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Periclesby William Shakespeare
A lack of unity weakens this play based on the classical tale of Apollonius of Tyre. Pericles is forced to flee and endures many adventures and storms at sea. A number of strange events outline scenes that are examples of Shakespeare's later mastery. See more details below
A lack of unity weakens this play based on the classical tale of Apollonius of Tyre. Pericles is forced to flee and endures many adventures and storms at sea. A number of strange events outline scenes that are examples of Shakespeare's later mastery.
“A feast of literary and historical information.”—The Wall Street Journal
Read an Excerpt
By William Shakespeare
Washington Square PressCopyright © 2005 William Shakespeare
All right reserved.
To sing a song that old was sung,
From ashes ancient Gower is come,
Assuming man's infirmities
To glad your ear and please your eyes.
It hath been sung at festivals,
On ember eves and holy days,
And Lords and ladies in their lives
Have read it for restoratives.
The purchase is to make men glorious,
Et bonum quo antiquius, eo melius.
If you, born in these latter times
When wit's more ripe, accept my rhymes,
And that to hear an old man sing
May to your wishes pleasure bring,
I life would wish, and that I might
Waste it for you like taper light.
This Antioch, then: Antiochus the Great
Built up this city for his chiefest seat,
The fairest in all Syria.
I tell you what mine authors say.
This king unto him took a peer,
Who died and left a female heir
So buxom, blithe, and full of face
As heaven had lent her all his grace;
With whom the father liking took
And her to incest did provoke.
Bad child, worse father! To entice his own
To evil should be done by none.
But custom what they did begin
Was with long use accounted no sin.
The beauty of this sinful dame
Made many princes thither frame
To seek her as a bedfellow,
In marriage pleasures playfellow;
Which to prevent he made a law
To keep her still, and men in awe,
That whoso asked her for his wife,
His riddle told not, lost his life.
So for her many a wight did die,
As yon grim looks do testify.
He indicates heads above the stage.
What now ensues, to the judgment of your eye
I give my cause, who best can justify.
Enter Antiochus, Prince Pericles, and followers.
Young Prince of Tyre, you have at large received
The danger of the task you undertake.
I have, Antiochus, and with a soul
Emboldened with the glory of her praise
Think death no hazard in this enterprise.
Music! Music sounds offstage.
Bring in our Daughter, clothed like a bride
For embracements even of Jove himself,
At whose conception, till Lucina reigned,
Nature this dowry gave: to glad her presence,
The senate house of planets all did sit
To knit in her their best perfections.
Enter Antiochus' Daughter.
See where she comes, appareled like the spring,
Graces her subjects, and her thoughts the king
Of every virtue gives renown to men!
Her face the book of praises, where is read
Nothing but curious pleasures, as from thence
Sorrow were ever razed, and testy wrath
Could never be her mild companion.
You gods that made me man, and sway in love,
That have inflamed desire in my breast
To taste the fruit of yon celestial tree
Or die in th' adventure, be my helps,
As I am son and servant to your will,
To compass such a boundless happiness.
Prince Pericles --
That would be son to great Antiochus.
Before thee stands this fair Hesperides,
With golden fruit, but dangerous to be touched;
For deathlike dragons here affright thee hard.
Her face, like heaven, enticeth thee to view
Her countless glory, which desert must gain;
And which without desert, because thine eye
Presumes to reach, all the whole heap must die.
He points to the heads.
Yon sometimes famous princes, like thyself,
Drawn by report, advent'rous by desire,
Tell thee with speechless tongues and semblance pale
That, without covering save yon field of stars,
Here they stand martyrs slain in Cupid's wars,
And with dead cheeks advise thee to desist
For going on death's net, whom none resist.
Antiochus, I thank thee, who hath taught
My frail mortality to know itself,
And by those fearful objects to prepare
This body, like to them, to what I must.
For death remembered should be like a mirror
Who tells us life's but breath, to trust it error.
I'll make my will, then, and as sick men do
Who know the world, see heaven but, feeling woe,
Gripe not at earthly joys as erst they did;
So I bequeath a happy peace to you
And all good men, as every prince should do;
My riches to the earth from whence they came,
To the Daughter. But my unspotted fire of love to you. --
Thus ready for the way of life or death,
I wait the sharpest blow.
Scorning advice, read the conclusion, then:
Which read and not expounded, 'tis decreed,
As these before thee, thou thyself shalt bleed.
Of all 'sayed yet, mayst thou prove prosperous;
Of all 'sayed yet, I wish thee happiness.
Like a bold champion I assume the lists,
Nor ask advice of any other thought
But faithfulness and courage.
He reads the Riddle:
I am no viper, yet I feed
On mother's flesh which did me breed.
I sought a husband, in which labor
I found that kindness in a father.
He's father, son, and husband mild;
I mother, wife, and yet his child.
How they may be, and yet in two,
As you will live resolve it you.
Aside. Sharp physic is the last! But, O you powers
That gives heaven countless eyes to view men's acts,
Why cloud they not their sights perpetually
If this be true which makes me pale to read it?
Fair glass of light, I loved you, and could still
Were not this glorious casket stored with ill.
But I must tell you now my thoughts revolt;
For he's no man on whom perfections wait
That, knowing sin within, will touch the gate.
You are a fair viol, and your sense the strings
Who, fingered to make man his lawful music,
Would draw heaven down and all the gods to
But, being played upon before your time,
Hell only danceth at so harsh a chime.
Good sooth, I care not for you.
Prince Pericles, touch not, upon thy life,
For that's an article within our law
As dangerous as the rest. Your time's expired.
Either expound now or receive your sentence.
Few love to hear the sins they love to act.
'Twould braid yourself too near for me to tell it.
Who has a book of all that monarchs do,
He's more secure to keep it shut than shown.
For vice repeated is like the wand'ring wind,
Blows dust in others' eyes to spread itself;
And yet the end of all is bought thus dear:
The breath is gone, and the sore eyes see clear
To stop the air would hurt them. The blind mole casts
Copped hills towards heaven, to tell the earth is thronged
By man's oppression, and the poor worm doth die for 't.
Kings are earth's gods; in vice their law's their will;
And if Jove stray, who dares say Jove doth ill?
It is enough you know; and it is fit,
What being more known grows worse, to smother it.
All love the womb that their first being bred;
Then give my tongue like leave to love my head.
Heaven, that I had thy head! He has found the meaning.
But I will gloze with him. -- Young Prince of Tyre,
Though by the tenor of our strict edict,
Your exposition misinterpreting,
We might proceed to cancel of your days,
Yet hope, succeeding from so fair a tree
As your fair self, doth tune us otherwise.
Forty days longer we do respite you,
If by which time our secret be undone,
This mercy shows we'll joy in such a son.
And until then, your entertain shall be
As doth befit our honor and your worth.
All except Pericles exit.
How courtesy would seem to cover sin
When what is done is like an hypocrite,
The which is good in nothing but in sight.
If it be true that I interpret false,
Then were it certain you were not so bad
As with foul incest to abuse your soul;
Where now you're both a father and a son
By your untimely claspings with your child,
Which pleasures fits a husband, not a father,
And she an eater of her mother's flesh
By the defiling of her parents' bed;
And both like serpents are, who, though they feed
On sweetest flowers, yet they poison breed.
Antioch, farewell, for wisdom sees those men
Blush not in actions blacker than the night
Will 'schew no course to keep them from the light.
One sin, I know, another doth provoke;
Murder's as near to lust as flame to smoke.
Poison and treason are the hands of sin,
Ay, and the targets to put off the shame.
Then, lest my life be cropped to keep you clear,
By flight I'll shun the danger which I fear. He exits.
He hath found the meaning,
For which we mean to have his head.
He must not live to trumpet forth my infamy,
Nor tell the world Antiochus doth sin
In such a loathed manner.
And therefore instantly this prince must die,
For by his fall my honor must keep high. --
Who attends us there?
Doth your Highness call?
Thaliard, you are of our chamber, Thaliard,
And our mind partakes her private actions
To your secrecy; and for your faithfulness
We will advance you, Thaliard. Behold,
Here's poison, and here's gold. He gives poison and money. We hate the Prince
Of Tyre, and thou must kill him. It fits thee not
To ask the reason why: because we bid it.
Say, is it done?
My Lord, 'tis done.
Enter a Messenger.
Let your breath cool yourself, telling your haste.
messenger My Lord, Prince Pericles is fled. He exits.
Antiochus, to Thaliard
As thou wilt live, fly after,
and like an arrow shot from a well-experienced archer hits the mark his eye doth level at, so thou
never return unless thou say Prince Pericles is dead.
My Lord, if I can get him within my pistol's length, I'll make him sure enough. So, farewell to your Highness.
Thaliard, adieu. Till Pericles be dead,
My heart can lend no succor to my head.
Enter Pericles with an Attendant.
Let none disturb us. (Attendant exits.) Why should
this change of thoughts,
The sad companion dull-eyed Melancholy,
Be my so used a guest as not an hour
In the day's glorious walk or peaceful night,
The tomb where grief should sleep, can breed me quiet?
Here pleasures court mine eyes, and mine eyes shun them;
And danger, which I feared, is at Antioch,
Whose arm seems far too short to hit me here.
Yet neither pleasure's art can joy my spirits,
Nor yet the other's distance comfort me.
Then it is thus: the passions of the mind
That have their first conception by misdread
Have after-nourishment and life by care;
And what was first but fear what might be done
Grows elder now, and cares it be not done.
And so with me. The great Antiochus,
'Gainst whom I am too little to contend,
Since he's so great can make his will his act,
Will think me speaking though I swear to silence;
Nor boots it me to say I honor him
If he suspect I may dishonor him.
And what may make him blush in being known,
He'll stop the course by which it might be known.
With hostile forces he'll o'er-spread the land,
And with th' ostent of war will look so huge
Amazement shall drive courage from the state,
Our men be vanquished ere they do resist,
And subjects punished that ne'er thought offense;
Which care of them, not pity of myself,
Who am no more but as the tops of trees
Which fence the roots they grow by and defend them,
Makes both my body pine and soul to languish
And punish that before that he would punish.
Enter Helicanus and all the Lords to Pericles.
Joy and all comfort in your sacred breast.
And keep your mind till you return to us
Peaceful and comfortable.
Peace, peace, and give experience tongue.
They do abuse the King that flatter him,
For flattery is the bellows blows up sin;
The thing the which is flattered, but a spark
To which that wind gives heat and stronger glowing;
Whereas reproof, obedient and in order,
Fits kings as they are men, for they may err.
When Signior Sooth here does proclaim peace,
He flatters you, makes war upon your life.
Prince, pardon me, or strike me, if you please.
I cannot be much lower than my knees.
All leave us else; but let your cares o'erlook
What shipping and what lading's in our haven,
And then return to us. The Lords exit.
Helicanus, Thou hast moved us. What seest thou in our looks?
An angry brow, dread Lord.
If there be such a dart in princes' frowns,
How durst thy tongue move anger to our face?
How dares the plants look up to heaven,
From whence they have their nourishment?
Thou knowest I have power to take thy life from thee.
Helicanus I have ground the ax myself;
Do but you strike the blow.
Rise, prithee rise. Helicanus rises.
Sit down. Thou art no flatterer.
I thank thee for 't; and heaven forbid
That kings should let their ears hear their faults hid.
Fit counselor and servant for a prince,
Who by thy wisdom makes a prince thy servant,
What wouldst thou have me do?
To bear with patience such griefs
As you yourself do lay upon yourself.
Thou speak'st like a physician, Helicanus,
That ministers a potion unto me
That thou wouldst tremble to receive thyself.
Attend me, then: I went to Antioch,
Where, as thou know'st, against the face of death
I sought the purchase of a glorious beauty
From whence an issue I might propagate,
Are arms to princes and bring joys to subjects.
Her face was to mine eye beyond all wonder,
The rest -- hark in thine ear -- as black as incest,
Which by my knowledge found, the sinful father
Seemed not to strike, but smooth. But thou know'st this:
'Tis time to fear when tyrants seems to kiss;
Which fear so grew in me I hither fled
Under the covering of a careful night,
Who seemed my good protector; and, being here,
Bethought me what was past, what might succeed.
I knew him tyrannous, and tyrants' fears
Decrease not but grow faster than the years;
And should he doubt, as no doubt he doth,
That I should open to the list'ning air
How many worthy princes' bloods were shed
To keep his bed of blackness unlaid ope,
To lop that doubt he'll fill this land with arms,
And make pretense of wrong that I have done him;
When all, for mine -- if I may call 't -- offense,
Must feel war's blow, who spares not innocence;
Which love to all -- of which thyself art one,
Who now reproved'st me for 't --
Drew sleep out of mine eyes, blood from my cheeks,
Musings into my mind, with thousand doubts
How I might stop this tempest ere it came;
And finding little comfort to relieve them,
I thought it princely charity to grieve for them.
Well, my Lord, since you have given me leave to speak,
Freely will I speak. Antiochus you fear,
And justly too, I think, you fear the tyrant,
Who either by public war or private treason
Will take away your life.
Therefore, my Lord, go travel for a while,
Till that his rage and anger be forgot,
Or till the Destinies do cut his thread of life.
Your rule direct to any. If to me,
Day serves not light more faithful than I'll be.
Pericles I do not doubt thy faith.
But should he wrong my liberties in my absence?
We'll mingle our bloods together in the earth,
From whence we had our being and our birth.
Tyre, I now look from thee, then, and to Tarsus
Intend my travel, where I'll hear from thee,
And by whose letters I'll dispose myself.
The care I had and have of subjects' good
On thee I lay, whose wisdom's strength can bear it.
I'll take thy word for faith, not ask thine oath.
Who shuns not to break one will crack both.
But in our orbs we'll live so round and safe
That time of both this truth shall ne'er convince.
Thou showed'st a subject's shine, I a true prince.
Enter Thaliard alone.
So this is Tyre, and this the court. Here must I kill King Pericles; and if I do it not, I am sure to be hanged at home. 'Tis dangerous. Well, I perceive he was a wise fellow and had good discretion that, being bid to ask what he would of the king, desired he might know none of his secrets. Now do I see he had some reason for 't, for if a king bid a man be a villain, he's bound by the indenture of his oath to be one. Husht! Here comes the Lords of Tyre. He steps aside.
Enter Helicanus and Escanes, with other Lords.
You shall not need, my fellow peers of Tyre,
Further to question me of your king's departure.
His sealed commission left in trust with me
Does speak sufficiently he's gone to travel.
How? The King gone?
If further yet you will be satisfied
Why, as it were, unlicensed of your loves
He would depart, I'll give some light unto you.
Being at Antioch --
What from Antioch?
Royal Antiochus, on what cause I know not,
Took some displeasure at him -- at least he judged so;
And doubting lest he had erred or sinned,
To show his sorrow, he'd correct himself;
So puts himself unto the shipman's toil,
With whom each minute threatens life or death.
Well, I perceive I shall not be hanged now, although I would; but since he's gone, the King's ears it must please. He 'scaped the land to perish at the sea. I'll present myself. -- Peace to the Lords of Tyre!
Lord Thaliard from Antiochus is welcome.
Thaliard From him I come with message unto princely Pericles, but since my landing I have understood your Lord has betook himself to unknown travels.
Now message must return from whence it came.
We have no reason to desire it,
Commended to our master, not to us.
Yet ere you shall depart, this we desire:
As friends to Antioch, we may feast in Tyre.
Enter Cleon the Governor of Tarsus, with his wife Dionyza and others.
My Dionyza, shall we rest us here
And, by relating tales of others' griefs,
See if 'twill teach us to forget our own?
That were to blow at fire in hope to quench it;
For who digs hills because they do aspire
Throws down one mountain to cast up a higher.
O, my distressed Lord, even such our griefs are.
Here they are but felt, and seen with mischief's eyes,
But like to groves, being topped, they higher rise.
O Dionyza, Who wanteth food, and will not say he wants it,
Or can conceal his hunger till he famish?
Our tongues and sorrows do sound deep our woes
Into the air, our eyes do weep till lungs
Fetch breath that may proclaim them louder, that
If heaven slumber while their creatures want,
They may awake their helpers to comfort them.
I'll then discourse our woes, felt several years,
And, wanting breath to speak, help me with tears.
I'll do my best, sir.
This Tarsus, o'er which I have the government,
A city on whom Plenty held full hand,
For Riches strewed herself even in her streets;
Whose towers bore heads so high they kissed the clouds,
And strangers ne'er beheld but wondered at;
Whose men and dames so jetted and adorned,
Like one another's glass to trim them by;
Their tables were stored full to glad the sight,
And not so much to feed on as delight;
All poverty was scorned, and pride so great,
The name of help grew odious to repeat.
O, 'tis too true.
But see what heaven can do by this our change:
These mouths who but of late earth, sea, and air
Were all too little to content and please,
Although they gave their creatures in abundance,
As houses are defiled for want of use,
They are now starved for want of exercise.
Those palates who not yet two savors younger
Must have inventions to delight the taste,
Would now be glad of bread and beg for it.
Those mothers who, to nuzzle up their babes,
Thought naught too curious, are ready now
To eat those little darlings whom they loved.
So sharp are hunger's teeth that man and wife
Draw lots who first shall die to lengthen life.
Here stands a Lord and there a lady weeping;
Here many sink, yet those which see them fall
Have scarce strength left to give them burial.
Is not this true?
Our cheeks and hollow eyes do witness it.
O, let those cities that of Plenty's cup
And her prosperities so largely taste,
With their superfluous riots, hear these tears.
The misery of Tarsus may be theirs.
Enter a Lord.
Where's the Lord Governor?
Here. Speak out thy sorrows, which thee bring'st in haste,
For comfort is too far for us to expect.
We have descried upon our neighboring shore
A portly sail of ships make hitherward.
I thought as much.
One sorrow never comes but brings an heir
That may succeed as his inheritor;
And so in ours. Some neighboring nation,
Taking advantage of our misery,
Hath stuffed the hollow vessels with their power
To beat us down, the which are down already,
And make a conquest of unhappy men,
Whereas no glory's got to overcome.
That's the least fear, for, by the semblance
Of their white flags displayed, they bring us peace
And come to us as favorers, not as foes.
Thou speak'st like him's untutored to repeat
"Who makes the fairest show means most deceit."
But bring they what they will and what they can,
What need we fear?
The ground's the lowest, and we are halfway there.
Go tell their general we attend him here,
To know for what he comes and whence he comes
And what he craves.
I go, my Lord. He exits.
Welcome is peace, if he on peace consist;
If wars, we are unable to resist.
Enter Pericles with Attendants.
Lord Governor, for so we hear you are,
Let not our ships and number of our men
Be like a beacon fired t' amaze your eyes.
We have heard your miseries as far as Tyre
And seen the desolation of your streets;
Nor come we to add sorrow to your tears,
But to relieve them of their heavy load;
And these our ships, you happily may think
Are like the Trojan horse was stuffed within
With bloody veins expecting overthrow,
Are stored with corn to make your needy bread
And give them life whom hunger starved half dead.
The gods of Greece protect you, and we'll pray for you.
Arise, I pray you, rise.
We do not look for reverence, but for love,
And harborage for ourself, our ships, and men.
Cleon, rising, with the others
The which when any shall not gratify
Or pay you with unthankfulness in thought,
Be it our wives, our children, or ourselves,
The curse of heaven and men succeed their evils!
Till when -- the which I hope shall ne'er be seen --
Your Grace is welcome to our town and us.
Which welcome we'll accept, feast here awhile,
Until our stars that frown lend us a smile.
Excerpted from Pericles by William Shakespeare Copyright © 2005 by William Shakespeare.
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