Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Divine Feminine in Shakespeare's Pericles, Prince of Tyre

March 2001


My intent in discussing Shakespeare’s Pericles is to focus on the play in terms of ideas; thus I will be looking at the characters as embodiments of ideas rather than as flesh and blood human beings Specifically, I will be looking at the play in terms of modern psychological ideas, especially those of C.G. Jung, and in relation to the ideas and images of ancient Gnosticism. I will try to show that certain plot developments that make little sense when taken literally, seeing the play as a realistic portrayal of life, do yield important insights about life when seen on other levels, as a kind of moral tale or parable. One way of seeing such insights, as the basis for moral instruction, is expressed by the play itself in its opening lines, when the narrator says of the story he is going to unfold:

And lords and ladies in their lives
Have read it for restoratives,
The purchase is to make men glorious... (I.prologue.7ff)

The play, we will see, illustrates the treatment of various forms of melancholy, in the sense of sadness and of grief for what is lost, and how one can actually rise to greater heights through such an experience.

In the literature, Harold Bloom (1998) briefly mentions a similarity between the play and Gnostic myths, but the only extended analysis in such terms is by the English poet Ted Hughes (1992). The myths both writers have in mind are ones written in Alexandria, Egypt, in the first two centuries of the Christian era. Like some of Plato’s writings (the Timaeus, the myth of Er in the Republic), Gnostic myth-making was an attempt to describe in language things that could only be suggested in metaphor. While Gnostic writings borrowed much from Plato and other Greek philosophers, their explicit subject-matter was the Judeo-Christian tradition.

For the Gnostics, there were three worlds, each with its own gods. One is a timeless spiritual world of an incomprehensible Father/Mother. This Father/Mother has various “emanations,” essentially specific aspects of the indescribable deity. The second is intermediate, above our world but in time, the realm of the world-fashioner, or demiurge (Plato’s term), identified with the Greek Zeus and the Hebrew Jehovah. There are also various secondary gods and goddesses, offspring of the demiurge, whom the Gnostics called the Archons, Greek for “rulers.” Finally there is our material world, fashioned by the demiurge but ruled by Satan and his demons. The Gnostic is one whose spirit is of the first world, yet is trapped in the third world by the forces of the second and third world. Salvation is the return to one's spiritual home.

The play begins with its hero, Pericles, ruler of the city of Tyre, looking for a wife. He is attracted by the physical beauty of a king’s daughter. This corresponds to the material world we inhabit. As it happens, the king’s daughter has a sexual relationship with her father; grasping that secret is thus to see who rules this world, namely Satan. Later Pericles meets another king’s daughter, whom he marries. Here he is attracted as much by the nobility of the king as by the attractions of the daughter, which are as much of the spirit as of the body. This kingdom has intimations of the upper world of Gnosticism but various features suggest more an enlightened demiurge: Although the court is a haven of nobility, the kingdom is still one in which, its citizens tell us, “the big fish eat the little fish.” Pericles leads an idyllic life there, but then leaves because his own city needs him. At sea, his wife gives birth to a daughter and dies in childbirth—or so it seems, for after her body is cast adrift, she revives and lives a life dedicated to the goddess Diana. Pericles puts their child into the care of another king who, it happens, also has an infant daughter. As Pericles’ child nears adulthood, she becomes a prisoner in the world of greed and lust. Her position corresponds to the Gnostic soul thrown into the world of matter; she herself has the character of a Gnostic heroine. The resolution is then effected by the goddess Diana, functioning here as a kind of Gnostic Sophia-figure from the upper world. I will make specific textual comparisons at appropriate points, also noting those made by Hughes and Bloom. In addition I will contrast this Gnostic perspective with that of traditional Christianity, and also indicate points of contact with Sufism and alchemy. As we shall see, the play's primary theme is that of the Divine Feminine, and one rather unexpected image in particular, that of father/daughter incest.

Since most people are not familiar with Pericles, I recommend that the reader supplement the text with the video filmed by the BBC in 1983 (available in many libraries). This is one play in which one does not get the proper effect by reading. But let me also give a warning: the first two acts have dialogue that is boring and repetitive. Some scholars think that these acts were mostly written by a collaborator; either that, or the play is an amalgamation of two pirated reconstructions written down after viewing the play, the first one done by someone with a poor memory for Shakespeare's language (Edwards, 1976). However, these first two acts are essential to understanding the play as a whole. Here, I will mostly skip the poorly written bits.

As with many other plays, Shakespeare was redoing a story that had been told many times before. The basic outline, including the reference to explicit incest, was available in Latin prose, supposedly from Greek sources, back at least as far as the 5th Century. A verse version was written in the 11th century, by a Godfrey of Viterboy. Then in the 15th century an English poet named Gower wrote a version that remained well known to later generations. Shakespeare makes Gower the narrator of his play, who introduces the different scenes in deliberately archaic language. Until Shakespeare, the story was called “Appolonius of Tyre”; Shakespeare introducee the name-change to Pericles. No relation is implied to the famous Athenian statesman of that name. The setting is the Mediterranean world of the time between Alexander the Great and the triumph of Rome (Edwards, 1976).


The story starts with a riddle set by a princess's father; if the suitor can solve it, he gets the girl; otherwise, he is killed. This is all reminiscent of Oedipus, who also faced a riddle, one posed by the Sphinx; the prize was a Queen and a kingdom, or else death. Like the Sphinx, this riddle-maker has sent many a suitor to his death. Oedipus, of course, got the girl and the kingdom, but what he did not figure out in time was that his queen was really his mother.

In Pericles' riddle, the incest is of a different sort. As the narrator, Gower, tells us in his Prologue, the king his daughter “to incest did provoke” (I.pro.25). Moreover, the answer to the riddle is the fact of this incest, as the first scene makes clear. What is not obvious--since Pericles does not marry the girl--is what this opening scene has to do with the rest of the story, other than forcing the hero to start on a series of adventures.

The action starts with Pericles at the court of Antiochus, King of Antioch, seeking to marry the King's daughter. He says how on her face “is read none but curious pleasures,” (“curious” is Elizabethan for “exquisite”), and how he feels “inflamed desire” to “taste the fruit of yon celestial tree” (I.i.17,21). Despite various polite phrases, this speech is on a rather physical level, as opposed to one praising the lady's soul or spirit; and the tree, however celestial, tempts in words reminiscent of the Original Sin of Adam and Eve. But the riddle he is given seems on an even lower level:

I am no viper, yet I feed
On mother's flesh which did me breed.
I sought a husband, in which labour
I found that kindness in a father,
He's father, son, and husband mild;
I mother, wife, and yet his child.
How they may be, and yet in two,
As you will live, resolve it you. (I.i.65ff)

Pericles immediately guesses that the riddle is alluding to incest between the king and his daughter. And Pericles' answer (spoken as though to the king but actually to the audience, when he is alone):

Where now you're both a father and a son
By your untimely claspings with your child
(Which pleasures fit a husband, not a father)
And she an eater of her mother’s flesh
By the defiling of her parent's bed;
And both like serpents are, who though they feed
On sweetest flowers, yet they poison breed. (I.i.128ff)

The “celestial tree” is really a serpent! Fortunately, Pericles is careful not to voice his solution out loud, except to the audience. The King charitably gives Pericles more time to solve the riddle, while at the same time realizing that Pericles has already solved it. Pericles decides that anyone who would knowingly commit incest would also not hesitate at murder; he wisely flees the city.

Incest in real life is hidden; the daughter herself may not have it in her awareness. It comes out indirectly, in sudden rages, perhaps. Let us look further at Pericles’ answer to the riddle. The King--whose Queen has died--is having sex with his own daughter. On a physical level, then, the father is in the role of husband. Pericles adds that the King is also “a son” to her. He does not say just how this is. Presumably it is by her nurturing of him, as a mother might for her child, both emotionally and in running his household. Perhaps also she provides the adoring and adorable image that a child first finds in its mother.

We might wonder what the riddle was supposed to suggest in the 3rd century, when the story likely originated. One possibility is that despite the carnal perspective at the beginning, the story is alluding to something on a spiritual level, perhaps a divine female figure from some mystery cult. Pericles, after all, felt a hint of divinity about her in describing her as a “celestial tree.” From mythology we know about the great Syrian goddess Cybele and her relations with her son Attis; the same was true for Venus and Adonis. The play later on brings in Diana, the ancient Graeco-Roman goddess of the moon, chastity, and childbirth. She was one of the virgin goddesses. Could her cult have been expanded in later times? Could she have become the all-nurturing mother who is also the spiritual bride and daughter? A famous image of Diana, used in the BBC video both at the beginning and the end of the play, is that of a multi-breasted woman. Any written records associated with such images are lost.

From Gnostic sources, however, we do have the remains of texts which sound similar in terms to the riddle. One is “The Thunder, Perfect Mind”:

I am the honored one and the scorned one,
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin...
I am the bride and the bridegroom,
and it is my husband who begot me.
I am the mother of my father
and the sister of my husband,
and he is my offspring... (Barnstone 1984, 595)

This text comes from the Nag Hammadi Library, a collection dating from the 4th century, found in 1945 by an Egyptian farmer. It is in Coptic, the Egyptian language of antiquity, written in Greek phonetic script. Most likely it was translated from Greek. It is one of numerous writings in the collection termed “Gnostic” by the official Church of that time, from the Greek word for experiential knowledge, Gnosis. The Church felt obliged to persecute these Gnostics ruthlessly as heretics. Thus the texts had probably been hidden to prevent their utter destruction from human memory.

The passage just quoted refers to a divine feminine being; other texts in the same collection call her Sophia, Greek for wisdom. The passage occurs in a long series of paradoxical utterances, suggesting her possession of a multitude of antithetical attributes, and thus in herself a being indescribable in language. But what does our story have to do with such mystical heights? Even in their heyday, not many people would have read this text. It is only an indication of the kind of cult figure the story might have drawn on. Actually, there is in orthodox Christianity a feminine being who also fits the description in Antiochus’s riddle. But to say her name at this point would be to give away the surprise.

In Shakespeare's own works, the issue of father/daughter incest appears in the incestuous blending of daughters' goals with those of the father, most notably in Hamlet and King Lear. In the former, it is Ophelia's loyalty to her father over himself that makes Hamlet so furious with her. In the latter, the older daughters' extravagant show of devotion to their father, gratifying his narcissism, combined with their commitment to care for him in exchange for his estate, leads to their repudiation of him when they find him offensive. Thus the Fool reminds Lear, “thou mad’st thy daughters thy mothers,” terms reminiscent of Pericles' riddle, explaining that “when thou gavest them the rod” he “puttest down thy own breeches” (King Lear, I.iv.187-190). The incestuous implications have been spelled out in the novel and film A Thousand Acres, where the older daughters have as children been victims of the father's sexual appetite. At the same time, in Lear. it is the youngest daughter's declaration of independence from her father that clears the way to her more lasting loyalty. One must assume that if Pericles had married Antiochus's daughter, she would have continued to love her father over him, just like Ophelia, even if she did not go back to his bed.

It might be objected against the story that it is unrealistic that a king advertise his incest with his own daughter by such a riddle. Incest is so universally disapproved that if the facts were known, the King's subjects would revolt. The more universal truth displayed in the scene, I think, is that a suitor has a right to be on guard when the affection between father and daughter is too close, because then he may end up being judged against the father by the daughter for the rest of his life.

In the second act of the present play, we will see how another king's daughter does act independently of her father, for her own goals, moreover, the father approves such independence; thereby she is both independent of him and also genuinely loyal. This is one resolution of the psychological father/daughter incest that Antiochus's relation to his daughter implies.

But I am getting ahead of our story. We left Pericles fleeing Antioch for his life. In the remainder of the scene, his fears are confirmed, as King Antiochus does indeed give an assassin instructions to murder Pericles, going to Tyre if necessary. Pericles, meanwhile, has decided to sail for points unknown, leaving his city in the hands of his faithful friend Helicanus. Pericles arrives in the vicinity of the city of Tarsus (St. Paul's home city), which he learns is starving from famine. Pericles offers his own supplies; and after some delay, because its ruler, King Cleon, feared that Pericles was using the food merely as a way to gain control, the city is saved. The main purpose of this scene seems to be to set up an obligation for the King and Queen of Tarsus, Cleon and Dionyza, to repay later. Thus ends Act I (as editors have divided up the play).


Act II begins with a storm at sea--Fortune is a fickle lady--and Pericles finds himself the sole survivor, washed up on some unknown shore with nothing but the shreds of his clothes (echoing Twelfth Night and anticipating The Tempest). Two fishermen, reflecting on the storm as Pericles lies hidden behind a rock, have an interchange which humorously indicates the play's dark moral world:

3 Fisherman. ...Master, I marvel how the fishes live in the sea.
1 Fish. Why, as men do a’land; the great ones eat up the little ones. I can compare our rich misers to nothing so fitly as to a whale; ‘a plays and tumbles, driving the poor fry before him, and at last devours them all at a mouthful. Such whales have I heard on a’ th’ land, who never leave gaping till they swallow’d the whole parish, church, steeple, bells, and all.
Per. [Aside.] A pretty moral. (II.i.26ff)

King Cleon's fear of Pericles, in the earlier scene, would seem to have stemmed from a similar perspective. The fishermen go on to wish that their own “good king Simonides” would “purge the land of these drones, that rob the bee of her honey.” It develops that Pericles has landed at Pentapolis, whose ruler they praise for his “peaceable reign and good government.” Pericles joins in and expresses his admiration of such a king. It further develops that Simonides has a “fair daughter,” whose birthday is the next day, and that there will be a tournament in her honor, at which knights from all over the world will be jousting in hopes of winning her love. If only Pericles had a suit of armor! Just then his own armor, somewhat rusty now, catches in a fisherman's net.

Thus by a series of happy coincidences Pericles is on his way to a second contest whose prize is a fair princess. I do not think we need be disturbed by the improbabilities; the play does not by such accidents lose its ability to convey a universal message: Even in a dog-eat-dog world, a young man gets more than one opportunity to win fair maiden. There are always more fish in the sea, to return to the earlier metaphor. Moreover, the improbabilities give a sense that this land of Pentapolis is not quite of this world. Like Odysseus on the wondrous islands he finds himself after his ship is lost, Pericles has entered a mythic land, this time one that fulfills all the courtly ideals of the medieval romances.

This tournament at Pentapolis is quite an improvement over the earlier riddle-guessing at Antioch. For one thing, the losing knights are not killed. For another, the princess is not bound to marry the winner; he just gets more of her attention. Moreover, the wooing is conducted on a high cultural level, with Latin mottoes, polite conversation, music, and dance; there is no place for that “inflamed desire” we saw earlier.

Of course, Pericles in his rusty armor wins the day. In asides to the audience the princess reveals her attraction to the mysterious stranger. Pericles, oddly, thinks not of her but of her father--Simonides reminds him of his own deceased father, whose glory was as the sun, against which his he shines “like a glowworm in the night,” he feels so inadequate by comparison. Pericles is the boy to the man Simonides; in short, he feels at home here. Yet with Simonides, the ideal king, he could grow to fill his father's shoes. Part of taking on the adult role, of course, is getting a wife.

The next day Simonides, holding a letter, tells the waiting knights--all but Pericles, who seems to have slept in--that his daughter Thaisa has decided to devote herself to the goddess Diana for the next twelve months, i.e. remain a virgin. So the knights bid adieu. The King peruses the letter, as Pericles enters. The letter, from Thaisa, shows that Simonides' story about her dedication to Diana was merely a polite ruse. His reaction reveals much about both of them:

Simonides. ...She tells me here she'll wed the stranger knight,
Or never more view day nor light.
'Tis well, mistress, your choice agrees with mine.
I like that well. Nay, how absolute she's in't,
Not minding whether I dislike or no!
Well, I do commend her choice,
And will no longer have it be delay'd...(II.v.16ff)

Although father and daughter have similar tastes, independent self-assertion is part of that value system. In what follows, the King tests both his daughter and Pericles against that value. First, the King asserts, and Pericles angrily denies, that he has tried to “bewitch the yielding spirit of my tender child” to make her love him. Pericles says to ask Thaisa whether he ever used “any syllable that made love to you.” Thaisa is not one to wait for her suitor, much less her father, to make the first move; she replies that she would not have minded if he had spoken of love to her. The danger in such forwardness is not so much that he will be offended (her worry previously) but that the man will take advantage of the opportunity without much of his heart in loving the girl. Pericles, we have seen, not only has not tried to seduce her, but was first touched more by her father than by her. Yet like father like daughter--they have an easy compatibility.

The King, hiding his true feelings until his daughter's declaration, heartily applauds both Pericles' and Thaisa's responses. Here Shakespeare takes a point of view like much of modern American psychotherapy (following Freud's lead), which has as its goal freeing the “ties that bind” adults in childlike dependency on other people. On the other hand, such independence is here (as for Freud) won mostly by internalizing the father's values: in this case, not to look at outward displays or signs of status (for Pericles is hiding his), but the “inner man,” as one of the King's speeches puts it. Although psychotherapy tends to stop at just this point, for Shakespeare, things have just begun to get interesting; we are at Act III, where scholars say that Shakespeare's personal touch is now very much in evidence.


Pericles and Thaisa marry and live happily together for a year at Simonides' court. Meanwhile in Tyre, the ruling clique is restless; they want a king. Moreover, King Antiochus and his daughter are both dead, struck by Jupiter's lightning, so Pericles has no reason to stay away. If he is not back in 12 months, they want Helicanus, Pericles' deputy, as king. Ever loyal, Helicanus orders a search for Pericles. At almost the end of the 12 months, they find him at Pentapolis; he must return immediately if he is to remain king. So he sets off, accompanied by Thaisa even though she is expecting their child. As Fortune would have it, a terrible storm comes up at sea, full of high winds, thunder, lightning, and even an earthquake, we learn later (III.ii.14). Right in the middle, Thaisa gives birth.

This kind of setting, with--as Pericles says--all five elements colluding (fire, air, water, earth, and heaven), suggests a magical auspiciousness, as though all the fairy godmothers were giving the baby gifts. Thaisa, sadly, dies in childbirth. The sailors protest superstitiously that they will all perish unless the dead body is removed from the ship. So the grieving Pericles seals her in a chest and throws her overboard, with a message to whoever finds her to give her a proper burial. Now he fears that the newborn will not survive long at sea. Learning that the ship is near Tarsus, he takes the baby girl there to be cared for by the King and Queen whom he had earlier saved from famine.

In this play full of reverses, it is not to be assumed that Thaisa will remain dead long. The next scene is at the house of one Lord Cerimon, who appears to be an ancient physician. Men bring in a casket that has washed ashore, and he goes to work. Through music, massage, and medicine, Cerimon manages to raise Thaisa from death (or trance, as he more modestly says).

In Scene 3, Pericles puts the baby, named Marina, in the care of King Cleon and Queen Dionyza, to be educated there; and in Scene 4 Thaisa becomes a devotee of Diana at Ephesus. For the next 14 years, Thaisa is at Ephesus, Marina is at Tarsus, and Pericles is at Tyre, none apparently in communication with the others.

Some aspects of these events might strike us as odd. First, one would have thought Pericles would have taken some steps to recover Thaisa's body, if only to make inquiries. Second, before dedicating herself to Diana, would not Thaisa first have tried to find out whether her husband was alive or dead? Likewise, having apparently lost his wife, how could Pericles let strangers raise his daughter? Perhaps even odder, we do not lose interest; the play still works! The reason, I think, is that the story is a parable, and the psychological truth lies on that level.

These characters, I think, are not to be seen as real people. They are shells onto which we may project a perfectly typical way of conducting domestic life. When two people marry, unless it is very special, the excitement wanes after the first year or two or six. So the husband gets involved in his career, which we have seen is Pericles' true passion anyway. The wife manages the household, and perhaps a career. They may as well be separated by an ocean, or death. There may also be some grief over the loss over their former relationship, manifesting as a vague depression. In noble families of Shakespeare's time, children were raised by nannies and sent to boarding school. They grew up scarcely noticed by their parents, except for carefully rehearsed performances at holidays. Nowadays, the wife, or sometimes even both parents, may raise the children, but often, with both parents working, they are immersed in their own lives and hardly even relate to each other.


Marina, like a typical English aristocratic child, grows up under others' care, excelling in all that she is taught. But this child has been performing a little too well, outshining even the daughter of her protectors. Queen Dionyza finds this situation too humiliating, and resolves to have Marina killed. We pick up the story there, with the Queen talking first to the murderer and then to Marina, to induce her to go for a walk with him.

Just as the assassin raises his knife, we see, pirates intervene and kidnap her. Again, we are not to wonder about this amazing coincidence. The outside world often does intervene adventitiously in a teenager's life at some point, to prevent psychological death--sometimes even physical death--as a result of some overbearing authority or other, such as a tyrant of a father or a witch of a mother. Usually the course of action interrupted is one that youngsters are told is for their own good, by people without understanding who they are and who are mostly absorbed in themselves. Likewise, the “rescuer” is often not somebody very reputable, even somebody rather unscrupulous. In our own day, we may think of drug dealers who then, when the girl needs money, double as pimps. The pirates, who sell Marina to a brothel in the port city of Mytilene, are not so different.

This world of disease, death, and forced degradation could hardly be portrayed more vividly. For example, the Bawd, the madam in this establishment, complains about their need for fresh whores:
Bawd. We were never so much out of creatures. We have but poor three, and they can do no more than they can do. And they with continual action are as good as rotten. (IV.ii.6ff)
And a few lines further on, from the husband and the hired man:
Pander. Thou say’st true, there's two unwholesome, a’ conscience. The poor Transylvanian is dead that lay with the little baggage.
Boult. Aye, she quickly pooped him; she made him roast meat for worms. But I’ll go search the market. (IV.ii.19ff)
Here “poop,” according to the notes to the Penguin edition, is a low term for the female genitalia; as a verb, it means to infect by such means: such is the brothel's reality. The similar deflation occurs when the brothel keepers discuss Marina's potential customers. The sequence reminds one of the tournament at Pentapolis, when knights from various countries came to vie for Thaisa's favor. This time, there is a knight from Spain and one from France. Of the first, Boult says that his “mouth watered, and he went to bed with her very description”; he will be coming “with his best ruff on” (IV.ii.95f). The other is one “that cowers i’ the hams” and “brought his disease hither” (IV.ii.100, 105f), ready to deliver. Now we see what those fine knights, all grace and culture at court, are in a different setting. It is the underside of polite society, a dark world of uncaring lust and greed, drawn in broad black humor.

Oddly, perhaps, it is in similar language that the world is described by the Gnostic scriptures from Nag Hammadi, in their dark rendition of Genesis. Adam and Eve, in one account, were created because “the authorities of the Darkness”--fallen angels, or, in Hellenistic myth, the negative sides of the seven noble planetary gods--became enamored of the Goddess, here called "incorruptibility," after seeing her reflected image; they hoped to possess her by creating a being in her image (Robinson 1988, 163). First they make out of the mud an androgynous being (like the goddess-figure described in the text quoted earlier) whom they call Adam; but what they make (unlike the goddess) has no spirit, because of their own lack of divine spirit. As a result, “They could not make him arise because of their powerlessness” (163). The Bible's apparent sublimity has become a comedy of incompetence. Then “the spirit”--meaning the Goddess—“saw the soul-endowed man upon the ground. And the spirit came forth from the Adamantine Land; it descended and came to dwell within him, and that man became a living soul” (163). The authorities realize that what they want, the Spirit, still eludes them. So they open Adam up and take out “the spirit-endowed woman.” Adam speaks, honoring her. The text continues:

Then the Authorities came up to their Adam. And when they saw his female counterpart speaking with him, they became agitated with great agitation, and they became enamored of her. They said to one another, “Come, let us sow our seed in her,” and they pursued her. And she laughed at them for their witlessness and their blindness; and in their clutches, she became a tree, and left before them her shadowy reflection resembling herself; and they defiled it foully. (Robinson 1988, 164)

The authorities are the selfish lust, greed, envy and other vicious passions for the sake of which people dominate others and which dominate them in turn. They are personified in the Gnostic myth by “the authorities of the darkness,” whose chief is the one who says “It is I who am God; there is none apart from me” (162)--a thinly veiled reference to Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible. In the play they correspond to the evil king and queen and the people who run the brothel. Whether Marina will retain her integrity and her spirit, or give up her spirit for the sake of her life, like the feminine spirit's "shadowy reflection" in the passage just cited, remains to be seen.

The action returns to Tarsus, where Marina was to have been killed. The wicked queen now has the supposed assassin killed, to keep Marina's fate a secret. The King reluctantly goes along with her plan to pretend that Marina has died of natural causes; they give her a fancy funeral with much weeping. Then when Pericles finally does come, he is shocked to find not her but only a tombstone marking her supposed grave. Grieving deeply, he lets his hair grow and loses interest in everything.

Pericles' sudden and prolonged outpouring of grief and depression is, after what has already happened, another odd development. His grief at his wife's death was remarkably short, and now he wears sackcloth and shuns the world, over the death of someone he never even knew! The point is that he is at a time in his life when it makes sense to feel something for a young woman. He has accomplished enough in his career, and in any case he is bored with it. His wife could have fit the bill, but he was not ready then. Now she is dead to him and anyway does not need him. His unconscious “feminine side,” which Jung called the anima, is now a demand in a man for a close relationship and life in the sensuous moment, which had gotten activated for a time at his marriage, at college, or at some other time when he was not obsessed with his career, and then pushed aside. Developmentally this feminine figure is still young, at a time when his image of himself is rather old and something to be defended against. Some men get a young girlfriend; others turn to a ready-made connection, their daughters, and let us hope it is not sexual. That is where Pericles is; that is why he comes to Tarsus now rather than earlier. What he needs is not there; he is abandoned again, and this time he did not want to be abandoned. That which was to give his life meaning is gone, just as when he was a child and again as an adult. In grieving Marina he is really grieving himself and his feminine losses all through life, which his masculine preoccupations had allowed him to keep at bay until now. And since its nature remains unconscious, the “mourning” gets stuck as “melancholia,” in Freud's words.

The action shifts to Mytilene, back in the brothel. Marina, it develops, is not so easily exploited as the brothel keepers had hoped. First let me quote a few lines from an earlier scene of Marina in the brothel, where she declares her resistance to the brothel keepers:
Marina. If fires be hot, knives sharp, or waters deep,
Untied I still my virgin knot will keep.
Diana, aid my purpose!
Bawd. What have we to do with Diana? Pray you will you go with us? (IV.ii.145ff)
They discover soon enough what the goddess of chastity has to do with them:
Bawd. Fie, fie upon her! She’s able to freeze the god Priapus and undo a whole generation. We must either get her ravished or be rid of her. When she should do for clients her fitment and do me the kindness of her profession, she has me her quirks, her reasons, her master reason, her prayers, her knees, that she would make a puritan of the devil if she should cheap a kiss of her. (IV.vi.3ff)
Priapus is the god of male generative powers. Marina is somehow able to appeal to her prospective clients' better nature and get them to lose interest in fornication. One day the young Governor of the island, Lysimachus, pays a visit in disguise, although the brothel keepers recognize him. Marina says in effect that if he is governor, he should act with the honor expected of his office:
Marina. I hear say you're of honorable parts and are the governor of this place.
Lysimachus. Why, hath your principal made known to you who I am?
Marina. Who is my principal?
Lysimachus. Why, your herb-woman: she that sells seeds and roots of shame and iniquity. O, you have heard something of my power, and so stand aloof for more serious wooing. But I protest to thee, pretty one, my authority shall not see thee, or else look friendly on thee. Come, bring me to some private place. Come, come.
Marina. If you were born to honor, show it now;
If put upon you, make the judgment good
That thought you worthy of it.
Lysimachus. How now? How now? Say more. Be sage. (IV.vi.76ff)
Marina takes advantage of the opening, calling the brothel a “sty” selling diseases, where she has been placed by “ungentle fortune”; she would rather be “the meanest bird/That flies in the purer air” than stay in this “unhallowed place.” Lysimachus is moved: “I did not think thou couldst have spoke so well,/ Ne’er dreamt thou couldst” (99f).

After that, scholars have noted two very different versions of Lysimachus’s response. One comes from a 1608 prose version of the play by George Wilkins, Shakespeare’s likely collaborator in writing the play. Even though it is prose, much of it reads like blank verse, which leads some, e.g. Edwards (1976), to think these lines come from a lost original script of the play:

Lysimachus. Now surely this is virtue’s image, or rather virtue’s self, sent down from heaven a while to reign on earth to teach us what we should be. I hither came with thoughts intemperate, foul, and deformed, the which your pains so well have laved that they are now white. For my part, who hither came but to have paid the price, a piece of gold for your virginity, now give you twenty to relieve your honesty. (Edwards 1976, 23)

In the standard version of the play, from 1609, Lysimachus is less humble; he pretends not to have come for her virginity at all: “Had I brought hither a corrupted mind,/ Thy speech had altered it” (IV.6.101f ), but “I came with no ill intent; for to me/ The very doors and windows savour vilely” (107f). His honorable persona clashes so much with his desire that desire must take a back seat! He praises her as “a piece of virtue” (109) and doubts not “thy training hath been noble” (110). He lavishes money on her, promises that “If thou/ Dost hear from me, it shall be to thy good,” and curses anyone who would take her “goodness”—although he does not repeat this curse in the hearing of those who run the brothel. Considering that Marina later marries Lysimachus, the prose version (in blank verse) makes more dramatic sense: Marina would hardly marry such a hypocrite. It would be even worse if we took Lysimachus as being truthful, for then he would appear a cruel prankster, out to demean the woman’s reputation as the reluctant whore if he could. (It would be like a college fraternity prank I once heard about. A brother was assigned the task of secretly recording a woman “pleading for her virtue” against his attempts to seduce her. He was then to play the tape for the amusement of the assembled brothers.)

Now, for the parallel, I wish to return to the text quoted earlier, the Gnostic reinterpretation of Genesis. Having separated from her “shadowy reflection resembling herself” the female spiritual principle, which had become a tree, enters a snake on the tree. The snake, really the Goddess in disguise, persuades her shadowy reflection, the “carnal Eve,” to eat the fruit of that tree, and thereby gain knowledge. She and Adam both do so; what they learn is that they are “naked of the Spiritual Element,” and they cover themselves in fig leaves; knowledge of one's ignorance, of course, is for Gnostics the beginning of wisdom. At such Gnosis, knowledge, the Chief of the Authorities, the arrogant one--an epithet for Jehovah--scolds them for their disobedience. They leave the garden heavy with guilt, taken in by the ruler's browbeating, and the Authorities “defile” Eve for their pleasure. The fruits of such evil, such as Cain and Abel, are further disasters. But then Eve has a daughter, named Norea. I quote the text:
And again Eve became pregnant, and she bore Norea. And she said, "He has begotten on me a virgin as an assistance for many generations of mankind." She is the virgin whom the forces did not defile.
Then mankind began to multiply and improve....
The rulers went to meet her intending to lead her astray. Their supreme chief said to her, “Your mother Eve came to us.”
But Norea turned to them and said to them, “It is you who are the rulers of the darkness; you are accursed. And you did not know my mother; instead it was your female counterpart that you knew. For I am not your descendant; rather it is from the world above that I am come.” (Robinson 1988, 166)
This last speech could have been said by Marina, another “virgin whom the Forces did not defile,” whose spirit also opposes and confounds the dark world around her. Marina has an aura that is both human and beyond the human. In the Wilkins prose version, Lysimachus notices this in a sentence that strangely echoes the description of Norea in our Gnostic text: “Now surely this is virtue's image, rather virtue's self come down from Heaven a while to reign on earth to teach us what we should be.” In a nice touch, the BBC television version includes this significant sentence. The word “reign” suggests royalty, a kind of Queen in Heaven come to exercise her power on earth.

In the world of the play, Marina's association is with the goddess Diana, to whom she has prayed all her life and with whom her mother has many associations also. There were also the five elements at Marina's birth, suggestive of divine birth. Could the spirit of Diana have incarnated in Marina? The problem is that it is out of keeping with Diana's myth for her to appear in a brothel. She is too powerful to let that happen. Another possibility is that it is an oblique reference to the Virgin Mary, who in the Middle Ages was considered the Bride of Christ and hence a kind of royalty of heaven. This is certainly possible, given Shakespeare’s Catholic upbringing. And it is oblique enough to pass the censors. But Catholicism did not go so far as to put Mary physically in a brothel, subject to rape. The image of being thrown into a brothel does, however, apply to the Gnostics’ Norea; the authorities seduced Eve and are now after her. And Norea says what Marina would have said if she thought it would have helped: that she is not what she seems, she is actually, unknown to them all, from stock nobler than her jailers. The play expresses Gnostic myth in secular images.

After Marina's visit from Lysimachus, Boult and the Bawd are even more furious with her than they were before. “She sent him away cold as a snowball, saying his prayers too,” Boult complains (IV.vi.138ff). The Bawd berates her on her arrogance for thinking she can avoid going “the way of all women.” The implication is that there is no difference between prostitution and marriage. We can imagine what the argument would be. Each is a game of selling oneself for profit. Most women in those days had no choice whether or who to marry, that was done by their father, who often decided on the basis of what profits him most. And after marriage, if she wishes not to have sex, the Church tells her it is her duty, part of the “sacrament of marriage.” The bawd doesn't say this, but it is well-nigh implied.

Alone with Boult, Marina again demonstrates her ability to find her opponent's vulnerability. Boult is the opposite of Lysimachus: he is low-man on this very low totem pole. “Thou holdest a place/ For which the pained'st fiend of hell/ Would not in reputation change” (IV.vi.160ff). She reminds him of the abuse he puts up with from customers. “What would you have me do?” he asks, “Go to the wars? Where a man may serve seven years for the loss of a leg, and have not money enough in the end to buy him a wooden one?” (168ff). Marina says that even emptying latrines or helping a hangman would be more honorable. Then she offers him the proposition she's been building up to: she can make more money for the brothel teaching noble girls singing and weaving than she ever could the usual way. Boult can use her that way, and increase his own position as well. To sweeten the pot, she gives him the gold she got from Lysimachus. Boult loves the idea.


We come now to the denouement. While Marina gives lessons to noble girls, Pericles and his men wander about the Mediterranean coast, from port to port listlessly. They arrive at Mytilene for its annual feast of Neptune. Seeing the flag of Tyre, the governor pays the visitors a call.

In this scene, one of the most moving in Shakespeare, Pericles overcomes his depression through a gradual recognition that a girl sent to cheer him with her singing is in fact his daughter Marina. He arouses his interest when the girl, miffed by seeing her attempts to help rebuffed, says that she, too, has her sorrow, for she is separated from her noble parentage by the accidents of fortune. Like Norea in the Gnostic myth, Marina lets her interlocutor know that her birth is not what it seems. Pericles asks questions and realizes by her answers who she is. The whole play has been building toward this moment, which gains special significance by the particular words he uses. Pericles finally speaks, first to his trusted friend and then to the daughter he is sure he sees before him:
Pericles. O Helicanus, strike me, honour’d sir!
Give me a gash, put me to present pain,
Lest this great sea of joys rushing upon me
O’erbear the shores of my mortality,
And drown me in their sweetness. O, come hither,
Thou that beget’st him that did thee beget;
Thou that was born at sea, buried at Tarsus,
And found at sea again! O Helicanus!
Down on thy knees! thank the holy gods as loud
As thunder threatens us: this is Marina. (V.i.190-197)
These lines both indicate the birth of new life in Pericles’ depressed frame and also refer us back to the original riddle: Marina is daughter and mother both. There is a sense in which she is even his wife, for he said earlier:
Pericles. ...My dearest wife
Was like this maid, and such a one
My daughter might have been: my queen's square brows,
Her stature to an inch, as wand-like straight,
As silver-voic’d, her eyes as jewel-like
And cas’d as richly; in pace another Juno;
Who starves the ears she feeds, and makes them hungry
The more she gives them speech.... (V.i.106-113)
Pericles does more than merely compare her to his wife. It is speech, verbal intercourse between the two of them, that produces the new Pericles. He is the child of the relationship. Besides answering the riddle, Pericles' words fit the Gnostic verse to Sophia that I quoted earlier, terming her wife, mother, and daughter.

Moreover, Marinas responses to Pericles are reminiscent of the Gnostic female spiritual principle's teachings to Adam and Eve. Just as the snake’s words, when responded to by Adam and Eve, lead to the Knowledge, Gnosis, of ignorance and their regaining through the apple of the spirit Adam had lost, thanks to the Authorities, so Marina’s words bring Pericles to the knowledge he needs to regain his spirit, after the separation and ignorance caused by the envious Queen.

To Shakespeare's audience, the words “Thou that beget'st him that did thee beget” would have had religious overtones, referring to the central paradox of Christianity, that of God the Father also being the God the Son. In that Mary, like all of us, is part of the Father's creation, she is in that sense His daughter. She is also God's daughter in a more specific sense; the Marian cult of the Middle Ages had held that Mary, to be a pure vessel suitable for Christ, must have been born by Immaculate Conception--in other words, she, like Christ, had no human father. The resulting paradox would have been well known in Elizabethan England. In Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the Second Nun's Tale Prologue has a prayer to the Virgin Mary which begins, “Thow Mayde and Moodor, doghter of thy Sone...” Chaucer was echoing here the prayer to Mary in the final canto of Dante's Divine Comedy, which Chaucer had translated; the words in Italian for “daughter of your son” are “figlia del tuo figlio,” the nouns' similarity accentuating the paradox. Many hymns to Mary in the Latin Middle Ages spoke of her in similar terms; for example, James Torrens (1993, 255) tells us the words of O Gloriosum Virginum: “He who created you lies quiet/Nursing at your breast.” From this standpoint, we might revisit the idea of Marina as a Virgin Mary figure, in a spiritual sense. For although Mary would not physically be imagined in a brothel, her image would have been, for prayer and supplication; thus she could be thought of as spiritually present.

Yet Shakespeare's emphasis, I submit, is more akin to the Gnostic myth than that of orthodox Christianity, even with the additions that embellish Mary's rank. For the orthodox Catholic, Mary is a flesh and blood woman whom God picked as the vessel in which to incarnate himself. The miracle is God's, not Mary's. The same would be true of her Ascension. For Shakespeare, however, Marina is the miracle worker, not her father. Nor is Pericles a good model for God--God would never have been so ignorant or debilitated as Pericles. It is Marina who incarnates the Deity, in a secularized Gnosticism; she is the redeemer-figure, not the other way around, just as she is to the wayward souls who come to the brothel. And although missing her parents, she has not plunged into deep depression like Pericles. The brothel does parallel his depression; Marina, however, is the way out of brothel and depression alike. Moreover, the audience is identifying with him in the scene with Marina, feeling his all too human pain and joy. Marina, in contrast, is too controlled and unexpressive of her own emotion for us to identify with; she is distanced from us, like a god, or a psychotherapist. She has taken on the role of healer here, even though she is being healed as well.

In Gnosticism, in contrast to orthodox Christianity, either Christ or Sophia can be the redeemer-figure, depending on the myth and the context. Each is a deity--or figure of the unconscious--incarnated on earth. This androgyny of God also carries over to the imagery associated with various rituals, e.g. the communion wafer, which is both the body of Christ and the nurturance of the earth-- the grain, sacred in ancient times to the Goddess. In Jungian psychology the divine corresponds to aspects of the archetypal, or transpersonal, unconscious.

Marina as a divine female Sophia-figure corresponds to the anima (Latin for soul) in the unconscious of a man, which may be projected onto a flesh and blood woman or fleshed out in imagination, incarnated as a painting or a story, for example. For the individual whose “creation” she is, she is first a part of himself cut off from himself (like Eve from Adam), and later a bearer of new life. Such a figure is, as his creation, daughter; as the agent of his rebirth, she is mother; and as one whose spirit interacts with that of the individual to bring about the new life, she is wife.

In the play, likewise, Marina is for Pericles primarily a figure in his unconscious, for otherwise how could he grieve so much for someone he has not even known? She is not even conspicuous by her absence as long as his consciousness is otherwise engaged; and when he feels the need for his young, spontaneous, sensuous side to reawaken, he projects it upon a specific human being, now noticed as absent, causing a consciousness of soul-loss. When he finds her, however, his projecting finds fulfillment and is the means toward a new beginning. His ignorance has led to knowledge, Gnosis, achieved through dialogue, verbal intercourse, with the part of himself that he has lost.


Bloom (1998) has alluded briefly to the idea of Marina's being an image of the Gnostic Sophia. But for a developed exposition we must turn to the British poet Ted Hughes (1992), who compares the play's development to the Gnostic myth of Sophia’s fall and redemption, a myth that appears in many texts and many variations. The primordial spiritual pair, Depth and Silence, masculine and feminine aspects of the Divine Mystery, emanate a series of male/female pairs of divine beings or Aeons. Sophia, or Wisdom, is the youngest of these Aeons. She separates from her partner so as to seek union with the Divine Mystery, but since Sophia could not have survived the energy of the divine radiance, she is prevented from doing so; that part of her which represents her desire is cast into the darkness. She is thus split in two, one part remaining above, rejoined with her consort, and the other below.

According to Hughes, Sophia's suffering is due to her trying to know the Divine by intellect alone, the separated consciousness, which is an act of “hubris,” conceited pride (1992, 351). For Hughes, the same is true in Shakespeare's myth, which he first stated in his poem Venus and Adonis and which continues through his plays. In Shakespeare's poem, Adonis haughtily rejects Venus's overtures of love as really invitations to “lust's abuse” and “increase,” i.e. physical propagation, for which “every stranger” will do; but love is something higher, and it “to heaven is fled” (all quoted in Hughes, 1992 65). Hughes calls this attitude “prudish Puritan idealism,” to which Sophia’s yearning for the highest Divinity, rejecting her partner, is comparable. Venus’s revenge, in the myth, is to have Adonis thrown down to hell, killed by a boar, just as Sophia, the youngest daughter of the Divine Mystery, is cast by its will into the darkness.

Hughes applies this perspective to Pericles. There, he says, the comparable act of hubris is Pericles' spurning of Antiochus' daughter, as someone steeped in lust rather than love. Here I must part company with Hughes. Pericles does not run away from Antiochus and his daughter because she is too associated with physical sex. It is his discovery of the incest with her father that gives him pause.. Moreover, Antiochus would have had him killed had he stayed, and never intended him to take his daughter. In this context, her sensuality is a trap. But it is not sensuality as such, as we see in Pericles’ next romantic endeavor. Thaisa is obviously interested in procreation and the physical act of love. This is shown by her reply at her father's accusation that Pericles has been making improper advances to her. “Who takes offence at that would make me glad” (III.v.72). And the father is pleased by her reply. There is also the blessing that her father gives them, that after the wedding: “Then with what haste you can, get you to bed” (93). This is simply part of the general mood of the occasion. The difference is that this second relationship is one based at least on mutual respect as opposed to manipulation, domination, and destruction. In fact, Adonis's fear of Venus in Shakespeare's earlier poem has a similar source: she is the conqueror, and one skilled in her form of conquest, and he feels himself too young for her, his ego too undeveloped alongside her strength. As he tells her, “Before I know myself, seek not to know me” (Venus and Adonis, line 525). In the Sophia myth, likewise, it is precisely to prevent Sophia’s destruction through union with the more powerful father that her desire must be thrown into the darkness.

Yet I do think there is one aspect of Sophia’s action that does parallel Pericles' similar action and which might be considered hubris. Pericles' fault is not disdain for the physical, but rather that in marrying Thaisa and begetting a child he is not really relating to her except as she mirrors her father. He is looking upward, toward his higher possibilities, not alongside him to the individual who is sharing his life. And when he boards ship with his pregnant wife, he is thinking of his kingship, which includes having an heir, but not the present circumstances of his wife and her condition. It is in this way, yearning for higher things and being unrelated to one's partner in the present, that Pericles follows the myth of Sophia. As the myth implies, it may sometimes even be a necessary fault, in one whose ego feels undeveloped. The only way an ego develops is by making choices on its own. The result is that the hero, Sophia, Pericles, or Adonis, becomes separated physically from his or her relational emotions. Each becomes unrelated, and this affects the partner as well as we see Thaisa embarking on a self-contained life dedicated to Diana, goddess of virginity and herself an ancient symbol of feminine self-containment.

Hughes correlates Thaisa with Sophia above and Marina with Sophia below: The doubling of Pericles’ love-objects correlates neatly with the doubling of the feminine goddess in the Gnostic myth. Indeed, Thaisa leads a life devoted entirely to divine objects of love; to that extent she is a citizen of the eternal world. Meanwhile, Pericles leads his life in Tyre unrelated to either his spiritual soul, i.e. Thaisa, or the aspect of his soul that has been cast into an evil world, i.e. Marina. The result is that his lower soul, his blood-soul, we might call it, is in the hands of the demiurge's demons, in the hell of this world. One cannot walk away from relationship without consequences.

In the Sophia myth, this lower world comes to be from Sophia’s fear, grief, yearning, ignorance, and consternation. A similar process happens in our play. The sailors’ fear, Pericles' grief, his ignorance of the emotional world, and his yearning for his own kingdom all lead to Marina's predicament. Hughes rightly identifies the creatures of the demonic world. First come the sailors' superstitions about women, which fit in with Pericles’ own unconscious need by demanding Pericles' separation from his wife and child. Next are the envious Queen and her weak husband, in whose hands Pericles places the infant Marina There follows the Queen’s assassin and finally the denizens of the brothel. Such is Marina's world, quite similar to that of the lower Sophia who remains below with suffering humanity.

Hughes notes that the Gnostic demiurge, or creator God, is sometimes called “the Lion-faced.” He observes that Marina's would-be assassin is named Leonine, and in other late plays similar names are given to rulers who seek to destroy the divine feminine: In Cymbeline, the name is Posthumus Leonatus; in the Winter’s Tale, it is Leontes. We need not assume that Shakespeare knew the relevant Gnostic texts; the Lion in Renaissance astrology-based imagery was a common image of pride and savage willfulness, which nonetheless also appears as the image of the sun, kingship, and divinity (e.g. the Biblical “Lion of Judah”).

Hughes does not speculate on whether Shakespeare actually knew about the Gnostics. He certainly does not need to have done so. Yet the basic ideas were readily available in his time, in the unsympathetic summaries by the “Church Father” Irenaeus, published in Latin by Erasmus, whose writings Shakespeare often drew upon. For example, Irenaeus wrote, paraphrasing the myth of Sophia as presented by the Gnostic teacher Ptolemaeus:
Through Limit Sophia was purified and consolidated and restored to union with her partner. For when Desire had been separated from her, along with the passion which had come upon her, she herself remained with the Pleroma, but her Desire, with the passion, was separated and crucified by Limit. (Barnstone 1981, 612.)
“Limit” in the myth is a kind of gatekeeper who prevents even gods from pursuing illegitimate ambitions, in this case Thaisa's goal of finding another caring father in the preoccupied Pericles. In the myth, Limit would correspond to the tempest and Thaisa's apparent death, which separates her from her daughter just as the tempest separates the Desire of Sophia from the Sophia who is returned to the Pleroma, or spiritual world. Tempests mythologically are the work of the sea-god; often is portrayed as the son or consort of the Great Goddess, who does her bidding. In the play, Thaisa’s partner will eventually meet her there, by prompting of the Goddess herself, who must have been behind the tempest as well. In Irenaeus' paraphrase, the partner has the allegorical name of Will, this would seem an apt description of Pericles himself until his return to Tarsus.

Irenaeus’s paraphrase also includes the creation of the lower world out of Sophia’s passions:

From perplexity and anguish, as from a very ignoble source, came the corporeal elements of the universe—earth related to the stability of consternation, water related to the motion of fear, air related to the congelation of grief. Fire is immanent in all of them as death and decay, just as ignorance is hidden in the three passions. (Barnstone 1984, 618)

For Marina, this world of terror and death is the brothel, where Hughes (1992) says she finds her liberator, corresponding to Jesus in the Sophia myth. The redeemer-figure, he says, is Lysimachus, who helps Marina in her chosen profession and then unites her with her father. In so doing, after his change in attitude toward her, he has recovered his own soul, Hughes points out. The redeemer is first redeemed. Irenaeus does not tell this part of the Sophia story, but it is clearly indicated in the “Hymn of the Pearl,” a Gnostic parable which Hughes cites (where the hero's redeemer is a message-bearing eagle, coming from above). I would add only that in both the play and Gnostic myth, the Goddess-figure is as active and redeeming as the masculine figure who comes from above. Moreover, it is Pericles himself who completes Marina's redemption, by restoring her position in the community as a member of royalty. This is the most decisive of her redemptions, which of course is the first step of Pericles' redemption as well. It is a credit to Shakespeare's instincts that he makes the story one of mutual redemption, and on a series of levels, of which the most decisive is Marina with her father, which is Pericles' rebirth as well as the raising of Marina higher in the play's hierarchical world, until she herself becomes Queen. I will talk about these levels again at the end of this essay.


The play now returns to its original focus, Pericles, and in what happens next reinforces the notion of Pericles' rebirth and transformation. His natural tendency, based on everything in his conscious life up to then, would have been to go to Tarsus and take revenge upon his daughter's would-be murderers. But something intervenes. First, he hears music, the “music of the spheres,” as he calls it. This was the sound supposedly generated by the planetary spheres in their orbits around the earth. It was of an ethereal nature, only audible when the hearer was in a certain cosmic state. A correspondence was supposed to exist between the orbits of the seven planets (counting the sun and the moon but not the earth) and the seven notes of the musical scale. I think I have read that Kepler, Shakespeare's near contemporary, thought he was investigating this correspondence when he discovered the laws of planetary motion. (Kepler would have dropped the moon and added the earth as a planet; the sun then corresponds to the first note of the scale.)

Then Pericles goes to sleep and has a profound dream. The Goddess herself, Diana, appears to him and directs him to go to Ephesus, where her most famous temple was. It is a place also associated with the last days of the Virgin Mary. It is also the abode of that famous sculpture of Diana as many-breasted mother. Gnostically we could imagine the Goddess as the spirit that was with Marina, and still is with Thaisa, passing to him and manifesting itself in the dream.

As a result of the dream, Pericles drops his plan for revenge temporarily and obeys Diana. They go to Ephesus, where Thaisa, of course, recognizes Pericles; she faints “dead away,” as the saying goes. She had assumed he had died in the storm. This is a crucial moment:

Thaisa. Voice and favour!
You are, you are--O royal Pericles! [Faints]
Pericles. What means the nun? She dies, help, gentlemen! (V.iii.13-15)

A faint is a metaphorical kind of death, admittedly a brief one; hence the regaining of consciousness may constitute a rebirth; such is Thaisa's faint, a rebirth and transformation. Pericles is the agent of that death, from which Cerimon must once again revive her, but Pericles’ presence is also what transforms her, the rebirth. He is for her an inner figure--her animus, in Jungian terminology. Like Marina for Pericles, his reality had lain dormant in her unconscious until, as in the fairy tales (e.g. “Sleeping Beauty” or “Snow White”) her prince came to wake her up. Then, from recognizing him, she is led to recognize a feminine divine beyond the animus, personified in Marina.

In this way Pericles discovers his wife not only not dead, but figuratively reborn, just as he himself has been. Psychologically, this could be a husband's reunion with his wife, now reborn out of her solitary preoccupation with career or children, and after his preoccupation with the young female--whether in an affair, an attachment to the daughter, in art, or in therapy. If there has already been a divorce, or real death, there may be the marriage or attachment--in life, art, or therapy--to a new woman his own age--or a man, if he is so inclined. On a spiritual level, there would be attention to the Jungian Self--the hidden organizing principle or principles of the totality of the personality, unconscious and conscious alike--which can also be found without, in religion, art, etc. Some of the most urgent concerns of the old ego, such as revenge, drop away or are taken up by others (in the play, the people of Tarsus rise up and put their king and queen to death themselves).

The main transformative power in all this is Marina, Pericles’ anima-figure. She, as an inner figure come to life, is the one who allows for the connection to be made between the ego in this world and the divine world of dreams and myth. In Pericles’ case, the divine world appears to his ego as the music of the spheres and the dream, in which Diana leads him to his further fulfillment, his connection with the lost Thaisa, herself half in the spiritual world. The play follows what Jungian psychology says is the role of the anima: to be the agent of rebirth in a new connection to the Self, the inner equivalent of the sacred world. As such the anima appears in dreams and in artistic creations. If a man asks questions of such an imaginal object of his desire, he will discover that she is his own inner life; thereby she will restore him to life.

In myth and fairy tales, the girl leads the hero to the Wise Old Man. In Dante, correspondingly, the Virgin Mary leads Dante to the vision of God. The Wise Old Man here is Cerimon, whom Pericles meets at Ephesus, and as a result becomes whole. He himself, with Thaisa, can now return to their world of nobility and virtue as rulers of Pentapolis, the world of the enlightened demiurge. Meanwhile Marina goes to her father’s land, to rule in wholeness with Lysimachus as King and Queen of Tyre. In Jungian psychology, the anima leads toward the “ego-Self axis,” where Self is the perspective of the whole, i.e. an androgynous God. Similarly, in fairy tales, the girl marries the prince and “lives happily every after.” In Gnosticism the return to harmony is likewise signaled by the joining or rejoining of male and female pairs, the upper Sophia with Will and the lower Sophia with the Savior. Unusually in Western Culture, the good god behind the scenes has been imagined in feminine terms, as the Goddess Diana. Since all the other characters have arranged themselves in male/female pairs, perhaps we may assume that even the fiercely independent moon-goddess has her masculine counterpart. In alchemy, the moon-goddess’s consort was depicted as her brother, the sun-god Apollo.

What was Shakespeare's own inspiration for this radical perspective on the role of the divine feminine? In part, he had the culture's literary models to go on, such as Dante. Going further, I think, were features in England, such as his own Virgin Queen. Behind Dante there had been the Marian cult of the late Middle Ages, which followed in the wake of the troubadours' Cult of Courtly Love, which in turn arose in the context of the Cathar upsurge in Languedoc (today's southern France) and northern Italy of the 11th to 13th centuries. The Cathars were the last remnants of the ancient Gnostics, as a continuous tradition passed down from generation to generation (Quispel 2000). As to Shakespeare’s specific knowledge of the ancient Gnostics, from Irenaeus or other sources, we can only speculate. More respectably, another influence on Shakespeare was undoubtedly the “Wisdom” literature of the Old Testament (Bloom 2004), including the so-called Apocrypha, which personified Wisdom, Sophia in the Greek version, as the spouse of God, who was with him at the beginning and dwells with humanity even when God himself is apparently absent.

A more distant influence might have been the Sufi mystics of the Middle Ages. The Moslem faith had its own cult of the divine feminine, expressed by the Sufi mystics. The Prophet himself reputedly gave the terms “mother of her father” to his daughter Fatima al-Zahra, Fatima the Radiant (Corbin 1997, 40-41). This phrase of course is reminiscent of Dante's description of the Virgin Mary and Pericles' of Marina. It continued to provide food for meditation among Muslim mystics; Hallaj, for example, was alleged to have pronounced, “My mother gave birth to her father; that is a marvel indeed” (169). Jallaludin Rumi in a poem described woman as “Creator,” and “not the being whom sensual desire takes as its object,” not “creature” (160). Another mystic, Ibn Ben ‘Arabi, envisioned the divine in terms of a wise young girl, rather like Shakespeare's picture of Marina. Corbin has discussed these mystics eloquently.


One important context in which the Elizabethans understood spiritual transformation was that of alchemy. Elizabeth even had an alchemist on her payroll, the learned Dr. John Dee, Court Astrologer. I want to look briefly at one example in their literature, specifically the 1580’s translation, from Latin into English, of an alchemical poem written by George Ripley, alchemist to Edward IV in the years just before and after 1500. Called the Cantilena, the poem is about an old King who regenerates by returning to his mother's womb, dissolving there, and returning as a newborn. The child is compared to Christ, and his mother to the Virgin Mary. The poem can be seen as an allegory about Father, Son and Virgin. But it is also an alchemical allegory about the regeneration of the alchemist himself in an imaginal mother, projected upon the alchemists’ ovens and retorts, which burned substances black (corresponding to Pericles’ depression), dissolved them in solution (his tears and hers), and returned them, purified, to solid form. I give two verses, the first one spoken by the King:

Else I God's Kingdom cannot enter in;
And therefore, that I may be Borne agen,
I'’le Humbled be into my Mother's Breast.
Dissolve to my first matter, and there rest.
Then great with Child, nine months she languished
And Bath’d her with the Teares which she had shed
For his sweete sake, who from her should be Pluckt
Full gorg’d with Milke which now the Greene Lyon suckt.
(Quoted in Jung, 1970/1955, pp. 283, 311).

The color green, of course, symbolizes new life, just as black symbolizes death. In Ripley's poem, the image of the “Greene Lyon” leads to that of the “ruddy son,” where red is the red of the rising or reborn sun. Both mother and son ascend to heaven at the end of the poem.

I have already hinted at the application to Pericles. The queen in these verses would correspond to Marina, even though she is really the King's daughter. Then with Pericles as king, and Marina as queen, the process is Pericles’ dissolving into black “prima materia” when he thinks she is dead, and then being reborn from her womb as the “Greene Lyon” when he has found her. And in as much as his rebirth is the culmination of a process that began in Antioch and continued in Pentapolis, it could be said that those other kings’ daughters, of Antiochus and Simonides, have something of the queen or mother goddess about them as well. In the Gnostic/Alchemical distinction among body, soul, and spirit, each represents the goddess on a different level.

The application of the Cantilena to Shakespeare is not new. Scholars have already applied Ripley’s poem profitably to two of Shakespeare's plays, King Lear (Nicholl 1980) and All’s Well That Ends Well (Haley 1993). I think that the poem applies equally well to Hamlet, with Gertrude as the Mother in the poem. In Hamlet, as in Ripley’s poem, the regenerating womb of Gertrude is not so virginal, in that it has already given birth to the hero once. There are variations on the rebirth theme, and more than one mother goddess--Venus as well as Diana, for example. In Pericles, Thaisa has something of the mother goddess about her, in as much as she is the mother of Marina. In Shakespeare more generally, the mother goddess, the feminine agent of rebirth, appears in numerous guises, usually young ones: Lear’s daughters, for example, or Helena and Diana in All’s Well That Ends Well, Portia in Merchant of Venice, even Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. Regrettably it would take us too far afield to examine these examples here.


There is one final context I want to include which is useful for understanding the spiritual and Gnostic aspects of Pericles, namely, the English miracle play. Hoeniger (1963) has summarized the important points in his introduction to the Arden edition of the play. Miracle plays, popular both in England and on the continent, were dramatic spectacles illustrating the lives of the saints. Going loosely from episode to episode and based on legend rather than scripture, these plays acted out numerous supernatural occurrences demonstrating divine grace. One play in particular corresponds loosely with Pericles, Hoeniger points out, namely, the Digby play of Mary Magdalene. It begins by describing the Satanic rule of Emperor Tiberius, who corresponds roughly to the evil incestuous king Antiochus in Pericles. Mary Magdalene is shown as being seduced by these Satanic forces and as being redeemed by Jesus, who also raises her brother Lazarus from the dead. There is a loose parallel between these events and the redemption of Marina and her father. Then in the second part, Mary receives a vision in which Christ tells her to go by ship to Marcyll (Marseilles), to convert the Muslim king. She successfully follows the vision, and as a result of conversion the Muslim queen's desire to be with child is miraculously fulfilled. The couple undertakes a journey to the Holy Land, but the queen dies during childbirth in the midst of a violent storm. The sailors demand that both Queen and child be placed on a nearby rock--the similarity to Pericles is evident. The King is baptized by Peter in the Holy Land; then, as Hoeniger describes it, “On the return voyage he discovers his babe unharmed on the rock, and his wife suddenly returns to life as if from a trance. They return joyfully, and bless Mary Magdalene, who exhorts them to lead a steadfast Christian life” (1963 xc). This plot does not have the two generations and other details of Pericles deriving from the Greco-Roman tale, but the borrowing of features having to do with powers greater than humanity--the storm, the rebirths--is evident. And the change in deities from the Christian God to the Greco-Roman pantheon is typical of the Renaissance, Hoeniger points out.

Of special interest here is the character of Mary Magdalene, who has both the humanity and the spiritual power possessed by Marina in Pericles. The conversion of the king of Marseilles is reminiscent of Marina's conversion to virtue of Lysimachus in the brothel. The brothel of course suggests the pre-conversion life of Mary herself, as portrayed by orthodox Christianity. In Gnosticism, Mary Magdalene is an even more powerful spiritual figure than in orthodox Christianity. In the Gnostic Gospel of Mary, not only is she the person to whom Jesus appears first after his resurrection, but she is privy to teachings from Jesus that the other disciples are not. She is clearly one of the disciples, even an especially favored one, a fact that irritates Peter, as the Gospel of Mary relates. The same irritation occurs even more strongly in the Gospel of Thomas. When Peter says, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.” Jesus replies, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males” (Robinson 1988, 138). At that time, among both Jews and Gentiles, masculinity was considered inherently more spiritual than femininity, which was associated with the earth and matter. The Gospel of Thomas is choosing not to challenge that premise, but rather the assumption that therefore women cannot be as spiritual as men, by saying that women can make themselves male: “Every woman who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus concludes. Perhaps he is saying not simply that women can be as spiritual as men, but also that they can have other qualities typically associated with men: They can hold their own in a sinful world as well as men, and as forcefully, without succumbing to the archonic forces that work against one. The Gnostic writings say nothing of any former life for Mary as a prostitute; she is simply a strong woman as worthy of being a disciple as any man. In that capacity, reminiscent also of the Gnostic Norea, she is a worthy model for Shakespeare’s Marina.


Philosophically, the play leaves us with several impressions. First, there is the generally negative view toward humanity as a bundle of uncontrolled passions, like a sea in which the big fish are simply those who have eaten the most little fish, i.e. the most powerful are simply the most greedy. The exceptions, like King Simonides, shine through in a way that is discernible even to men devoted to their appetites. The general picture is one of lights shining individually in a larger darkness in which they are trapped. The world per se is not evil, and the people in it are, many of them, redeemable. In this regard the world of Pericles does not differ from that of orthodox Medieval Christianity. Where the difference lies is in the portrayal of the redeeming force; Shakespeare's world conceives at least one of its forms as the incarnation of the divine feminine principle, not as simply a receptacle of the redeemer or an intercessor to him but as a transformative agent in her own right, a bearer of light when manifested by the imagination, bringing about the individual's rebirth. All this is reminiscent both of Jungian psychology and of ancient texts of the Gnostic Sophia working to open humanity's eyes in a world dominated by evil.

To this general summary I would add some final observations. First I want to compare the world of the play to the world of Gnostic texts. In Pericles, the body and the natural world are not inherently evil, for marriage with sex is to be sought and the world to be enjoyed; it is rather humanity's appetites plus the gift of an uncommon ability to satisfy them that when unrestrained fouls our world. Whether such a viewpoint is held by our Gnostic texts, which tend to speak of matter in general as something to be overcome, is not clear. What I think is clear is that often evil is not chosen by the individual, a choice of evil over good as in orthodox Christianity's version of “original sin.” It is rather--e.g. for the daughter of Antiochus, for the King of Tarsus, or even for Lysimachus--a situation in which one finds oneself and which takes special endowments, effort, insight, or teaching to overcome. This, too, is a Gnostic insight about our world, reflected in the difference between the Gnostic and orthodox versions of the Garden of Evil myth. In the former, humanity finds itself in a world made by forces of darkness and kept ignorant of its true home and destiny by those forces; in the latter, humanity is in a benevolent world and chooses evil of its own arrogant free will. Shakespeare's world in Pericles, with some ambivalence, is the former; and I hope the continued popularity of his works reflects a growing realization that, at least metaphorically, it is our world as well.

The second topic I wish to end with is the Jungian equivalent of the Gnostic perspective. The play is about the maturation of the anima, or unconscious image of the feminine in a man. Jung (1966/1946) gave four stages of the anima. I will describe them from the perspective of what kind of offspring each would produce for him. The lowest image, which Jung calls Eve, produces a biological child, from a biological attraction. The second, Jung's “medium” or “medial woman,” who responds to his unconscious side in all its complexity, and has his own unconscious as her product, laid out before him. The third stage, that of the Virgin Mary, produces the divine child, in whom there is no evil. Lastly is the wisdom-figure, Sophia, who gives him the mystery of his own being, integrating the previous stages in all their contradictoriness. .

Our play has anima-figures on all four levels, not exactly the same as Jung’s but close. Each is an inner product, fathered by the individual at that particular level. First, the anima as the longed-for powerless sex object; this of course is the daughter incestuously related to by Antiochus. It corresponds to the hylic, or material, level of humanity. The second level is the anima as that which provides access to the admired ideals of consciousness and rationality, i.e. the princess who is daughter to the divinely guided inner king. That, of course, is Thaisa, corresponding to the psychic man or the ordinary Christian or Jew, who aspires to a nobility recognized by reason.

What corresponds in our play to Jung’s “medial woman,” who lays out a man’s unconsciousness for him? Jung seems to have seen her as an intuitive interpreter of a man’s unconscious, revealing to him things of which he himself is unaware. In that sense, Diana in the dream would be Pericles’ medial woman. But it seems to me there are less exalted examples as well, even negative ones. In our play, there is Dionyza, the jealous foster-mother, whom Pericles picks to care for the infant Marina. Her name suggests the female followers of Dionysus, who in Greek myth did violent acts in unconscious frenzies, such as dismembering their own sons (as portrayed in Euripides’ The Bacchae). Dionyza responds to Pericles’ unconscious abandonment of his child by abandoning her herself, in the most extreme sense. What actually happens is something of which she is unconscious, yet which furthers the theme of abandonment even more, in ways leading to transformation. In Shakespeare, other examples might be King Lear’s eldest daughters, who respond to his unconscious needs for admiration and then, by rejecting him, unconsciously set the stage for his transformation. The witches in Macbeth , and Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra, might also fit this model.

Marina, of course, is the last stage, corresponding to Sophia. As an image, she is a product of both the world of ideals and of the unconscious, for it is by a series of unconscious acts that she is thrown into the world of matter at its lowest, circumstances which correspond to those of the lower Sophia. Psychologically, she is the product of the interaction between reason and the unconscious; she is the unconscious as sorted out, purified through successive creations of the unconscious and the reflection upon such creations, such as a Jungian might produce in active imagination.

I have been telling all of this as though the play were made to be seen only by men. Despite just such prejudices in the reign of James I, Shakespeare learned his craft under the rule of Elizabeth. So let us try to look at the play from the perspective of a woman. Just as the anima can be characterized in terms of the father’s image of the father, the animus can be thought of in terms of the daughter's image of the father. She is dependent but seductive for the image of the biological father She is graceful but independent-minded for the noble father. She resourceful and faithful to an inner idealized image for the absent idealized father. Others can then recognize these animus-traits. Lysimachus sees Marina in all three ways; that is her attraction for him. Despite his obvious conventionality, he is in a position to see and love them all, and is thereby worthy of being her mate.


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