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The Two Noble Kinsmen
Act 1, scene 1

Synopsis:

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Characters in the Play

Entire Play

The Two Noble Kinsmen, derived from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, begins as Athens defeats Thebes in war. Arcite and Palamon, Theban knights…

Prologue

The audience is welcomed to the play’s opening performance. The speaker apologizes for its inferiority to Chaucer, whose tale provides…

Act 1, scene 1

The wedding procession of Duke Theseus and his Amazonian bride Hippolyta is interrupted by three weeping queens whose dead kings…

Act 1, scene 2

Two noble cousins, Palamon and Arcite, discuss leaving Thebes, where the reign of their despised uncle Creon has corrupted the…

Act 1, scene 3

Pirithous leaves Athens to join Theseus in Thebes. Hippolyta and Emilia praise the strength of the bond between the two…

Act 1, scene 4

A victorious Theseus bids farewell to the three queens just as Palamon and Arcite are brought in wounded on stretchers….

Act 1, scene 5

The three queens take farewell of each other as the bodies of their dead husbands are carried off for separate…

Act 2, scene 1

The keeper of a jail in Athens discusses the terms of his daughter’s dowry with her wooer. The daughter enters…

Act 2, scene 2

Palamon and Arcite, after lamenting their prospect of lifelong imprisonment, rejoice that they are imprisoned together where nothing can ever…

Act 2, scene 3

Arcite decides he will not leave Athens and Emilia. Countrymen enter talking about their plans to dance at a May…

Act 2, scene 4

The jailer’s daughter, having fallen in love with Palamon, decides to find a way to free him from prison in…

Act 2, scene 5

Arcite, having won the competition disguised as a poor gentleman, is made an attendant upon Emilia. He and the other…

Act 2, scene 6

The jailer’s daughter, having set Palamon free and sent him off to await her in the woods, plans to bring…

Act 3, scene 1

Arcite, now Emilia’s attendant, is confronted by a still-shackled Palamon in the woods where the court is celebrating May Day….

Act 3, scene 2

The jailer’s daughter, unable to find Palamon, fearing that he has been eaten by wild animals and that her father…

Act 3, scene 3

Arcite brings Palamon food, wine, and files. He promises to return in two hours bringing swords and armor for their…

Act 3, scene 4

The jailer’s daughter, convinced that Palamon is dead and that her father will be hanged, begins to hallucinate.

Act 3, scene 5

The countrymen and the schoolmaster gather for the morris dance to be performed for Duke Theseus. When the countrywomen arrive,…

Act 3, scene 6

Arcite arrives in the forest with armor and swords. The two cousins dress each other in armor and prepare as…

Act 4, scene 1

The jailer receives the news that he and his daughter have been pardoned for Palamon’s escape, but that his daughter…

Act 4, scene 2

Emilia examines miniature portraits of Palamon and Arcite and is unable to choose between them. Theseus, hearing descriptions of the…

Act 4, scene 3

The jailer’s daughter is diagnosed by the doctor as suffering from love melancholy. He prescribes that the daughter’s wooer, who…

Act 5, scene 1

In preparation for the coming confrontation, Arcite and his companion knights pray for victory at the altar of Mars; Palamon…

Act 5, scene 2

The doctor observes the jailer’s daughter with the wooer pretending to be Palamon, and declares that she will soon be…

Act 5, scene 3

Emilia listens to the sounds of the combat as first one contestant and then the other seems to be winning….

Act 5, scene 4

As Palamon puts his head on the block for his beheading, word comes that Arcite has been crushed by his…

Epilogue

The speaker bids the audience farewell, hoping that the play has pleased them.

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Scene 1
Music. Enter Hymen with a torch burning, a Boy in
a white robe before, singing and strewing flowers.
After Hymen, a Nymph encompassed in her tresses,
bearing a wheaten garland; then Theseus between
two other Nymphs with wheaten chaplets on their
heads. Then Hippolyta, the bride, led by Pirithous,
and another holding a garland over her head, her
tresses likewise hanging. After her, Emilia, holding
up her train. Then Artesius and Attendants.


The Song, sung by the Boy.

  Roses, their sharp spines being gone,
 Not royal in their smells alone,
  But in their hue;
 Maiden pinks, of odor faint,
5 Daisies smell-less, yet most quaint,
  And sweet thyme true;
 Primrose, firstborn child of Ver,
 Merry springtime’s harbinger,
  With her bells dim;
10 Oxlips in their cradles growing,
 Marigolds on deathbeds blowing,
  Lark’s-heels trim;
 All dear Nature’s children sweet
 Lie ’fore bride and bridegroom’s feet,
Strew flowers.
11

13
The Two Noble Kinsmen
ACT 1. SC. 1

15  Blessing their sense.
 Not an angel of the air,
 Bird melodious or bird fair,
  Is absent hence.
 The crow, the sland’rous cuckoo, nor
20 The boding raven, nor chough hoar,
  Nor chatt’ring pie,
 May on our bridehouse perch or sing,
 Or with them any discord bring,
  But from it fly.


Enter three Queens in black, with veils stained, with
imperial crowns. The first Queen falls down at the foot
of Theseus; the second falls down at the foot of
Hippolyta; the third before Emilia.


FIRST QUEEN, to Theseus 
25 For pity’s sake and true gentility’s,
 Hear and respect me.
SECOND QUEEN, to Hippolyta  For your mother’s sake,
 And as you wish your womb may thrive with fair
 ones,
30 Hear and respect me.
THIRD QUEEN, to Emilia 
 Now for the love of him whom Jove hath marked
 The honor of your bed, and for the sake
 Of clear virginity, be advocate
 For us and our distresses. This good deed
35 Shall raze you out o’ th’ book of trespasses
 All you are set down there.
THESEUS, to First Queen 
 Sad lady, rise.
HIPPOLYTA, to Second Queen  Stand up.
EMILIA, to Third Queen  No knees to me.
40 What woman I may stead that is distressed
 Does bind me to her.

15
The Two Noble Kinsmen
ACT 1. SC. 1

THESEUS, to First Queen 
 What’s your request? Deliver you for all.
FIRST QUEEN 
 We are three queens whose sovereigns fell before
 The wrath of cruel Creon; who endured
45 The beaks of ravens, talons of the kites,
 And pecks of crows in the foul fields of Thebes.
 He will not suffer us to burn their bones,
 To urn their ashes, nor to take th’ offense
 Of mortal loathsomeness from the blest eye
50 Of holy Phoebus, but infects the winds
 With stench of our slain lords. O, pity, duke!
 Thou purger of the Earth, draw thy feared sword
 That does good turns to th’ world; give us the bones
 Of our dead kings, that we may chapel them;
55 And of thy boundless goodness take some note
 That for our crownèd heads we have no roof
 Save this, which is the lion’s and the bear’s,
 And vault to everything.
THESEUS  Pray you, kneel not.
60 I was transported with your speech and suffered
 Your knees to wrong themselves. I have heard the
 fortunes
 Of your dead lords, which gives me such lamenting
 As wakes my vengeance and revenge for ’em.
65 King Capaneus was your lord. The day
 That he should marry you, at such a season
 As now it is with me, I met your groom
 By Mars’s altar. You were that time fair—
 Not Juno’s mantle fairer than your tresses,
70 Nor in more bounty spread her. Your wheaten
 wreath
 Was then nor threshed nor blasted. Fortune at you
 Dimpled her cheek with smiles. Hercules, our
 kinsman,
75 Then weaker than your eyes, laid by his club;

17
The Two Noble Kinsmen
ACT 1. SC. 1

 He tumbled down upon his Nemean hide
 And swore his sinews thawed. O grief and time,
 Fearful consumers, you will all devour!
FIRST QUEEN O, I hope some god,
80 Some god hath put his mercy in your manhood,
 Whereto he’ll infuse power, and press you forth
 Our undertaker.
THESEUS  O, no knees, none, widow!
 Unto the helmeted Bellona use them
85 And pray for me, your soldier.The First Queen rises.
 Troubled I am.Turns away.
SECOND QUEEN  Honored Hippolyta,
 Most dreaded Amazonian, that hast slain
 The scythe-tusked boar; that with thy arm, as strong
90 As it is white, wast near to make the male
 To thy sex captive, but that this thy lord,
 Born to uphold creation in that honor
 First nature styled it in, shrunk thee into
 The bound thou wast o’erflowing, at once subduing
95 Thy force and thy affection; soldieress
 That equally canst poise sternness with pity,
 Whom now I know hast much more power on him
 Than ever he had on thee, who ow’st his strength
 And his love too, who is a servant for
100 The tenor of thy speech, dear glass of ladies,
 Bid him that we, whom flaming war doth scorch,
 Under the shadow of his sword may cool us;
 Require him he advance it o’er our heads;
 Speak ’t in a woman’s key, like such a woman
105 As any of us three; weep ere you fail.
 Lend us a knee;
 But touch the ground for us no longer time
 Than a dove’s motion when the head’s plucked off.
 Tell him if he i’ th’ blood-sized field lay swoll’n,
110 Showing the sun his teeth, grinning at the moon,
 What you would do.

19
The Two Noble Kinsmen
ACT 1. SC. 1

HIPPOLYTA  Poor lady, say no more.
 I had as lief trace this good action with you
 As that whereto I am going, and never yet
115 Went I so willing way. My lord is taken
 Heart-deep with your distress; let him consider.
 I’ll speak anon.Second Queen rises.
THIRD QUEEN  O, my petition was
 Set down in ice, which by hot grief uncandied
120 Melts into drops; so sorrow, wanting form,
 Is pressed with deeper matter.
EMILIA  Pray stand up.
 Your grief is written in your cheek.
THIRD QUEEN  O, woe!
125 You cannot read it there.She rises.
 There through my tears,
 Like wrinkled pebbles in a glassy stream,
 You may behold ’em. Lady, lady, alack!
 He that will all the treasure know o’ th’ Earth
130 Must know the center too; he that will fish
 For my least minnow, let him lead his line
 To catch one at my heart. O, pardon me!
 Extremity, that sharpens sundry wits,
 Makes me a fool.
EMILIA 135 Pray you say nothing, pray you.
 Who cannot feel nor see the rain, being in ’t,
 Knows neither wet nor dry. If that you were
 The groundpiece of some painter, I would buy you
 T’ instruct me ’gainst a capital grief—indeed,
140 Such heart-pierced demonstration. But, alas,
 Being a natural sister of our sex,
 Your sorrow beats so ardently upon me
 That it shall make a counter-reflect ’gainst
 My brother’s heart and warm it to some pity,
145 Though it were made of stone. Pray have good
 comfort.

21
The Two Noble Kinsmen
ACT 1. SC. 1

THESEUS, coming forward 
 Forward to th’ temple. Leave not out a jot
 O’ th’ sacred ceremony.
FIRST QUEEN  O, this celebration
150 Will longer last and be more costly than
 Your suppliants’ war. Remember that your fame
 Knolls in the ear o’ th’ world; what you do quickly
 Is not done rashly; your first thought is more
 Than others’ labored meditance, your premeditating
155 More than their actions. But, O Jove, your actions,
 Soon as they move, as ospreys do the fish,
 Subdue before they touch. Think, dear duke, think
 What beds our slain kings have!
SECOND QUEEN  What griefs our beds,
160 That our dear lords have none!
THIRD QUEEN  None fit for th’ dead.
 Those that with cords, knives, drams, precipitance,
 Weary of this world’s light, have to themselves
 Been death’s most horrid agents, human grace
165 Affords them dust and shadow.
FIRST QUEEN  But our lords
 Lie blist’ring ’fore the visitating sun,
 And were good kings when living.
THESEUS 
 It is true, and I will give you comfort
170 To give your dead lords graves;
 The which to do must make some work with Creon.
FIRST QUEEN 
 And that work presents itself to th’ doing.
 Now ’twill take form; the heats are gone tomorrow.
 Then, bootless toil must recompense itself
175 With its own sweat. Now he’s secure,
 Not dreams we stand before your puissance,
 Rinsing our holy begging in our eyes
 To make petition clear.

23
The Two Noble Kinsmen
ACT 1. SC. 1

SECOND QUEEN  Now you may take him,
180 Drunk with his victory.
THIRD QUEEN  And his army full
 Of bread and sloth.
THESEUS  Artesius, that best knowest
 How to draw out, fit to this enterprise,
185 The prim’st for this proceeding, and the number
 To carry such a business: forth and levy
 Our worthiest instruments, whilst we dispatch
 This grand act of our life, this daring deed
 Of fate in wedlock.
FIRST QUEEN, to Second and Third Queens 
190 Dowagers, take hands.
 Let us be widows to our woes. Delay
 Commends us to a famishing hope.
ALL THE QUEENS  Farewell.
SECOND QUEEN 
 We come unseasonably; but when could grief
195 Cull forth, as unpanged judgment can, fitt’st time
 For best solicitation?
THESEUS  Why, good ladies,
 This is a service whereto I am going
 Greater than any was; it more imports me
200 Than all the actions that I have foregone,
 Or futurely can cope.
FIRST QUEEN  The more proclaiming
 Our suit shall be neglected when her arms,
 Able to lock Jove from a synod, shall
205 By warranting moonlight corselet thee. O, when
 Her twinning cherries shall their sweetness fall
 Upon thy tasteful lips, what wilt thou think
 Of rotten kings or blubbered queens? What care
 For what thou feel’st not, what thou feel’st being
210 able
 To make Mars spurn his drum? O, if thou couch
 But one night with her, every hour in ’t will

25
The Two Noble Kinsmen
ACT 1. SC. 1

 Take hostage of thee for a hundred, and
 Thou shalt remember nothing more than what
215 That banquet bids thee to.
HIPPOLYTA, to Theseus  Though much unlike
 You should be so transported, as much sorry
 I should be such a suitor, yet I think
 Did I not, by th’ abstaining of my joy—
220 Which breeds a deeper longing—cure their surfeit
 That craves a present med’cine, I should pluck
 All ladies’ scandal on me.She kneels.
 Therefore, sir,
 As I shall here make trial of my prayers,
225 Either presuming them to have some force,
 Or sentencing for aye their vigor dumb,
 Prorogue this business we are going about, and
 hang
 Your shield afore your heart—about that neck
230 Which is my fee, and which I freely lend
 To do these poor queens service.
ALL QUEENS, to Emilia  O, help now!
 Our cause cries for your knee.
EMILIA, to Theseus, kneeling  If you grant not
235 My sister her petition in that force,
 With that celerity and nature which
 She makes it in, from henceforth I’ll not dare
 To ask you anything, nor be so hardy
 Ever to take a husband.
THESEUS 240 Pray stand up.
Hippolyta and Emilia rise.
 I am entreating of myself to do
 That which you kneel to have me.—Pirithous,
 Lead on the bride; get you and pray the gods
 For success and return; omit not anything
245 In the pretended celebration.—Queens,
 Follow your soldier. To Artesius. As before, hence
 you,

27
The Two Noble Kinsmen
ACT 1. SC. 1

 And at the banks of Aulis meet us with
 The forces you can raise, where we shall find
250 The moiety of a number for a business
 More bigger looked.Artesius exits.
To Hippolyta. Since that our theme is haste,
 I stamp this kiss upon thy currant lip;
 Sweet, keep it as my token.—Set you forward,
255 For I will see you gone.
The wedding procession begins to exit
towards the temple.

 Farewell, my beauteous sister.—Pirithous,
 Keep the feast full; bate not an hour on ’t.
PIRITHOUS  Sir,
 I’ll follow you at heels. The feast’s solemnity
260 Shall want till your return.
THESEUS  Cousin, I charge you,
 Budge not from Athens. We shall be returning
 Ere you can end this feast, of which I pray you
 Make no abatement.—Once more, farewell all.
All but Theseus and the Queens exit.
FIRST QUEEN 
265 Thus dost thou still make good the tongue o’ th’
 world.
SECOND QUEEN 
 And earn’st a deity equal with Mars.
THIRD QUEEN If not above him, for
 Thou, being but mortal, makest affections bend
270 To godlike honors; they themselves, some say,
 Groan under such a mast’ry.
THESEUS  As we are men,
 Thus should we do; being sensually subdued,
 We lose our human title. Good cheer, ladies.
275 Now turn we towards your comforts.
Flourish. They exit.