The medieval poet John Gower returns from the grave to tell the story of Pericles, Prince of Tyre.
King Antiochus offers his daughter's hand in marriage to any man who answers his riddle, with those who fail sentenced to death. Pericles hears the riddle and understands that it is a trick, where revealing the truth of the king's incestuous relationship with his daughter will also result in death. He flees the city, but Antiochus sends an assassin after him.
Pericles travels to Tarsus to provide food for the city in famine. He then sets sail again and suffers a shipwreck. He is rescued by fishermen and finds out that King Simonides will offer his daughter Thaisa in marriage to whoever wins a jousting contest. Pericles wins and the pair marry.
After finding out that Antiochus is dead, Pericles sets sail for Tyre to reclaim his throne with Thaisa, now pregnant with their first child. During a storm, Thaisa dies giving birth to a daughter and is buried at sea. Pericles lands at Tarsus and entrusts his baby daughter, christened Marina, to the care of Governor Cleon and his wife Dionyza. Thaisa's coffin lands at Ephesus, where she is revived by the doctor Cerimon. She enters the temple of Diana as a nun.
Fourteen years pass and Marina has grown up to be a beautiful young woman. Her stepmother, Dionyza, is envious and arranges her murder, only for her to be abducted by pirates who sell her into a brothel in Mytilene, where her chastity proves bad for business. Lysimachus, the governor, visiting the brothel in disguise, is greatly impressed by her.
Stop reading now if you don't want to know how it ends.
Pericles, still wandering the seas, arrives by chance at Mytilene, where his ship is visited by Lysimachus. He has Marina brought aboard the ship in an attempt to rouse Pericles from his sorrows. When their conversation reveals her to be his daughter, Pericles is overjoyed. In a dream, the goddess Diana directs him to make sacrifice at her temple in Ephesus and they set sail to accomplish this final act.