Gower, a mythical story-teller, has taken on a human form to tell us this holy tale.
Prince Pericles has recently lost his father and is in search of a wife. He travels to the kingdom of powerful King Antiochus, who has a beautiful daughter. But no one may wed her until he has solved a riddle – and failing to solve the riddle means the suitor will be put to death. Bravely, Pericles decides to try – and learns through the riddle that Antiochus is having an incestuous relationship with his daughter. When Antiochus realizes that Pericles has solved the riddle, he stalls. Afraid that Antiochus will try to kill him, Pericles hurriedly returns to Tyre. Antiochus hires Thaliard to murder Pericles. At home in Tyre, Pericles fears for the safety of all his people, leaves the rule of Tyre to Helicanus, and heads for Tarsus. The people of Tarsus are experiencing a terrible drought and are dying of hunger. Their rulers Cleon and his wife Dyonyza, hearing of Pericles’ approach, think he has come to conquer them in their weakness. But Pericles brings food, earning Cleon’s love and gratitude.
Fearing he is not safe in Tarsus, Pericles travels on, only to be shipwrecked by a terrible storm. On shore, three fisherfolk discuss the challenges of the working class. When Pericles washes up on their shore, they help him and send him to Queen Simonides in Pentapolis, whose daughter is about to celebrate her birthday with a tournament. When Pericles’ armor, rusty from the shipwreck, is caught in the fisherfolks’ net, he decides to compete at the tournament. In Pentapolis, Pericles meets Queen Simonides and her daughter Thaisa, wins the competition, Thaisa’s love, and her mother’s permission to marry. Meanwhile, back in Tyre, Helicanus reveals that King Antiochus has died due to a fire from heaven; the lords of Tyre beg Helicanus to become their king, but he insists they spend a year searching for Pericles before he will take on the responsibility of leadership. Eventually, letters from Tyre reach Pericles in Pentapolis, and he and a pregnant Thaisa set out for Tyre.
Again, there is a violent storm. Thaisa gives birth to a daughter named Marina, but dies in childbirth. Her body is put into a coffin and thrown into the sea by the superstitious sailors. A distraught Pericles lands at Tarsus, where he leaves the baby Marina with a nurse, Lychorida. Meanwhile, Thaisa’s casket has washed up ashore at Ephesus, where the wise healer Cerimon finds the body entombed with jewels and a note. Seeing how fresh the body looks, Cerimon tries to revive it – and succeeds! In Tarsus, Pericles asks Cleon and Dionyza to take care of baby Marina while he travels to Tyre, and Cleon vows to care for Marina. In Ephesus, Thaisa, thinking she will never see Pericles again, decides to become a devotee of the goddess Diana.
Marina grows up in Tarsus, with the daughter of Dionyza and Cleon. Dionyza becomes envious that Marina is far more beautiful and accomplished than her own daughter and hires Leonine to kill Marina. Before he can do this vile deed, Marina is captured by pirates. In Mytilene, Pandar and his wife Bawd are in need of fresh girls for their whorehouse and sent their servant Boult to see what he can find. He buys Marina from the pirates and goes out to advertise there’s a new virgin to be had. Back in Tarsus, Cleon is distraught to learn what Dionyza has done, and of the loss of Marina. When Pericles arrives to find only Marina’s tomb, he falls into a deep depression. Back at the brothel, Marina sends all of her potential customers away, having filled their ears with talk of divinity. Business at the whorehouse is bad. The governor of Mytilene comes to bed her, and leaves vowing to help her. Since she’s giving the whorehouse a bad name, its proprietors are happy to see her go.
Now Pericles, in a stupor of silent despair, arrives in Mytilene. Hoping to help him, Lysimachus sends Marina, whose beautiful singing might help to awaken Pericles’ wits. When Marina begins to tell Pericles the story of her life, he revives enough to speak with her, telling her she reminds him of his dead wife. As the two share their stories, Pericles realizes he has found his lost daughter. Pericles hears the heavenly music of the spheres, as the goddess Diana appears to him in a vision, and bids him worship at her temple in Ephesus. Lysimachus asks for permission to marry Marina. Pericles finds Thaisa at Diana’s temple, and all give thanks to the gods.