queens bear a sad tale to Theseus, Duke of Athens: .......Cruel
Creon, ruler of Thebes, has killed their husbands. Furthermore, he refuses
them a decent cremation to "urn their ashes." With Theseus are his Amazon
bride, Hippolyta, and her sister, Emilia. All three sympathize with the
queens, and Theseus vows vengeance. When war clouds gray the sky, they
disrupt the lives of two noble kinsmen, Arcite and Palamon, the very best
of friends. Although they are cousins of Creon, they loathe him passionately.
Creon is bad news. Nevertheless, when Creon calls them to arms to fight
the forces of Theseus, they bow to honor and duty and take up arms. Theseus
wins the war, and the three queens get to incinerate their husbands. After
the battle, Theseus reports that two enemy soldiersArcite and Palamonfought
with great valor and ferocity.
th' helm of Mars, I saw them in the war,
to a pair of lions smear'd with prey,
lanes in troops aghast. . . .
orders his best surgeons to tend to their wounds, declaring, "Their lives
concern us much more than Thebes is worth." Nevertheless, because they
are enemies, he jails them. At the prison, the jailer's daughter casts
a roving eye upon Arcite and Palamon, who ripple with youthful good looks,
and says, "It is a holiday to look on them." While keeping company with
the walls of their cell, the two
men remain in good cheeruntil they espy Theseus' sister, Emily, in a garden
below their cell window. She is the vision of visions, with enough beauty
to blind the sun. Both men fall in love with her at first sight, then commence
fighting over her. "I saw her first," Palamon says. When Arcite stakes
his claim, their friendship disintegrates, and Palamon threatens to brain
Arcite with his shackles. Before they come to blows, the jailer hauls Arcite
off to the duke, who banishes him from Athens. Palamon remains behind in
the cell. While in exile in a forest near Athens, Arcite keeps thinking
about Emilia. Unless he acts fast, he decides, Palamon will have her all
to himself. Meanwhile, the jailer's daughter falls hopelessly in love with
Palamon and frees him. He takes refuge in the same forest that hides Arcite.
the forest, Arcite encounters a lively group of countrymen scheduled to
perform in games of wrestling and running before the duke in Athens. After
they leave, Arcite disguises himself, catches up with them, and joins their
company so that he can re-enter Athens and glimpse lovely Emilia. When
he wrestles and runs in the games, still in disguise, his performance is
so extraordinary that the duke, Emilia and Hippolyta shower accolades upon
him. Later, after returning to the forest, he encounters Palamon in shackles,
weary and hungry. The former friends wag wicked tongues against each other
as they again declare their love for Emilia and vow to fight for the right
to woo her. However, Arcite generously allows Palamon to rest up and regain
his strength. What is more, Arcite promises to bring him food and drink.
The lovesick jailer's daughter, meanwhile, combs the forest for Palamon.
So intense is her yearning for him that she goes mad. In her pitiable state,
she is not unlike Arcite and Palamon: They, too, are madly in love with
a person they hardly know.
Arcite returns with meat and wine to rejuvenate Palamonand files to remove
his shacklesthey renew their fight over Emilia. In another part of the
forest, the countrymen recruit the mad jailer's daughter, who has demonstrated
her ability to dance. They believe she would make an entertaining addition
to their troupe. When the duke and his entourageincluding Emilia and Hippolytaenter
the forest to hunt deer, the countrymen appear and perform a lively dance.
Nearby, Arcite and Palamon are about to cross swords when the duke happens
upon them and says,
ignorant and mad malicious traitors,
you, that gainst the tenor of my laws
making battle, thus like knights appointed,
my leave, and officers of arms?
Castor, both shall die.
kinsmen readily admit their crimes (violation of the decree of exile and
escape from jail). But they also disclose that their crimes had a common
cause, a noble cause: their love for the fair Emilia. Both want to be close
to her. Both want to win her. Both are willing to die fighting for her.
Their story touches Emilia and Hippolyta, and the duke decrees that Emilia
must choose between them. The man not chosen must die. Arcite says:
she refuse me, yet my grave will wed me,
soldiers sing my epitaph.
tells the duke she cannot choose between them because "They are both too
excellent." The duke then orders the kinsmen to return in a month for a
contest of strength. The winner gets Emilia; the loser gets beheaded. On
the day of the contest, the struggle shifts back and forthnow favoring
one, now favoring the other. In the end, Arcite wins. As Palamon prepares
to lay his head on the chopping block, he inquires about the fate of the
jailer's daughter and learns that she is to marry a wooer (disguised as
Palamon). Then news comes that Arcite, while "trotting the stones of Athens"
on his horse, fell off and suffered mortal injury. Before dying, he reconciles
with Palamon and bequeaths him Emilia, saying Palamon was the better match
for Emilia all along. Athens then prepares for a wedding and a funeral.
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Characters........................................................................................................................ . Theseus: Duke of
Athens. Hippolyta: Amazon
bride of Theseus. Emelia: Sister of
Hippolyta. Palamon, Arcite: Two
noble kinsmen captured by Theseus in a battle against the forces of Creon.
While in captivity, the two men, the best of friends, both fall in love
with fair Emelia. This development puts them at odds. Three Queens: Widows
who complain to Theseus that Creon killed their husbands. Jaylor (Jailer):
Keeper of the prison holding Palamon and Arcite. Jaylor's Daughter:
Young woman who falls for Palamon. Jaylor's Brother and
Friends Emelia's Woman: Attendant
of Emlia. Three Valiant Knights Hymen: Torch-bearer
at the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. Nymphs: Participants
in the wedding. Nel: Freckled woman. Master Gerrold: Schoolmaster. Valerius, Perithous Other Characters: Herald,
gentleman, messenger, servant, wooer, keeper, doctor, countrymen, wenches,
taborer (Drummer). . Authorship
Shakespeare and playwright John Fletcher jointly wrote The Two Noble
Kinsmen. It is uncertain how much of the play Shakespeare wrote, but
the best conjecture indicates that he completed Acts I and V and Fletcher,
the other three acts. It is not known which author broached the idea of
writing a collaborative play.
Two Noble Kinsmen takes place in Athens. Greece, and surrounding woods.
The presence of Theseus and Hippolyta indicates that the time is the age
of myth, but the chivalric ideals suggest a later time. The play, therefore,
has a timeless, fairytale atmosphere.
Dates and Sources
Written: Between 1612 and 1614
Knight's Tale" in TheCanterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer
(1340?-1400). The Two Noble Kinsmen follows Chaucer's story closely,
retaining many of the principal characters and much of the plot. Shakespeare
also drew upon the following sources: Il Teseida, by Boccaccio (1313-1375);
Greek mythology, including the account of Creon's refusal to allow Antigone,
daughter of Oedipus, to bury her brother Polynices
Printing: 1634 as part of a quarto edition.
The climax occurs when Arcite
defeats Palamon in the contest for the hand of Emilia.
Theseus, the son of the king
of Athens, was one of the great heroes of ancient Greek mythology. While
still a teenager, he slew villains and monsters menacing the environs of
Athens. Later, in a famous adventure, he killed the Cretan minotaur, a
creature that was half-man and half-bull, and participated with Jason in
the quest for the Golden Fleece. After his father died, Theseus ruled Athens
wisely, showing compassion for the downtrodden, and helped unify the people
of Attica, in southeastern Greece. Although married to a woman named Phaedra,
he captured the Amazon queen Hippolyta and fathered a child by her. Later,
Hippolyta died fighting at the side of Theseus.
Was John Fletcher?
John Fletcher (1579-1625)
was an English playwright who wrote for various acting companiesincluding
the Kings Men, the same company for which Shakespeare wrotebetween the
early 1600's (probably beginning between 1604 and 1607) and the year of
his death, 1625. He sometimes collaborated with the dramatist Francis Beaumont
and other writers, including William Rowley, Nathan Field, Philip Massinger,
and, apparently, Shakespeare. He may also have collaborated with Ben Jonson
and George Chapman. Fletcher generally focused more on plot twists than
character development to generate audience interest. Among the notable
plays he wrote without collaboration are The Loyall Subject, The Faithfull
Shepheardesse, A Wife for a Moneth, The Chances, The Wild Goose Chase,
The Mad Lover, The Humourous Lieutenant, Rule a Wife and Have a Wife, Women
Pleasd, and The Island Princesse. Among the notable plays he
wrote with Beaumont are A King and No King, Philaster, and The Maides
Tragedy. Fletcher died in London of plague.
1:Love can breed enmity. Palamon and Arcite become bitter rivals
when they both fall in love with Emilia. Shakespeare developed a similar
theme in The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
2:Friendship and gallantry triumph over rivalry and bitterness.
Palamon and Arcite reconcile at the end of the play.
Two Noble Kinsmen is a tragicomedy. One of the central characters,
Arcite, dies in an accident after winning the hand of Emilia. The other
main character, Palamon, then marries Emilia.
of Words in Complete Text: 29,375.