The Two Noble Kinsmen

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William Shakespeare edited by Lois Potter

DOI: 10.5040/9781408160091.00000005
Acts: 5. Scenes: 24. Roles: Male (17) , Female (3) , Neutral (0)

Shakespeare and Fletcher rewrite Chaucer’s A Knight’s Tale as a tragicomedy of the limits of chivalry and friendship. Other than discussing the mechanics of the collaboration, critics have examined the play’s treatment of heroism and chivalry, its attitudes to courtly love and sex, its use of Chaucer, and its abrupt reversals and generic ambivalence.

The play is generally dated to 1613-14. This text is based on the 1634 Quarto – the play was not included in the First Folio of Shakespeare’s works.

In Athens, the wedding of King Theseus and Hippolyta is interrupted by three queens, who beg Theseus to make war on Thebes’s ruler Creon, who will not allow them to bury their husbands who were killed in battle. The Theban cousins Palamon and Arcite are resolved to fight for Thebes, despite their hatred of Creon. They are both wounded in the battle, which Theseus wins; they are captured by the Athenians.

From their prison, they see Emilia walking in a garden, and both fall in love with her. Arcite is released and banished by Theseus; he disguises himself and triumphs at a sporting competition, allowing him to meet Emilia. Palamon is released by the Jailer’s Daughter, who has fallen deeply in love with him; he hears Arcite boasting of his meeting with Emilia and they agree to a duel. Theseus, coming across them, declares a tournament instead, at which the winner will marry Emilia and the loser will be executed. Arcite is victorious, but is thrown from his horse, and Theseus declares that Palamon will marry Emilia instead.

The Daughter, who has been driven mad by her love for Palamon, appears to be cured when her devoted Wooer dresses up as him.