The Queen gives birth to Pericles’ daughter, Marina, at sea; the queen is then presumed dead, as was common in Shakespeare’s day, at childbirth. Pericles laments, “O you gods! Why do you make us love your goodly gifts, and snatch them straight away?” The strong storm at sea makes the sailors demand that the Queen’s body must go overboard; they are superstitious and believe the turburlent waters will refuse to abate otherwise. Pericles immediately calls them out as this is merely their own superstition, yet the sailors are headstrong and not-to-be-changed; Pericles has no choice but to cooperate. 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 some items to give her the most dignified burial he can; spices, to give a pleasant aroma to her casket, ink and paper, to facilitate the composition of a solemn appeal for her burial, [should the casket be retrieved from the waters] and jewels, to fund a burial fitting the virtuous woman born a princess. 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, because the sailors wanted her overboard straightaway merely after presuming her dead, Pericles reserved a modicum of hope that she might be found and revived.
Miraculously, her case does indeed washe ashore; and even more miraculously, she managed to cling on to life through the tempestuous waters.
Pericles and Thaisa are ultimately reunited almost twenty years later, 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 how powerful a force hope can be. 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 beautifully into the gift of miracle.