. Shall’s go hear the vestals sing?


However she did it (and it is interesting that Shakespeare chooses not to show us this miracle), she has somehow talked or preached the customers out of their lusts, and kept her virginity intact. Inside the brothel, Pander, Bawd, and Boult are discussing their problem, ‘Fie, fie upon her! She’s able to freeze the god Priapus, and undo a whole generation. We must either get her ravished or be rid of her…she would make a puritan of the devil!’ (IV.vi.3-5, 9). But it seems that ravishing Marina is easier said than done – her ‘virginal fencing’ seems undefeatable. Then there follows a rather curious episode. Lysimachus, who is in fact the Governor of Mytilene, comes in disguised apparently bent on some of what is usually on offer. ‘how now! How a dozen of virginities?’ (IV.vi.21). Left alone with Marina, he first addresses her as he might a prostitute, then, when she explains that all she wants is to be ‘free from this unhallowed place’ (IV.vi.106), he says:

Had I brought hither a corrupted mind,

Thy speech had altered it. Hold, here’s gold for thee:

Persever in that clear way thou goest,

And the gods strengthen thee!

(IV.vi.110-13 – my italics)

And he leaves. But if he didn’t come with ‘a corrupted mind,’ what on earth was he doing disguised in a brothel in the first place? Here again, the reporter seems to have gone wrong. In the Wilkins version, Lysimachus goes to the brothel for the very reason you might expect a man to go to a brothel, and is converted by Marina’s passionate pleading and telling reproaches (‘virginal fencing’ taken to a high art). He admits as much: ‘I hither came with thoughtes intemperate, foule and deformed, the which your paines so well have laved, that they are now white.’ She has done it again – another one ‘sent away as cold as a snowball’ (IV.vi.145). This is more plausible than the weird version which stands in the (pirated) Quarto.

Angrier than ever – ‘She makes our profession as it were to stink afore the face of the gods’ (IV.vi.141-2) – Bawd and Boult determine to ‘have your maidenhead taken off’ and ‘crack the glass of her virginity’ – ‘she shall be ploughed’ (IV.vi.133, 148, 151). But, left alone with Boult, she assails him with blistering reproaches about his occupation, until he says in self-defence:

What would you have me do? Go to the wars, would you? Where a man may serve seven years for the loss of a leg, and have not money enough in the end to buy him a wooden one?


Dunby says that Boult is the only person in the play to ask an awkward question, and suggests that it is out of place here. Certainly it sounds an odd note of realism which we might expect more readily in, say, one of the history plays. Marina soon conquers him with her eloquence, and persuades him that he will be better off he promotes her as a teacher:

If that thy master would gain by me,

Proclaim that I can sing, weave, sew, and dance,

With other virtues which I’ll keep from boast;

And I will undertake all these to teach.


Marina – Mistress of the Arts.”



Our next reading:  Pericles, Scenes 20-23 (Act Five)

My next post:  Tuesday evening/Wednesday morning


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1 Response to “Come, I am for no more bawdy houses. Shall’s go hear the vestals sing?”

  1. The Memetrix says:

    Reblogged this on The Memetrix.

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