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The Two Noble Kinsmen
Act 1, scene 2

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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 2
Enter Palamon and Arcite.

ARCITE 
 Dear Palamon, dearer in love than blood
 And our prime cousin, yet unhardened in
 The crimes of nature, let us leave the city
 Thebes, and the temptings in ’t, before we further
5 Sully our gloss of youth,
 And here to keep in abstinence we shame
 As in incontinence; for not to swim
 I’ th’ aid o’ th’ current were almost to sink,
 At least to frustrate striving; and to follow
10 The common stream, ’twould bring us to an eddy
 Where we should turn or drown; if labor through,
 Our gain but life and weakness.
PALAMON  Your advice
 Is cried up with example. What strange ruins,
15 Since first we went to school, may we perceive
 Walking in Thebes! Scars and bare weeds
 The gain o’ th’ martialist, who did propound
 To his bold ends honor and golden ingots,
 Which though he won, he had not, and now flirted
20 By peace for whom he fought. Who then shall offer
 To Mars’s so-scorned altar? I do bleed
 When such I meet, and wish great Juno would
 Resume her ancient fit of jealousy
 To get the soldier work, that peace might purge
25 For her repletion, and retain anew
 Her charitable heart, now hard and harsher
 Than strife or war could be.
ARCITE  Are you not out?
 Meet you no ruin but the soldier in
30 The cranks and turns of Thebes? You did begin
 As if you met decays of many kinds.

31
The Two Noble Kinsmen
ACT 1. SC. 2

 Perceive you none that do arouse your pity
 But th’ unconsidered soldier?
PALAMON  Yes, I pity
35 Decays where’er I find them, but such most
 That, sweating in an honorable toil,
 Are paid with ice to cool ’em.
ARCITE  ’Tis not this
 I did begin to speak of. This is virtue
40 Of no respect in Thebes. I spake of Thebes—
 How dangerous, if we will keep our honors,
 It is for our residing, where every evil
 Hath a good color; where every seeming good’s
 A certain evil; where not to be e’en jump
45 As they are here were to be strangers, and,
 Such things to be, mere monsters.
PALAMON  ’Tis in our power—
 Unless we fear that apes can tutor ’s—to
 Be masters of our manners. What need I
50 Affect another’s gait, which is not catching
 Where there is faith? Or to be fond upon
 Another’s way of speech, when by mine own
 I may be reasonably conceived—saved too,
 Speaking it truly? Why am I bound
55 By any generous bond to follow him
 Follows his tailor, haply so long until
 The followed make pursuit? Or let me know
 Why mine own barber is unblessed, with him
 My poor chin too, for ’tis not scissored just
60 To such a favorite’s glass? What canon is there
 That does command my rapier from my hip
 To dangle ’t in my hand, or to go tiptoe
 Before the street be foul? Either I am
 The forehorse in the team, or I am none
65 That draw i’ th’ sequent trace. These poor slight
 sores

33
The Two Noble Kinsmen
ACT 1. SC. 2

 Need not a plantain. That which rips my bosom
 Almost to th’ heart’s—
ARCITE  Our Uncle Creon.
PALAMON 70 He.
 A most unbounded tyrant, whose successes
 Makes heaven unfeared and villainy assured
 Beyond its power there’s nothing; almost puts
 Faith in a fever, and deifies alone
75 Voluble chance; who only attributes
 The faculties of other instruments
 To his own nerves and act; commands men service,
 And what they win in ’t, boot and glory; one
 That fears not to do harm; good, dares not. Let
80 The blood of mine that’s sib to him be sucked
 From me with leeches; let them break and fall
 Off me with that corruption.
ARCITE  Clear-spirited cousin,
 Let’s leave his court, that we may nothing share
85 Of his loud infamy; for our milk
 Will relish of the pasture, and we must
 Be vile or disobedient, not his kinsmen
 In blood unless in quality.
PALAMON  Nothing truer.
90 I think the echoes of his shames have deafed
 The ears of heav’nly justice. Widows’ cries
 Descend again into their throats and have not
 Due audience of the gods.

Enter Valerius.

 Valerius.
VALERIUS 
95 The King calls for you; yet be leaden-footed
 Till his great rage be off him. Phoebus, when
 He broke his whipstock and exclaimed against
 The horses of the sun, but whispered to
 The loudness of his fury.

35
The Two Noble Kinsmen
ACT 1. SC. 2

PALAMON 100 Small winds shake him.
 But what’s the matter?
VALERIUS 
 Theseus, who where he threats appalls, hath sent
 Deadly defiance to him and pronounces
 Ruin to Thebes, who is at hand to seal
105 The promise of his wrath.
ARCITE  Let him approach.
 But that we fear the gods in him, he brings not
 A jot of terror to us. Yet what man
 Thirds his own worth—the case is each of ours—
110 When that his action’s dregged with mind assured
 ’Tis bad he goes about?
PALAMON  Leave that unreasoned.
 Our services stand now for Thebes, not Creon.
 Yet to be neutral to him were dishonor,
115 Rebellious to oppose. Therefore we must
 With him stand to the mercy of our fate,
 Who hath bounded our last minute.
ARCITE  So we must.
 To Valerius. Is ’t said this war’s afoot? Or, it shall
120 be,
 On fail of some condition?
VALERIUS  ’Tis in motion;
 The intelligence of state came in the instant
 With the defier.
PALAMON 125 Let’s to the King, who, were he
 A quarter carrier of that honor which
 His enemy come in, the blood we venture
 Should be as for our health, which were not spent,
 Rather laid out for purchase. But alas,
130 Our hands advanced before our hearts, what will
 The fall o’ th’ stroke do damage?
ARCITE  Let th’ event,
 That never-erring arbitrator, tell us

37
The Two Noble Kinsmen
ACT 1. SC. 3

 When we know all ourselves, and let us follow
135 The becking of our chance.
They exit.