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The chief protagonist is Pericles, the prince of Tyre. His quest for love is the starting point of the action. The plot is a series of setbacks and frustrations in his life. He loses everything, but it is eventually restored to him. Pericles is the strongest personification of virtue in the play, though there are many others.
There is no major antagonist who plays a substantial role in the play. Instead there are representatives of vice, which is the source of most of the conflict in the play. First, there is Antiochus, the tyrannical king and immoral father of Antioch. He knows that Pericles is aware of his incest and therefore he seeks to kill him. Antiochus cannot tolerate opposition and tries to eliminate it to the best of his abilities. This ruthless desire to suppress opposition causes Pericles to escape first to Tarsus and then from Tarsus to Pentapolis. Antiochus however fails to eliminate opposition. He dies by the end of Act II, hence his role is limited. Cleon and Dionyza are also representatives of vice. They are rescued by Pericles, but reward him by first plotting then covering up the attempted murder of his daughter. The brothel keeper and his group pose a threat to the virtuous Marina, so they make up a third group of vice-ridden "antagonists."
The climax of the play is the famous recognition scene in Act V, Scene 1. The preceding two acts, i.e. Acts III and IV are a continuing saga of suffering. In Act III, there is the second storm in which
Thaisa is lost. Pericles feels nothing worse can happen to him, as he declares:
"Courage enough: I do not fear the flaw. It hath done to me the worst, yet for the love Of this poor infant, this fresh-new sea - farer, I would it would be quiet."
He prepares himself for separation from his child for the sake of her well being and safety. He lives for the reunion with her, only to be told abruptly, that she has died after fourteen years.
After these losses pile up one on the other, the climactic scene in Act V comes as a welcome and joyful relief. A depressed, reclusive Pericles refuses to be charmed by a young girl's music. It is only when she reveals her pain that he begins to listen. Finally, the truth is revealed that Marina is not dead, but present, in the flesh, before him. He is overwhelmed "Lest this great sea of joys rushing upon me O'erbear the shores of my mortality, and drown me with their sweetness." In moments, he is on his way to a reunion with his wife as well. From this point onwards, the ultimate reunion is awaited.
After the climatic recognition scene, the denouement (when father and daughter will be reunited with Thaisa) becomes certain. After Pericles' earlier sufferings, the reunion comes as an excess of joy. The command of the goddess Diana is in keeping with traditional Greek drama, where the gods intervene to restore order in the midst of chaos. Pericles and Marina go to the shrine at Ephesus. There they meet Thaisa who is living as a priestess at the Holy Altar. Cerimon, her rescuer, fills in the connecting details, and the family is united. To symbolize their newfound joy and closeness, Marina and Lysimachus announce their marriage to Thaisa. Pericles swears loyalty to Diana, the goddess of purity. He accepts the misfortunes of the past and the happy events of the present as acts of wise Providence. Thus the play ends on a happy note of harmony and continuity. Marina and Lysimachus will govern Tyre, while Pericles and Thaisa will retire to Pentapolis where they will continue to rule in the tradition of the "good Simonides."