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Pericles Scenes

Scene 1

Antioch (Syria). A room in the palace.

(Antiochus; Prince Pericles; Followers; Daughter of Antiochus; Thaliard; Antiochan Messenger)

Pericles has come to woo Antiochus’s daughter; Antiochus warns him of the danger of attempting the riddle. Pericles works out the answer to the riddle, which exposes the incestuous relationship of the princess with her father. His love for the princess instantly cools. He lets Antiochus understand that he has worked it out, and the latter spares his life for the moment. Pericles resolves to flee; Antiochus, fearing that Pericles will expose him to the world, sends Thaliard to poison the prince, and when he learns that Pericles has gone, orders the murderer to follow him. (174 lines)

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

Embold’ned with the glory of her praise,

Think death no hazard in this enterprise.



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, apparelled 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 ras’d, and testy wrath

Could never be her mild companion.

You gods that made me man, and sway in love,

That have inflam’d 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 touch’d;

For death-like 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.

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 Princess.

But my unspotted fire of love to you.

Thus ready for the way of life or death,

I wait the sharpest blow, Antiochus.


Scorning advice, read the conclusion then;

Which read and not expounded, ’tis decreed,

As these before thee, thou thyself shalt bleed.


Of all ’say’d yet, mayst thou prove prosperous!

Of all ’say’d yet, I wish thee happiness!


Like a bold champion I assume the lists,

Nor ask advice of any other thought

But faithfulness and courage.


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.


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?

Aside to the Princess.

Fair glass of light, I lov’d you, and could still,

Were not this glorious casket stor’d 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, finger’d to make man his lawful music,

Would draw heaven down, and all the gods to hearken;

But being play’d 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 expir’d,

Either expound now, or receive your sentence.


Great King,

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

Copp’d hills towards heaven, to tell the earth is throng’d

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.

Exeunt. Manet Pericles solus.


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 uncomely 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 parent’s 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 cropp’d to keep you clear,

By flight I’ll shun the danger which I fear.


Enter Antiochus.


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?

Enter Thaliard.


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; 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 an Antiochan Messenger.

Let your breath cool yourself, telling your haste.


My lord, Prince Pericles is fled.



As thou

Wilt live, fly after, and like an arrow shot

From a well-experienc’d 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!

Exit Thaliard.

Till Pericles be dead,

My heart can lend no succor to my head.



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