“O, my lord,/Are you not Pericles? Like him you spake,/ Like him you are. Did you not name a tempest,/A birth and death?”


Act Five, Part One

By Dennis Abrams


tfnapericlesAct Five (Scenes 20-23):  Pericles’s ship arrives at Mytilene, and – unaware of their relationship, Lysimachus sends Marina to sing for the still grief-stricken King and ease his sorrow. Pericles does not recognize his daughter immediately (why would he?), but after a heart-stopping pause, they are reunited.  Minutes later, the goddess Diana appears to Pericles in a vision and persuades him to go to Ephesus, where he discovers Thaisa. The family is joyfully united, and Lysimachus is betrothed to Marina.

Marina’s radiant virtue, it seems, not only saves her from the depredations of “lewdly inclined” clients, but it also helps prepare for the play’s emotional summit. Brought unknowingly to the woebegone Pericles (and who can blame him for being woebegone after all he’s gone through) it seems not at all unlikely that the King is too catatonic in his grief to be saved. But the fractured, sea-borne story of Marina’s life (“If I should tell/My history,” she exclaims, ‘it would seem like lies” (Sc.21, 106-7)) begins to work at his curiosity until the truth about her parentage steadily – and yes, incredibly – becomes clear. Beginning to realize that she is his child (a fantasy to improbable to be true), Pericles cries out, “Give me a gash, put me to present pain,”

Lest this great sea of joys rushing upon me

O’erbear the shores of my mortality

And drown me with their sweetness!

(Sc.21, 179-82)

“Thou that begett’st him that did thee beget,” he continues, a wonder-struck father addressing the daughter who, in turn has given HIM life once more. The sea has now delivered more than just pain and death; it has changed into the bringer of “joy.” It somehow seems fitting that the goddess Diana should now descend from the heavens to crown the event as Shakespeare (assisted, possibly by new technology at the Blackfriar’s playhouse?) makes her do just moments later.

Once father and daughter are together once more, all that remains for the story to have worked its way through is for Thaisa to be recovered as well. Shakespeare, fortunately, does not try his audience’s patience: in the very next scene, Pericles announces that he will give thanks to Diana when one of her attendant nuns suddenly swoons. “Voice and favour – “ she exclaims, “You are you, you are – O royal Pericles!” (Sc. 22, 33-4). The recognition this time is immediate, but no less astonishing. ‘O, let me look upon him,’ Thaisa begs,

If it be none of mine, my sanctity

Will to my sense bend no licentious ear,

But curb it, spite of seeing. O, my lord,

Are you not Pericles? Like him you spake,

Like him you are. Did you not name a tempest,

A birth and death?

(Sc.22, 48-54)

As with Marina, it is the story that tells all: the tempest, birth and death that are the lineaments of Pericles’s tale are what unite him with his family. In this, the first of his romance plays, Shakespeare steers a way through tragedy – the storms, the long-lost child, the death, pirates, everything – and finds something new and miraculous at his (and ours) journey’s end.


From Garber:

pericles recognition“…we are presented with the most spellbinding scene in a play full of transfixing moments, the recognition scene between Pericles and Marina: the mourning, wasted father and the virtuous daughter whose art ‘sisters the natural roses,’ whose songs are immortal, who dances like a goddess. In a play full of resonances with Lear, there is a clear analogy with the reunion scene between King Lear and Cordelia. Music surrounds and invests the restoration of parent to child, child to parent. The recognition is focused upon a riddle, and this riddle, too, will be an ‘incest’ riddle of sorts, marking a fruitful yet lawful relation between father and daughter. Almost immediately Pericles begins to speak to this unknown young woman in metaphors of childbirth. The image he chooses, like James I’s famous self-description as a ‘loving nourish-father,’ makes the King of Tyre both mother and father at once:

I am great with woe, and shall deliver weeping.

My dearest wife was like this maid, and such

My daughter might have been. My queen’s square brown,

Her stature to an inch, as wand-like straight,

As silver-voiced, her eyes as jewel-like,

And cased as richly, in pace another Juno,

Who starves the ears she feeds, and makes them hungry

The more she gives them speech…


The echo of Enobarbus’s praise of Cleopatra (‘she makes hungry/Where most she satisfies’[Antony and Cleopatra 2.2.242-243]) purges that phrase of its manifest erotic content, transforming the hunger into a desire for words and song.

Pericles has already half guessed the answer to the riddle of the young woman’s birth (‘Here of these shores?’ ‘No, nor of any shores’ [21.91]). She is the daughter of his wife, and born at sea. The language of jewel and case recalls his lamentation over the supposedly dead body of Thaisa, now figuratively reborn in this young woman (and perhaps mirrored in the casting, if the same boy player performed the roles of the young Thaisa and the adult Marina). The recognition scene is not fulfilled in a flash, but rather takes its time, moving from revelation to revelation, and in this way approaches the very form of dream and waking, again like the awakening of Lear and his recognition of Cordelia: gradual, puzzling, hard to believe, and finally, true.  Throughout the scene Pericles remains the questioner, and each question elicits a fragment of the truth – a truth the audience already knows, but whose effect on Pericles is all-important to the pattern of the play:


What were thy friends?

How lost thou them? Thy name, my most kind virgin?



My name, sir, is Marina.



How, a king’s daughter,

And called Marina?


     But are you flesh and blood?

Have you a working pulse and are no fairy?

Motion as well? Speak on. Where were you born,

And wherefore called Marina?


Called Marina

For I was born at sea.

(21.127-128, 130, 137-138, 140-144)

As the questions and answers mount – ‘Where were you bred?’ ‘How came you in these parts?’ ‘At sea? What mother?’ – Pericles, yet again like Lear, feels his joy so great that he needs to check to see that he is awake, and alive. ‘Give me a gash, put me to present pain,’ he says to Helicanus, ‘Lest this great sea of joys rushing upon me/O’erbear the shores of my mortality/And drown me with their sweetness!’ (21.178-181). It is now his turn to propound a riddle. Marina’s turn to try to answer it. And his riddle is, again and most explicitly, an ‘incest’ riddle:

Thou that begett’st him that thee beget…


This famous riddling pronouncement, one of the play’s most vivid phrases, explicitly rewrites the Antiochan riddle with which Pericles began, purging it of sin and crime, rendering the connection between father and daughter allegorical and poetic rather than carnal. In his famous dedication to the sonnets, Shakespeare called his patron ‘the onlie begetter’ of the poems his book contained. It is perhaps fitting that Pericles in this great recognition scene should speak, similarly, of Marina, the play’s muse, singer, and poet, in such similar terms. And viewed from the point of view of metatext, the play’s relation to its sources, ‘Thou that begett’st him that did thee beget’ is also a powerful description of the literary engagement of Renaissance writers with the classical past, and the way in which that past is reproduced in new, romance forms.

Marina now takes the role of quester and questioner: ‘First, sir, I pray,/What is your title?’ Pericles: ‘I am Pericles/Of Tyre. But tell me now my drowned queen’s name.’ With the familiar Shakespearean gesture of child kneeling to parent, Marina kneels to her father and completes the last part of the catechism, the last part of her quest:

Is it no more

To be your daughter than to say my mother’s name?

Thaisa was my mother, who did end

The minute I began.


The recognition is complete, the reunion and the ritual finished, and Pericles, yet again like Lear, calls for fresh garments, the lineaments of rebirth. To the sound of heavenly music, we are in effect confronted with a dream within a dream, the epiphany of Diana come to earth, onstage, to send husband and child to Ephesus.

To modern audiences this device may offer delight of consternation. Diana is a dea ex machine, a goddess’ from the machine,’ dropping from the sky. (The Shakespearean stage, borrowing this technology from the popular court masques, would have used a contrivance rather like a winch.) In function, the wonderful figure of Diana merely replaces the more humdrum device of the messenger with a letter, or the omen or portent deciphered by a seer. Here, too, there are opportunities for creative doubling of parts, since Thaisa is a priestess of Diana, and may be imagined as coming herself to fetch her family home. The descended god is never wholly at home in Shakespearean drama, which always takes as its model the human rather than the superhuman. But the Diana episode is both moving and appropriate, and it takes the action where it needs to go – to Ephesus, the place of magic and rebirth.

It is a risky proposition to build two recognition scenes into the denouement of a dramatic romance. In the later plays Shakespeare will manage this tricky double epiphany in a variety of ways, including moving one of the scenes off-stage. But in Pericles both scenes are staged. Astonishingly, the second one – the reunion of husband and wife, Pericles and Thaisa – does not come off as an anticlimax. This scene is, designedly, much briefer, the recognition more abrupt. Pericles speaks once, Thaisa swoons, and Cerimon tells her story. But there falls to Thaisa, as if in recompense for this condensed account, the play’s final and perhaps most glorious riddle, a single line so full of mythic expression that it seems to sum up the entirety of the foregoing action:

O my lord [says Thaisa, waking]

Are you not Pericles? Like him you spake,

Like him you are. Did you not name a tempest,

A birth and death?

The simplicity and evocativeness of this bare but eloquent formula are difficult to describe. It is the whole plot of the play. Even more, it is the whole pattern and myth of romance. The even handed phrase – ‘[a] birth and death’ — reemphasizes the natural cycle, and leads, as if inevitably, to Pericles’ joyful invitation:

O come, be buried

A second time within these arms.


There is no fear of death here, and in fact there has never been a fear of death in Pericles. Instead this limpidly beautiful play offers metamorphosis, self-discovery, and discovery of the human bond:

Take in your arms

This piece of your dead queen.


O come, be buried

A second time within these arms


Did you not name a tempest,

A birth and death?


The greatest discovery here is perhaps the place of the human being – humankind –within the cycle even as he or she (Pericles, Thaisa, Marina) transcends it. Cycle and permanence, flower and jewel mark the consonance of time and timelessness in these evocative poetic plays. It has always seemed to me fitting that T.S. Eliot, the poet of The Waste Land, should have chosen to write a poem on this play, and to call it ‘Marina’ – a poem that is, so powerfully, all riddle, all question:

What seas what shores what grey rocks and what islands

What water lapping the bow

And scent of pine and the woodthrush singing through the fog

What images return

O my daughter.


By this grace dissolved in place


This form, this face, this life

Living to live in a world of time beyond me; let me

Resign my life for this life, my speech for that unspoken

The awakened, lips parted, the hope, the new ships.

    What seas what shores what granite islands towards my timbers

And woodthrush calling through the fog

My daughter.

T.S. Eliot, “Marina”


From Bloom:

628x471“What remains is the summit of Pericles, the magnificent recognition scene between father and daughter, the one crucial event toward which the entire play has been plotted. Pericles, having been told by Cleon that Marina is dead, is in trauma. Unkempt and barely nourished, he lies on the deck of his ship, rather like Kafka’s undead Hunter Gracchus on his death ship. But Gracchus is the Wandering Jew or Flying Dutchman, caught forever-in-cycle, and Pericles at last is on the verge of release from his passive yielding to a procession of catastrophes. Critics rather oddly compare Pericles and Marina to Antiochus the Great and his incestuous paramour, the nameless daughter, the supposed point being that Pericles and Marina evade incest. The danger is only in the critics, and not in the play, since it is Lysimachus who authorizes Marina to act as therapist for Pericles, and the reformed governor both is in love with the maiden and hardly desires to join himself to the profession of the gaudy trio of Pandar, Bawd, and Boult. It is in her mystical vocation as votaress of Diana that Marina approaches the comatose Prince of Tyre. Doubtless there is an implied contrast between incest and chaste father-daughter love, but it is too obvious for critical labor.

The 150 lines of the recognition scene (V.i.8-233) are one of the extraordinary sublimities of Shakespeare’s art. From Marina’s first address to her father – ‘Hail, sir! My lord, lend ear’ – and his first traumatic response of pushing her back, through to Pericles’ falling asleep to the music of the spheres, Shakespeare holds us rapt. I use that archaic phrase because of my experience as a teacher, observing the intense reaction of my students, which parallels my own. It is a lesson in delayed response that Shakespeare teaches, in this prolonged revelation of kinship. As the dialogue goes forward, it crests initially in Pericles’s gathering awareness of the resemblance between his lost wife and the young woman standing before him:

     I am great with woe

And shall deliver weeping. My dearest wife

Was like this mad, and such a one

My daughter might have been: my queen’s square brows;

Her stature to an inch; as wand-like straight;

As silver-voic’d; her eyes as jewel-like

And cas’d as richly; in pace another Juno;

Who starves the ears she feeds, and makes them hungry

The more she gives them speech.


This begins by recapitulating the spirit of Marina’s birth at sea, with the apparent death of Thaisa. But the accents of a man permanently in love with his wife’s eyes, gait, voice break through in curiously Virgilian cadence (deliberate, I would think), and prepare us for a further tribute both to mother and to daughter:

     yet thou dost look

Like Patience gazing on kings’ graves, and smiling

Extremity out of act.


‘Extremity’ sums up all of Pericles’ catastrophes; awe is a proper response to the tribute father makes to daughter, as her smile undoes the whole history of his calamities. Both here and ongoing, it is remarkable that Shakespeare never once allows Marina any affective reaction as the mutual recognition progresses. Pericles weeps as the names, first of Marina and then of Thaisa, are spoken by his daughter in her all-but-final lines in the play. But Marina remains grave, formal, and priestess-like, somberly saying, ‘Thaisa was my mother, who did end/The minute I began.’ By now we have accepted her occult status, and Pericles at least comes alive:

O Helicanus, strike me, honour’d sir!

Give me a gash, put me to present pain,

Lest this great sea of joys rushing upon me

O’erbear the shores of my mortality,

And drown me with their sweetness. O, come hither,

Thou that beget’st him that did thee beget;

Thou that wast born at sea, buried at Tharsus,

And found at sea again. O Helicanus,

Down on thy knees! thank the holy gods as loud

As thunder threatens us: this is Marina.


It is as though, emerging from trauma, he requires a proof of his own fleshly mortality. His subsequent vision of Diana bids him on to Ephesus, and to a second sense of recognition, where he gratifies us by crying out to his wife, ‘O come, be buried/A second time within these arms.’ Here, at last, Marina expresses emotion, when she kneels to her mother: ‘My heart/Leaps to be gone into my mother’s bosom.’ That formal kneeling somewhat qualifies her sentiment, since to kneel is not quite to leap into one’s mother’s arms. Still, Shakespeare has exhausted himself, and us, with the epiphany of Marina to Pericles, and wisely the play subsides with the announcement that Marina will marry Lysimachus, and the two will reign in Tyre. Pericles, after destroying Cleon and his wicked wife Dionyza, will take up royal rule in Pentapolis, where Thaisa’s father has conveniently died. Gower comes on to wish us ‘New joy wait on you,’ and this inauguration of Shakespeare’s late romances has reached conclusion. AS M.C. Bradbrook observed, Pericles is ‘half spectacle and half vision.’ That is a very problematical formula, and Shakespeare took a high risk with this play. But what remained for him to accomplish? He had revived European tragedy, and vastly perfected comedy and dramatic chronicle. What remained was vision, tempered by the necessities of stage presentation. He went well beyond Pericles in the romances that followed it, but this play was the school where he learned his final art.”


And finally (for this post) from Kermode:

0506Pericles_PP_600x360_6“The brothel into which Marina is sold by pirates may remind us of the ‘low’ scenes in Measure for Measure. She is accused of speaking ‘holy words to the Lord Lysiamchus’ (Iv.vi.132-33), in this context a shocking, almost blasphemous thing to do, and has herself a speech condemning Boult’s obscene trade that has much powerful indignation:

Thou art the damned door-keeper to every

Custrel that comes inquiring for his Tib.

To the choleric fisting of every rogue

Thy ear is liable; thy food is such

As hath been belch’d on by infected lungs.

Her indignation summons the Shakespearean fondness for the abrupt, violent, usually monosyllabic verb: ‘fisting’ and ‘belch’d’ here, ‘dodge’ and ‘palter’ in Antony and Cleopatra, and many such local violences in Coriolanus. The reply of Boult memorably provides an instance of a different aspect of Shakespearean style: ‘What would you have me do? Go to the wars, would you? (170-171). Marina’s just indignation is deflated: it’s dark and dirty work but somebody has to do it. And no one is so low as not to deserve credit for wit and good prose, or bad prose that makes an audience laugh, as with Dogberry and Bottom’s mechanicals. It is in this world of language that the grandest, with their auras of divinity, must after all work out their missions.

The recognition scene between Marina and her father is one of Shakespeare’s most remarkable, certainly one of his most carefully composed. Marina is brought on board his ship to cure him. Her power to do so depends on her high birth, her use of music, and her association with the sea, which gave her the name Marina. She is magical, born of the sea like Venus, and in a tempest, so not ‘of any shores.’ When we first see her, she is scattering flowers on the water, her mother’s supposed grave. She emerges unstained from the ordeal of the brothel and goes to cure her father. He rejects her, but she persists in trying to make him speak. Eventually he does so, saying her beauty made him think of his wife and daughter. His tone grows exalted:

    Prithee, speak.

Falseness cannot come from thee, for thou lookest

Modest as Justice, and thou seemest a palace

For the crown’d Truth to dwell in.

Marina has the attributes of a queen, like Elizabeth, in The Fairie Queene.

Now Pericles demands her history. She tells him her name, and that she is a king’s daughter. But that does not bring about an end, nor does the reference to her royal mother and nurse, Lychorida, or her talk of Cleon. It must seem that she has said more than enough to satisfy him, but he wants still more confirmation. Even after saying that this joy is so intense that Helicanus must strike him to restore his senses, he still wants to know her mother’s name. Only when she gives him that does he bless her. He calls for fresh garments, and hears the ‘music of the spheres.’ He has delayed the full recognition and been rewarded for it. Sleeping, he has a vision of Diana, in preparation for the next necessary recognition, with Thaisa.

The extraordinary quality of the scene with marina depends on its slow-moving length, on the long-awaited union of the aged father and the wonderful daughter, and on the hints and whispers of supernatural agency: Marina’s native royalty, signified by her birth from the sea, is endorsed by the music that symbolizes cosmic harmony. The second recognition (with Thaisa) is perhaps a mistake, one that Shakespeare would carefully avoid in The Winter’s Tale, where he was faced with a similar problem in reuniting Leontes with both Perdita and Hermione successively. What is sure is that his interest in the romance plot, combined with his theatrical sense, led him to this very deliberate experimentation in recognition. In Cymbeline there is another experiment, this time with multiple recognitions piled one on another, often to rather comical effect.

Shakespeare had written many recognition scenes in the course of his career, but it seems that they now became almost the principal reason for writing plays; and Pericles, with its sunderings and reunions, its suffering king and its princess of magic virtue, its interest in the sea and music, is the prototype of the romances with which his career drew to its end.”


So…after all the build-up, did the recognition live up to its reputation?  Discuss!


My next post:  Thursday evening/Friday morning, final thoughts on Pericles

And FYI, our next play is, of course, Coriolanus – my introduction will go up next Tuesday evening/Wednesday morning.

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3 Responses to “O, my lord,/Are you not Pericles? Like him you spake,/ Like him you are. Did you not name a tempest,/A birth and death?”

  1. GGG says:

    This is a really strange and uncomfortable play in a lot of ways. Am I the only one who found the brothel scenes funny, but also really creepy/scarily realistic? Likewise the weird beginning with the incest riddle. And Lysimachus–good or bad? He was, after all, on his way to the brothel to enjoy the virgin, then changes his mind, and later becomes Marina’s husband! Is the point that the love of the woman (and I guess we never know how Marina feels about it) can redeem anyone? (Like Measure for Measure)

    I have read that the later plays have a lot of reunions/forgiveness with fathers and daughters and husbands and wives. It’s really tempting to read more into this than maybe there is, because after all Shakespeare does end up going home to Stratford and Anne. If you haven’t read Germaine Greer’s book Shakespeare’s Wife, it’s very interesting in the way it speculates on their relationship, and also gives a different explanation for the “second best bed.”

    • GGG: You’re right — it is a strange and uncomfortable play. As I indicated in tonight’s post, I think in “Pericles” like in “Timon” Shakespeare was experimenting with new things, which he then brought to fruition in his following plays. And nope — I found the brothel scenes funny, and couldn’t quite decide if they were meant to be, although I find it difficult to believe that lines like “Come, I am no more for bawdy houses. Shall’s go hear the vestal’s sing” weren’t means to be darkly comic. And Lysimachus is as we’ve seen ultimately good, even if his intentions were perhaps not the best in the brothel (but then, are anybody’s?) And on the recurrence of reunions and forgiveness between fathers and daughters in the later plays…I suspect I’ll be talking more about that we continue.

  2. GGG says:

    Or maybe forgiveness of past wrongs is the important point for Marina/Lysimachus and Mariana/Angelo from Measure for Measure.

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