The Queen Thaisa bears Pericles’ daughter, Marina, at sea and is consequently presumed lifeless following childbirth (as was common in Shakespeare’s day). Pericles laments, “O you gods! Why do you make us love your goodly gifts, and snatch them straight away?” The storming waters cause the sailors to panic and demand that the Queen’s body go overboard; they are superstitious and believe the turburlent waters will refuse to abate; Pericles immediately calls them out on their illogical thinking, yet the sailors are headstrong and not-to-be-changed; Pericles has no choice but to relent. He offers a farewell to Thaisa that is simply heartbreaking;
A terrible childbed hast thou had my dear
No light, no fire, The unfriendly elements
Forgot thee utterly! Nor have I time
To give the hallowed to thy grave, but straight
Must cast thee, scarcely coffin’d, in the ooze…
Lying with simple shells
he then requests three items to give her the most dignified burial he can; spices, to give pleasant aroma to her casket, ink and paper, to facilitate a solemn appeal for her burial, [should the casket be retrieved from the waters] and jewels, to fund the dignified burial that she so deserves. Pericles writes thus:
Here I give to understand,
If e’er this coffin drives-land,
I, King Pericles, have lost
This queen, worth all our mundane cost.
Who finds her, give her burying;
She was the daughter of a king.
Besides this treasure for a fee,
The gods requite his charity!
Although he had no expectation of ever seeing her again after the sailors put Thaisa overboard, Pericles reserved a modicum of hope that she might be found and revived.
Miraculously, her case does indeed wash ashore; and even more miraculously, she manages to cling to life through the tempestuous waters.
Pericles and Thaisa are ultimately reunited almost twenty years later, and Pericles thanks the gods most robustly:
“You gods, your present kindness makes my past miseries sports.”
In a moment of overwhelming joy he bids her, “Come, be buried a second time within these arms.”
Shakespeare is teaching us the magnitude and power the force of hope can hold. Pericles had every reason to resign to what appeared to be a foregone conclusion, but with what hope he kept, close within his heart, it grew most beautiful into the gift of a miracle.