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The Two Noble Kinsmen
Act 5, scene 1

Synopsis:

Contents

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
Flourish. Enter Theseus, Pirithous, Hippolyta,
and Attendants. Three altars set up onstage.


THESEUS 
 Now let ’em enter and before the gods
 Tender their holy prayers. Let the temples
 Burn bright with sacred fires, and the altars
 In hallowed clouds commend their swelling incense
5 To those above us. Let no due be wanting.
 They have a noble work in hand will honor
 The very powers that love ’em.
PIRITHOUS  Sir, they enter.

Flourish of cornets. Enter Palamon and Arcite
and their Knights.


THESEUS 
 You valiant and strong-hearted enemies,
10 You royal german foes, that this day come
 To blow that nearness out that flames between you,
 Lay by your anger for an hour and, dove-like,
 Before the holy altars of your helpers,
 The all-feared gods, bow down your stubborn
15 bodies.
 Your ire is more than mortal; so your help be.
 And as the gods regard you, fight with justice.
199

201
The Two Noble Kinsmen
ACT 5. SC. 1

 I’ll leave you to your prayers, and betwixt you
 I part my wishes.
PIRITHOUS 20 Honor crown the worthiest!
Theseus and his train exit.
PALAMON 
 The glass is running now that cannot finish
 Till one of us expire. Think you but thus,
 That were there aught in me which strove to show
 Mine enemy in this business, were ’t one eye
25 Against another, arm oppressed by arm,
 I would destroy th’ offender, coz—I would
 Though parcel of myself. Then from this gather
 How I should tender you.
ARCITE  I am in labor
30 To push your name, your ancient love, our kindred
 Out of my memory, and i’ th’ selfsame place
 To seat something I would confound. So hoist we
 The sails that must these vessels port even where
 The heavenly Limiter pleases.
PALAMON 35 You speak well.
 Before I turn, let me embrace thee, cousin.
They embrace.
 This I shall never do again.
ARCITE  One farewell.
PALAMON 
 Why, let it be so. Farewell, coz.
ARCITE 40 Farewell, sir.
Palamon and his Knights exit.
 Knights, kinsmen, lovers, yea, my sacrifices,
 True worshippers of Mars, whose spirit in you
 Expels the seeds of fear and th’ apprehension
 Which still is father of it, go with me
45 Before the god of our profession. There
 Require of him the hearts of lions and
 The breath of tigers, yea, the fierceness too,
 Yea, the speed also—to go on, I mean;

203
The Two Noble Kinsmen
ACT 5. SC. 1

 Else wish we to be snails. You know my prize
50 Must be dragged out of blood; force and great feat
 Must put my garland on, where she sticks,
 The queen of flowers. Our intercession, then,
 Must be to him that makes the camp a cistern
 Brimmed with the blood of men. Give me your aid,
55 And bend your spirits towards him.
They go to Mars’s altar, fall on
their faces before it, and then kneel.

 Thou mighty one, that with thy power hast turned
 Green Neptune into purple, whose approach
 Comets prewarn, whose havoc in vast field
 Unearthèd skulls proclaim, whose breath blows
60 down
 The teeming Ceres’ foison, who dost pluck
 With hand armipotent from forth blue clouds
 The masoned turrets, that both mak’st and break’st
 The stony girths of cities; me thy pupil,
65 Youngest follower of thy drum, instruct this day
 With military skill, that to thy laud
 I may advance my streamer, and by thee
 Be styled the lord o’ th’ day. Give me, great Mars,
 Some token of thy pleasure.
Here they fall on their faces as formerly, and
there is heard clanging of armor, with a short
thunder, as the burst of a battle, whereupon
they all rise and bow to the altar.

70 O, great corrector of enormous times,
 Shaker of o’er-rank states, thou grand decider
 Of dusty and old titles, that heal’st with blood
 The Earth when it is sick, and cur’st the world
 O’ th’ pleurisy of people, I do take
75 Thy signs auspiciously, and in thy name
 To my design march boldly.—Let us go.They exit.

205
The Two Noble Kinsmen
ACT 5. SC. 1

Enter Palamon and his Knights,
with the former observance.


PALAMON 
 Our stars must glister with new fire, or be
 Today extinct. Our argument is love,
 Which, if the goddess of it grant, she gives
80 Victory too. Then blend your spirits with mine,
 You whose free nobleness do make my cause
 Your personal hazard. To the goddess Venus
 Commend we our proceeding, and implore
 Her power unto our party.
Here they go to Venus’s altar, fall on
their faces before it, and then kneel.

85 Hail, sovereign queen of secrets, who hast power
 To call the fiercest tyrant from his rage
 And weep unto a girl; that hast the might
 Even with an eye-glance to choke Mars’s drum
 And turn th’ alarm to whispers; that canst make
90 A cripple flourish with his crutch, and cure him
 Before Apollo; that mayst force the king
 To be his subject’s vassal, and induce
 Stale gravity to dance. The polled bachelor,
 Whose youth, like wanton boys through bonfires,
95 Have skipped thy flame, at seventy thou canst catch,
 And make him, to the scorn of his hoarse throat,
 Abuse young lays of love. What godlike power
 Hast thou not power upon? To Phoebus thou
 Add’st flames hotter than his; the heavenly fires
100 Did scorch his mortal son, thine him. The huntress,
 All moist and cold, some say, began to throw
 Her bow away and sigh. Take to thy grace
 Me, thy vowed soldier, who do bear thy yoke
 As ’twere a wreath of roses, yet is heavier
105 Than lead itself, stings more than nettles.
 I have never been foul-mouthed against thy law,

207
The Two Noble Kinsmen
ACT 5. SC. 1

 Ne’er revealed secret, for I knew none—would not,
 Had I kenned all that were. I never practiced
 Upon man’s wife, nor would the libels read
110 Of liberal wits. I never at great feasts
 Sought to betray a beauty, but have blushed
 At simp’ring sirs that did. I have been harsh
 To large confessors, and have hotly asked them
 If they had mothers—I had one, a woman,
115 And women ’twere they wronged. I knew a man
 Of eighty winters—this I told them—who
 A lass of fourteen brided; ’twas thy power
 To put life into dust. The agèd cramp
 Had screwed his square foot round;
120 The gout had knit his fingers into knots;
 Torturing convulsions from his globy eyes
 Had almost drawn their spheres, that what was life
 In him seemed torture. This anatomy
 Had by his young fair fere a boy, and I
125 Believed it was his, for she swore it was,
 And who would not believe her? Brief, I am
 To those that prate and have done, no companion;
 To those that boast and have not, a defier;
 To those that would and cannot, a rejoicer.
130 Yea, him I do not love that tells close offices
 The foulest way, nor names concealments in
 The boldest language. Such a one I am,
 And vow that lover never yet made sigh
 Truer than I. O, then, most soft sweet goddess,
135 Give me the victory of this question, which
 Is true love’s merit, and bless me with a sign
 Of thy great pleasure.
Here music is heard; doves are
seen to flutter. They fall again upon
their faces, then on their knees.

 O thou that from eleven to ninety reign’st
 In mortal bosoms, whose chase is this world

209
The Two Noble Kinsmen
ACT 5. SC. 1

140 And we in herds thy game, I give thee thanks
 For this fair token, which being laid unto
 Mine innocent true heart, arms in assurance
 My body to this business.—Let us rise
 And bow before the goddess.They rise and bow.
145 Time comes on.
They exit.

Still music of recorders. Enter Emilia in white, her
hair about her shoulders, wearing a wheaten wreath;
one in white holding up her train, her hair stuck with
flowers; one before her carrying a silver hind, in which
is conveyed incense and sweet odors, which being
set upon the altar of Diana, her maids standing
aloof, she sets fire to it. Then they curtsy and kneel.


EMILIA 
 O sacred, shadowy, cold, and constant queen,
 Abandoner of revels, mute contemplative,
 Sweet, solitary, white as chaste, and pure
 As wind-fanned snow, who to thy female knights
150 Allow’st no more blood than will make a blush,
 Which is their order’s robe, I here, thy priest,
 Am humbled ’fore thine altar. O, vouchsafe
 With that thy rare green eye, which never yet
 Beheld thing maculate, look on thy virgin,
155 And, sacred silver mistress, lend thine ear—
 Which ne’er heard scurrile term, into whose port
 Ne’er entered wanton sound—to my petition,
 Seasoned with holy fear. This is my last
 Of vestal office. I am bride-habited
160 But maiden-hearted. A husband I have ’pointed,
 But do not know him. Out of two I should
 Choose one, and pray for his success, but I
 Am guiltless of election. Of mine eyes,
 Were I to lose one—they are equal precious—
165 I could doom neither; that which perished should

211
The Two Noble Kinsmen
ACT 5. SC. 2

 Go to ’t unsentenced. Therefore, most modest queen,
 He of the two pretenders that best loves me
 And has the truest title in ’t, let him
 Take off my wheaten garland, or else grant
170 The file and quality I hold I may
 Continue in thy band.
Here the hind vanishes under the
altar, and in the place ascends a rose
tree, having one rose upon it.

 See what our general of ebbs and flows
 Out from the bowels of her holy altar
 With sacred act advances: but one rose.
175 If well inspired, this battle shall confound
 Both these brave knights, and I, a virgin flower,
 Must grow alone unplucked.
Here is heard a sudden twang of instruments,
and the rose falls from the tree.

 The flower is fall’n, the tree descends. O mistress,
 Thou here dischargest me. I shall be gathered;
180 I think so, but I know not thine own will.
 Unclasp thy mystery!—I hope she’s pleased;
 Her signs were gracious.
They curtsy and exit.