Gower enters to set the stage for Act II.
Pericles, who is yet in Tharsus, receives a letter from a messenger. Helicanus, his deputy, writes of Thaliard’s arrival in Tyre, of his intent to murder Pericles. He writes that it is no longer safe for Pericles to stay in Tharsus. And so Pericles sets out to sea. Alas, a raging tempest renders Pericles the lone survivor who is washed up on a unfamiliar shore.
The lone survivor of a shipwreck, Pericles chides the gods for trifling with his life, and begs them for an uneventful death which if they’ll grant him now will prove to be a boon as he has lost everything that was of any value. Pericles is thus beside himself with resignation when he encounters three fishermen. Their talk about the similarity of a fish’s life at sea as compared to a man’s life on land is so profound that Pericles engages them, asking them in a roundabout manner for some help for a man who has survived a shipwreck. Their goodwill proves to be bounteous and Pericles is reflecting on their cheerful dispositions which he finds exceedingly comforting when one of the fisherman beckons everyone to come and see what their net has hauled from the sea. It is an armor which Pericles recognizes as the one his father had bequeathed him and which he thought he had lost forever. Having explained its significance, Pericles gains possession of the armor and then explains to the fishermen what he intends to do with it. Earlier, one of the fisherman had informed Pericles that fortune had brought him to Pentapolis which is governed by King Simonides. Apparently, Simonides has a daughter for whom the king will host a jousting tournament to which princes and knights will come to compete for the king’s daughter’s love. Well, Pericles will count himself among the contestants for the king’s daughter’s love, and if he succeeds he will recompense the fishermen handsomely for their kindness and goodwill.
It is Thaisa’s birthday, the day of the jousting tournament wherein knights and princes will vie for her love. The knights present themselves, making a point to show their shield’s pictorial design and motto. The first knight, who hails from Sparta, for example, shows a shield bearing the picture of a black Ethiopian reaching at the sun and the motto Lux tua vita mihi, which means Thy light is life to me. There are knights from Antioch and Macedon with the mottos The crown of triumph has led me on and More by gentleness than by strength, respectively. And there is Pericles who bears on his shield the picture of a withered branch and the motto In hac spe vico, which means In this hope I live. Pericles’ aspect is so drab that the lords of Pentapolis wonder if he indeed is a knight and not a cart driver, and predict that he will be easily felled and defeated by his opponent.
Subsequent to the jousting tournament, a banquet is being held in honor of the knights. Thaisa hands Pericles the wreath of victory in token of his superior skills in jousting. Simonides congratulates Pericles who belittles his accomplishment, calling it more luck than skill. Still, Pericles is given the seat of honor which he reluctantly accepts.
Pericles thinks to himself how like his father Simonides is, the King of kings, a man head and shoulders above the others. Meanwhile, Thaisa finds herself unable to eat so preoccupied is she with thoughts of Pericles who she finds exceptional.
Simonides, who would like nothing better than all the knights to have a wonderful time, notices Pericles’ melancholy and orders her daughter to cheer him up and to find out who is, where he is from, and who is parents are. By and by, Simonides learns that the melancholy knight is named Pericles, that he is from Tyre, and that his current circumstances are the result of a shipwreck that has deprived him of all his men and means. To dispel Pericles’ melancholy, Simonides prompts a bout of dancing where all the knights, including Pericles, are impelled to participate in. The dancing done, Simonides praises Pericles, and then shows Pericles his sleeping quarters, which like his seat at the banquet is the most honored.
Helicanus is relating unto his fellow peer, Escanes, of the truth behind the deaths of Antiochus and his daughter. Apparently, they had been struck down by lightening with the result that their bodies are giving off such bad odors that the people who had adored them while they were alive are refusing to bury the bodies lest their hands make contact with unholy flesh. And all this, Helicanus tells Escanes, is the result of incest which Antiochus had long practiced with his daughter.
Anon, Helicanus is mobbed by the lords of Tyre. They are at their wits ends with regards Pericles’ absence and would like to resolve the situation by proclaiming Helicanus their new sovereign. Helicanus dissuades them from adopting such a radical policy, however, and urges them to give Prince Pericles 12 more months to reclaim his throne. Or, if they would like to take a more active role in finding out the Prince’s fate, to go and search the known world for definitive news with regards the Prince. The lords agree to this proposal.
King Simonides informs the knights that his daughter Thaisa has decided, for some inexplicable reason, to remain a chaste maid for a twelve month period, indefinitely postponing her selection of a husband. Disappointed, the knights leave. The exception is Pericles to whom Simonides presents a letter which Thaisa has presumably written and in which she states her abiding love for Pericles. The letter is a forgery, however, and Pericles calls Simonides’ bluff. Siminodes maintains that the letter is genuine, however, and blames Pericles for seducing his daughter. Pericles denies the King’s accusation and states his willingness to stake his life on his innocence, which pleases Simonides as he is testing his future son-in-law. Presently, Thaisa appears, and Simonides takes the opportunity to marry off the two who are in actuality madly in love with one another.