The poet Gower introduces the story and provides a commentary throughout. Antiochus has a riddle which any prince seeking the hand of his daughter has to solve, though the penalty for solving it is death, for the riddle reveals Antiochus's incest with his daughter.
Pericles of Tyre interprets the riddle, but returns home, realizing his danger. Antiochus then sends Thaliard to kill him. Pericles puts his friend Helicanus in charge of Tyre, and leaves until he can safely return. Pericles arrives at Tarsus, and brings food to the starving town.
Continuing his voyage, he is shipwrecked, and washed up on the shores of Pentapolis. With the help of fishermen who rescue him, he goes to Simonides' court to enter a tournament as suitor to Thaisa. He wins her heart, but Simonides feigns disapproval to test Pericles, before approving of their marriage.
In Tyre, civil unrest is brewing, as Pericles has been away for so long. Helicanus is persuaded that, if Pericles does not return within a year, he should become lord of Tyre. Receiving this news, Pericles leaves for Tyre. In the middle of a storm, the pregnant Thaisa gives birth to Marina. Thaisa appears to die, and is put overboard in a chest. Pericles then makes for Tarsus. He leaves his daughter and her nurse Lychorida in the care of Cleon and Dionyza, and returns to Tyre.
The box containing Thaisa washes up on the shores of Ephesus. There Cerimon revives her, and, thinking she will never see Pericles again, she becomes a nun at Diana's temple.
Marina develops to outshine Cleon's daughter, Philoten. Dionyza, jealous of Marina, tells Leonine her servant to murder her. As he is about to kill her, Marina is captured by pirates, who take her to Mytilene and sell her to Pander and Bawd, who intend to use her as a prostitute.
Cleon reluctantly agrees to pretend that Marina died naturally. Pericles, returning to Tarsus to fetch Marina, is distraught at the news. Pander and Bawd are horrified when Marina keeps persuading her intended customers that what they are trying to do is wrong. The governor Lysimachus attempts to use her, but she gets him to see the error of his ways. She persuades Boult, the servant of Pander and Bawd, to let her earn them money in decent work.
Pericles and Helicanus arrive in Mytilene, and are greeted by Lysimachus. Helicanus explains how Pericles has withdrawn into himself since he heard of his daughter's death. Lysimachus thinks he knows a maid who will be able to help him. Marina is brought, and makes Pericles speak to her. She reveals her name, and Pericles realises she is his daughter.
Overcome by joy he falls asleep, whereupon he is visited by the goddess Diana, who tells him to go to her temple in Ephesus and tell his story there. He gives his blessing to a marriage between Marina and Lysimachus, and they leave for Ephesus, where Cerimon reveals the temple nun to be Thaisa.
Thaisa reports that her father has died, so Pericles returns with her to Pentapolis to rule, leaving Lysimachus and Marina to rule in Tyre.