The Two Noble Kinsmen
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
THE TWO NOBLE KINSMEN
This first scene is sometimes considered Shakespeare’s (Bloom 694), but Van Doren considers it “imitation” (esp. III.i.4-11):
The lines are charming in their oddity rather than beautiful in their strength; the syntax is wrenched, the syllables are curled, for no discoverable reason. The quaint series of little triumphs grows tiresomely long. (Van Doren 292)
During the “a-Maying,” Arcite wonders if he’s growing too pleased at the turn of events: “Tell me, O Lady Fortune / (Next after Emily my sovereign), how far / I my be proud” (15-17). His worship of Fortune is a typical Chaucerian character’s error. Palamon emerges out of the bushes and challenges him, calling him “A very thief in love” (III.i.41), but Palamon is still in chains. Arcite is annoyingly courteous, promising to bring him files, food, clothes, cologne (because of the prison stink), and weapons later, so they can duke it out once and for all. Palamon wishes Arcite would “pour / This oil out of your language” (III.i.102-103). “Shakespeare juxtaposes their high rhetoric of chivalry with their mutually insane, regretful need to immolate one another” (Bloom 706).
The Jailer’s Daughter could not find Palamon. “I reak not if the wolves would jaw me, so / He had this file…. If I whoop’d, what then?” (III.ii.7-9). (Pretty poor stuff, Fletch.) She frets that since he was unarmed and in chains the wolves probably ate him. She worries that Daddy will be hanged, and admits she has not eaten nor slept for days. “But the point is this — / An end, and that is all” (III.ii.37-38).
“Enter Arcite with meat, wine, and files.” The kinsmen agree not to mention Emilia for the moment. As Palmon eats, they engage in jolly locker-room banter about former conquests such as the Lord Steward’s daughter (III.iii.28-29). But at the mention of Emilia, Palamon is contentious again. Arcite will return soon with arms.
The Jailer’s Daughter has gone all Ophelia on us, and she rants about arbitrary matters nautical, amphibious, and bawdy. She expects that her father will be “truss’d up in a trice” (III.iv.17) tomorrow morning. And she sings a “Hey nonny nonny” song too. The mention of the nightingale (III.iv.25-26) refers to the belief that it leaned against a thorn at night so that the pain would keep it awake and singing (Asimov 64).
Gerrold, a pedantic schoolmaster, heads up a morris-dancing entertainment with inappropriately learned allusions, such as to Meleager, and the occasional Latin word or phrase. They are short one woman, and so when the Jailer’s Daughter comes by, despite her insanity, she is enlisted for the performance. Theseus and his entourage come by and agree to be entertained. The dance contains characters who also appear in Beaumont’s Masque of the Inner Temple and Gray’s Inn — an entertainment presented to an enthusiastic King James in 1613: “and it seems likely that his players — some of whom probably took part in the masque — decided to exploit its success by incorporating part of it in a play” (Wells 382). Theseus and his group are all pleased and reward the Schoolmaster with cash before returning to their hunt.
Palamon awaits Arcite, thanking and cursing him. Arcite brings arms for Palamon and the two prepare to fight. Arcite admits, “Your person I am friends with, / And I could wish I had not said I lov’d her, / Though I had died; but loving such a lady / And justifying my love, I must not fly from’t” (III.vi.39-42). Palamon returns, “Arcite, thou art so brave an enemy / That no man but thy cousin’s fit to kill thee” (III.vi.43-44). As Arcite helps arm Palamon, he checks to make sure he hasn’t pinched his friend, and that the armor isn’t too heavy. Palamon asks, “How do I look?” (III.vi.66). They nostalgically recall past joint military exploits, make some final adjustments, and ask, “Is there aught else to say?” (III.vi.93). Some more pleasantries follow, but they finally, politely, fight until they hear Theseus’ hunting horns. Another exchange, and they’re at it again. Theseus and court arrive, Theseus asking who are these unlicensed knights in battle. “By Castor, both shall die” (III.vi.136) — an odd curse since Castor never exists apart from his brother Pollux; he is one of a set of twins and would have been a contemporary of Theseus anyway — he’s still alive (Asimov 66-67). Palamon tattles on Arcite, and the cause of their animosity comes out. If they are to die, Palamon requests, “Let ‘s die together, at one instant, Duke. / Only a little let him fall before me, / That I may tell my soul he shall not have her” (III.vi.177-179).
Wells uses a passage from this scene, Arcite refusing to ask mercy from Theseus (III.vi.160-171) to illustrate Fletcher’s “evenness of style, its relatively greater ease of comprehension, and its unforced eloquence” (Wells 384). He also acknowledges Charles Lamb’s assessment, though, that Fletcher’s “ideas moved slow; his versification, though sweet, is tedious, it stops every moment; he lays line upon line, making up one after the other, adding image to image so deliberately that we see where they join” (qtd. in Wells 382-383). But the “collaborator” may be getting credit for far too much of this play.
Hiipolyta and Emilia fall to their knees before Theseus, begging him to spare the princes. Pirithous decides, “Nay then I’ll in too” (III.vi.201), and also falls to his knees. But Theseus realizes that banishment won’t work. Emilia worries about being remembered and scorned as the cause of such tragic deaths. Theseus makes the kinsmen swear to his conditions, which they do; he then asks Emilia, “If one of them were dead, as one must, are you / Content to take th’ other to your husband? / They cannot both enjoy you” (III.vi.273-275). But Emilia cannot choose: “they are both too excellent” (III.vi.286). So Theseus’ resolution is that they return within the month with three knights each for a tournament. The loser will be beheaded. This then is “a second broken ceremony” after that of the first scene of Act I (Garber 900).