Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
Shakespeare uses three different styles in the play, each appropriate to the background and characters. For the noble characters whether at court or in private conversation, he uses blank verse. This is his favorite meter and he makes it flexible as well as majestic. Prose is used for the dialogue of the commoners (the fishermen and the brothel keepers) in order to provide a contrast with the dialogue of the noble protagonists. Prose and the rough cant of the fishermen reveals their rough and witty view of a world that looks down on them. This would also be popular with the "groundlings," the public in the cheaper seats. The crude dialogue of those who run the brothel, their sexual imagery, their obsession with Marina's virginity, all serve as a dark background to her angelic purity. The third style of language used is in Gower's choral monologues. There are occasional Middle English usages like "this maid Hight Philoten" or "The cat with eyne of burning coal" which give the style a period flavor. Most of all, it is the rather mechanical couplets, similar to the original Gower's style, which distinguish the chorus from the rest of the play.
Many critics feel that the "truly Shakespearean" voice is not heard until Act III begins. There is some shared sense that the events and poetry of the first two acts are common and less skilled than Shakespeare's other works and could therefore be the work of a collaborator. This is only speculation, but it is also true that the most memorable passages are found after the third act, and that the intensity of the play deepens only from there onwards.
Another feature that promotes continuity in the play is the recurrent use of imagery. For instance, the jewel image repeatedly appears as a symbol of value. When Pericles recovers his father's rusty armor from the sea, he refers to it as a jewel. Thaisa, too, appreciates Pericles' real worth behind the poor dress and declares him "like diamond to glass." Cerimon, on reviving Thaisa, compares her eyes to "diamonds of a most praised water (which) do appear to make the world twice rich" (Act III Scene 2). The image gains ironic undertones as Boult, the pimp threatens to take from Marina "the jewel you hold so dear": her virginity.
Music is another favorite image that reinforces the concept of harmony in the play. Antiochus' daughter is compared to a violin played before its time and hence resulting in harsh discord. Marina is associated with music: "She sings like one immortal and she dances as goddess-like to her admired lays." Lysimachus speaks of "her sweet harmony" and brings her to the ship to heal Pericles through her music. When they celebrate their reunion, Pericles hears "the music of the spheres", the great symbol of harmony to the ancients.
The act of giving birth is a metaphor for transformation in Pericles. The actual birth of Marina linked with Thaisa's "death" asserts the continuity of life. However, the image of birth is used mainly in the recognition scene by Pericles. His sense of loss is rekindled on seeing Marina's resemblance to his wife and he mourns, "I am great with woe and shall deliver weeping." Later overcome with joy, he calls her "Thou that biget' st him that did thee beget."
The great symbol of the sea is a strong unifying force in the play. It is ever present, and every scene is linked to the next by a voyage. The sea is a metaphor for life, its storms representing the trials every human being has to face. The human being is overtly compared to a "mortal vessel" afloat on the sea. A lasting storm takes Marina away from her friends. Finally, a sea of joy overwhelms Pericles who is afraid of drowning in its sweetness.