British Library Treasures in full: Shakespeare in quarto
Main The Basics Background The Afterlife The Texts Expert views References Links Glossary Partners
Print Shakespeare quartos


Creation of the play

Pericles was apparently not written by Shakespeare alone. It is believed that he wrote only acts 3, 4, and 5. Acts 1 and 2 have been attributed variously to Thomas Heywood, George Wilkins, and John Day, but there is no conclusive evidence for any of them as authors. The reasons for the collaboration (if there was one) remain unknown. Pericles was probably written in late 1607 or early 1608. The play was entered on the Stationers’ Register in May 1608. The novel by George Wilkins The Painfull Aduentures of Pericles Prince of Tyre, thought to be a report of Pericles, was published in 1608. A performance of Pericles seen by the French and Venetian ambassadors can be dated to between April 1607 and November 1608.

Early performances

The title-page of the 1609 first quarto states that Pericles had been ‘diuers and sundry times acted by his Maiesties seruants, at the Globe’. The play was seen by the French and Venetian ambassadors in 1607 or 1608. On 2 February 1610 (Candlemas) it was performed by the Cholmeley players, a group of travelling actors, at Gowthwaite Halle, Nidderdale, in Yorkshire. Pericles was performed for the entertainment of the French ambassador at Whitehall on 20 May 1619. There is also evidence that Pericles was performed by the King’s Men at the Globe at least once between 1625 and 1631, according to a transcription of an entry dated 10 June 1631 from the Office Book of the Master of the Revels.

Publication in quarto and folio

Pericles appeared in six editions before 1642. The play was not included in the first folio or the second folio.

  • First quarto, 1609. Apparently printed from a surreptitious and corrupt reported text. Many verse passages were set as prose, and many prose passages were set as verse. The title-page names Shakespeare alone as the author.
  • Second quarto, 1609. Printed from the first quarto.
  • Third quarto, 1611. Printed from the second quarto.
  • Fourth quarto, 1619. Printed from the third quarto, with some attempt to correct errors.
  • Fifth quarto, 1630. Printed from the fourth quarto. This edition includes a variant titlepage which has the bookseller’s address in the imprint.
  • Sixth quarto, 1635. Printed from the fifth quarto, with some reference to the fourth quarto.

Pericles was entered by Edward Blount on the Stationers’ Register on 20 May 1608. Blount apparently never printed the play. The first quarto was printed by William White and Thomas Creede for Henry Gosson in 1609. The second quarto, also by White and Creede for Gosson, appeared the same year. In 1611 the third quarto was printed by S. Stafford.

The fourth quarto, printed by William Jaggard for Thomas Pavier, was issued as part of The Whole Contention Betweene the two Famous Houses, Lancaster and Yorke in 1619. It was among the group of 10 plays printed by Jaggard for Pavier that year. These were apparently intended to form a collection of plays attributed to Shakespeare. The King’s Men may have protested against Pavier’s intentions, for the Lord Chamberlain subsequently wrote to the Stationers’ Company demanding that no more plays belonging to them should be printed except with their consent.

A Stationers’ Register entry dated 4 August 1626 records the transfer of Pavier’s ‘right in Shakesperes plaies or any of them’ from his widow to E. Brewster and Robert Bird. This transfer is assumed to include Pericles. In 1630 the fifth quarto of Pericles was printed by John Norton for Robert Bird. The Stationers’ Register records the transfer of Pericles from Bird to Thomas Cotes on 8 November 1630. The sixth quarto appeared in 1635, printed by Thomas Cotes.

British Library copies of Pericles contains detailed bibliographic descriptions of all the quarto copies of the play.

Shakespeare’s sources

Shakespeare drew on a handful of sources for Pericles.

  • John Gower, De Confessione Amantis (1554). Book 8 of this work suggested the figure of Gower, who acts as a chorus in Pericles. It also provided Shakespeare with the main outline of his plot, the names of places and characters, and a number of passages in the play.
  • The Patterne of Paineful Aduentures , translated by Lawrence Twine (1607). It is not possible to tell which edition between 1576 and 1607 Shakespeare used. Twine’s novel influenced scenes 1, 3, and 6 in act 4.
  • Barnabe Barnes, The Diuils Charter (1607). This influenced the chorusses spoken by Gower.
  • John Day, William Rowley, George Wilkins, The Trauailes of the Three English Brothers (1607). This work also influenced Gower’s chorusses.

Pericles is closely related to The Painfull Aduentures of Pericles Prince of Tyre by George Wilkins, published in 1608. Although it is accepted that the novel by Wilkins is not a source for the play, there is no agreement on the nature of the relationship between the two works. Several passages in The Painfull Aduentures of Pericles seem to report a play, which may be Pericles. Wilkins’s novel has thus been used by modern editors of Pericles to help restore corrupt readings and to supplement stage directions in the quartos.

Titlepage. George Wilkins, The Painfull Aduentures of Pericles Prince of Tyre
Titlepage. George Wilkins, The Painfull Aduentures of Pericles Prince of Tyre, 1608. British Library, C.34.l.8. Larger image

Story of the play

Note: the links below will take you to the page in the quarto where each act begins, according to standard modern editions. (The quartos themselves have no act divisions.) The quarto shown for each play is always the earliest in the Library's collection - unless it is a 'bad' quarto in which case it is the earliest 'good' quarto.

(Act 1) Gower opens the play with a chorus to set the first scene. Pericles, Prince of Tyre, wishes to marry the daughter of Antiochus, King of Antioch. Antiochus sets him a riddle, from which Pericles learns that Antiochus and his daughter are incestuous lovers. He answers the riddle, but rejects the girl. Knowing that Antiochus seeks to kill him, Pericles flees Antioch and then travels away from Tyre. Reaching Tharsus, he relieves the famine there with corn from his ships.

(Act 2) Gower continues the story with another chorus. Pericles is shipwrecked and loses everything. He struggles ashore at Pentapolis and is rescued by fishermen. Simonides, King of Pentapolis, and his daughter Thaisa preside over a tournament. Pericles takes part, and despite his mean attire Thaisa falls in love with him. Simonides agrees to her marriage with Pericles.

(Act 3) In a new chorus, Gower explains that the death of Antiochus and his daughter have freed Pericles to return to Tyre with his new wife Thaisa. On the voyage home, a storm arises. Thaisa apparently dies giving birth to a daughter and her body is cast overboard in a coffin. The coffin comes ashore at Ephesus, where it is opened by Cerimon who finds Thaisa still alive. Pericles reaches Tharsus. He decides to travel on to Tyre, leaving Marina with the governor of Tharsus Cleon and his wife Dionyza. Thaisa is restored to health but, believing that Pericles is dead, she resolves to become a priestess of Diana.

(Act 4) Gower’s chorus recounts the return of Pericles to Tyre, and tells how Marina grows up beautiful and accomplished. Dionyza, jealous that Marina overshadows her own daughter, plots to kill her. Before the murder can be carried out, Marina is seized by pirates. She is taken to Mytilene and sold to a brothel. Gower, in another chorus, tells of the voyage of Pericles to see Marina only to discover she is dead. In the brothel at Mytilene, Marina guards her virginity. She is visited by Lysimachus, governor of the town, who honours her chastity and gives her gold. With the help of the gold, and her accomplishments, Marina escapes from the brothel.

(Act 5) Gower announces in a chorus that Pericles, still grieving for Marina, has arrived at Mytilene. Lysimachus, learning that Pericles is ill with grief, sends for Marina to help him recover. Pericles, seeing Marina’s resemblance to Thaisa, questions her. Father and daughter are reunited. Overwhelmed with joy, Pericles sleeps. Diana appears to him in a dream, and orders him to go to Ephesus. Gower tells, in a chorus, that Lysimachus is to marry Marina. At Ephesus, in Diana’s temple, Pericles and Marina are reunited with Thaisa. Gower’s epilogue reveals how all those in the drama have received their just rewards.


 The basics Background The afterlife The texts 
Expert views References Links Glossary Partners