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Shakespeare's plays are usually constructed in five acts. In his comedies, the development of the action is usually in this format:
Act I - Introduction Act II - Development Act III - Crisis Act IV - Complication Act V - Denouement
In Pericles, Prince of Tyre, the same general format is followed. However, the play is mainly episodic in nature. This stringing together of episodes is both a problem for the playwright and an essential aspect of the theme and its symbolism. It is episodic in that the entire action of the play is strewn over half-a-dozen Mediterranean kingdoms: Antioch, Tyre, Tarsus, then Pentapolis, back to Tarsus, then Tyre again, and on to Mytilene and Ephesus.
The following section recounts the events in the play:
Act I: Scene I has Pericles attempting to solve the riddle of Antiochus, understanding it and fleeing to Tyre. After consulting Helicanus, he flees to Tarsus. He is welcomed by Cleon and Dionyza and decides to remain there.
Act II: Pericles, on getting Helicanus' warning of an assassin following him, leaves Tarsus. He is shipwrecked in the first storm, loses companions and possessions, then lands in Pentapolis. After the meeting with the fishermen, he decides to participate in the court tournaments. He wins the contest, impressing Thaisa and Simonides. He further exhibits his skills at music and dancing. Thaisa expresses her desire to her father that she will marry only Pericles. After some word play to tease her, Simonides pushes them to confess their love. This scene is a parallel to Act I, Scene I. It deals with the wooing of a princess but under very different conditions. Here the scene ends in marriage and fulfillment. In the meantime, the nobles of Tyre, who assume Pericles is dead and want a new ruler, corner Helicanus. Helicanus convinces them to wait for a year. At the same time he organizes a search for Pericles.
Act IV: Fourteen years have passed. Pericles is ruling over Tyre and planning to visit Marina. Dionyza attempts to have Marina murdered, but fails. Pirates capture her and sell her to a brothel. Marina resists all attempts to admit her into prostitution. She reforms Lysimachus. Meanwhile, Pericles is told that Marina has died and been buried in a grand tomb. He is shattered. Refusing to shave and wearing sackcloth and ashes he becomes a recluse. This most serious blow shatters him absolutely. The storm is now in his mind, but he manages to survive. Marina, meanwhile, manages to convince the brothel keepers she will be more useful to them if she works away from the trade.
Act V: Marina is settled in Myteline as a teacher. Lysimachus visits Pericles aboard his ship and is told about his depression. He sends for Marina to heal him with her music. The enterprise does not work but Marina tells him her story and they discover each other's true identity. As Pericles is emotionally exhausted he falls asleep has a vision of Diana. Obeying her, he goes on to Ephesus only to find Thaisa there. The whole family is reunited. Pericles accepts everything as the action of providence. They speak of Marina's marriage with Lysimachus.
Both the episodic nature of the drama and the amount of time covered in the action could make for a potentially confusing play. But Shakespeare uses different techniques to create dramatic unity. The following is a breakdown of the techniques used by the playwright to keep the unity of the play.