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The Two Noble Kinsmen

The Two Noble Kinsmen

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The Two Noble Kinsmen is a Jacobean tragicomedy
Tragicomedy is fictional work that blends aspects of the genres of tragedy and comedy. In English literature, from Shakespeare's time to the nineteenth century, tragicomedy referred to a serious play with either a happy ending or enough jokes throughout the play to lighten the mood.-Classical...

, first published in 1634 and attributed to John Fletcher
John Fletcher (playwright)
John Fletcher was a Jacobean playwright. Following William Shakespeare as house playwright for the King's Men, he was among the most prolific and influential dramatists of his day; both during his lifetime and in the early Restoration, his fame rivalled Shakespeare's...

 and William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

. Its plot derives from "The Knight's Tale
The Knight's Tale
"The Knight's Tale" is the first tale from Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. The story introduces many typical aspects of knighthood such as courtly love and ethical dilemmas. The story is written in iambic pentameter end-rhymed couplets.-Story:...

" in Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer , known as the Father of English literature, is widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages and was the first poet to have been buried in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey...

's The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories written in Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer at the end of the 14th century. The tales are told as part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together on a journey from Southwark to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at...


Formerly a point of controversy, the dual attribution is now generally accepted by the scholarly consensus.

Shakespeare and Fletcher contributions

Researchers have applied a range of tests and techniques to determine the relative shares of Shakespeare and Fletcher in the play—Hallet Smith, in The Riverside Shakespeare, cites "metrical characteristics, vocabulary and word-compounding, incidence of certain contractions, kinds and uses of imagery, and characteristic lines of certain types"—in their attempts to distinguish the shares of Shakespeare and Fletcher in the play.
Smith offers a breakdown that agrees, in general if not in all details, with those of other scholars:

Shakespeare—Act I, scenes 1–3; Act II, scene 1; Act III, scene 1; Act V, scene 1, lines 34-173, and scenes 3 and 4.

Fletcher—Prologue; Act II, scenes 2–6; Act III, scenes 2–6; Act IV, scenes 1 and 3; Act V, scene 1, lines 1–33, and scene 2; Epilogue.

"uncertain"—Act I, scenes 4 and 5; Act IV, scene 2.

Date and text

Links between The Two Noble Kinsmen and contemporaneous works point to 1613–14 as its date of authorship and performance. A reference to Palamon, one of the protagonists of Kinsmen, in Ben Jonson
Ben Jonson
Benjamin Jonson was an English Renaissance dramatist, poet and actor. A contemporary of William Shakespeare, he is best known for his satirical plays, particularly Volpone, The Alchemist, and Bartholomew Fair, which are considered his best, and his lyric poems...

's 1614 play Bartholomew Fair, Act IV, scene ii, appears to indicate that Kinsmen was known and familiar to audiences at that time. In Francis Beaumont
Francis Beaumont
Francis Beaumont was a dramatist in the English Renaissance theatre, most famous for his collaborations with John Fletcher....

's The Masque of the Inner Temple and Gray's Inn
The Masque of the Inner Temple and Gray's Inn
The Masque of the Inner Temple and Gray's Inn was a Jacobean era masque, written by Francis Beaumont. It was performed on 20 February 1613 in the Banqueting House at Whitehall Palace, as part of the elaborate wedding festivities surrounding the marriage of Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of King...

 (1613), the second anti-masque features this cast of rural characters: pedant, May Lord and Lady, servingman and chambermaid, tavern host and hostess, shepherd and his wench, and two "bavians" (male and female baboon). The same cast slightly simplified (minus wench and one "bavian") enacts the Morris dance in Kinsmen, II,v,120-38. A successful "special effect" in Beaumont's masque, designed for a single performance, appears to have been adopted and adapted into Kinsmen, indicating that the play followed the masque at no great interval.

The play was entered into the Stationers' Register
Stationers' Register
The Stationers' Register was a record book maintained by the Stationers' Company of London. The company is a trade guild given a royal charter in 1557 to regulate the various professions associated with the publishing industry, including printers, bookbinders, booksellers, and publishers in England...

 on 8 April 1634; the quarto
Book size
The size of a book is generally measured by the height against the width of a leaf, or sometimes the height and width of its cover. A series of terms is commonly used by libraries and publishers for the general sizes of modern books, ranging from "folio" , to "quarto" and "octavo"...

 was published later that year by the bookseller John Waterson
John Waterson
John Waterson was a London publisher and bookseller of the Jacobean and Caroline eras; he published significant works in English Renaissance drama, including plays by William Shakespeare, John Fletcher, John Webster, and Philip Massinger.-Beginning:Waterson was the scion of a family of publishers:...

, printed by Thomas Cotes
Thomas Cotes
Thomas Cotes was a London printer of the Jacobean and Caroline eras, best remembered for printing the Second Folio edition of Shakespeare's plays in 1632.-Life and work:...

. The play was not included in the First Folio
First Folio
Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. is the 1623 published collection of William Shakespeare's plays. Modern scholars commonly refer to it as the First Folio....

 (1623) or any of the subsequent Folios of Shakespeare's works, though it was included in the second Beaumont and Fletcher folio
Beaumont and Fletcher folios
The Beaumont and Fletcher folios were two large folio collections of the stage plays of John Fletcher and his collaborators. The first was issued in 1647, and the second in 1679. The two collections were important in preserving many works of English Renaissance drama.-The first folio, 1647:The 1647...

 of 1679.


  • Theseus, Duke of Athens
  • Palamon, nephew of the King of Thebes
  • Arcite, nephew of the King of Thebes
  • Pirithous, an Athenian general
  • Artesius, an Athenian captain
  • Valerius, a noble of Thebes
  • Six Knights
  • A Herald
  • A Jailer
  • Wooer of the jailer's daughter
  • A Doctor
  • Brother of the jailer
  • Friends of the jailer

  • A Gentleman
  • Gerrold, a schoolmaster
  • Hippolyta, wife of Theseus
  • Emilia, her sister
  • Three Queens
  • Jailer's Daughter
  • Emilia's Servant
  • Country Wenches and Women personating Hymen, Boy
  • A Laborer
  • Countrymen, Messengers
  • A Man personating Hymen, Boy
  • Executioners, Guards, Soldiers, Attendants


A prologue informs the audience that the play is based on a story from Chaucer.

Three queens come to plead with Theseus
For other uses, see Theseus Theseus was the mythical founder-king of Athens, son of Aethra, and fathered by Aegeus and Poseidon, both of whom Aethra had slept with in one night. Theseus was a founder-hero, like Perseus, Cadmus, or Heracles, all of whom battled and overcame foes that were...

 and Hippolyta
In Greek mythology, Hippolyta or Hippolyte is the Amazonian queen who possessed a magical girdle she was given by her father Ares, the god of war. The girdle was a waist belt that signified her authority as queen of the Amazons....

, rulers of Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

, to avenge the deaths of their husbands at the hands of the tyrant Creon
Creon is a figure in Greek mythology best known as the ruler of Thebes in the legend of Oedipus. He had two children with his wife, Eurydice: Megareus and Haemon...

 of Thebes. Creon has killed the three kings and refuses to allow them proper burial. Theseus agrees to wage war on Creon.

In Thebes, Palamon and Arcite, cousins and close friends, are bound by duty to fight for Creon, though they are appalled by his tyranny. In a hard-fought battle Palamon and Arcite enact prodigies of courage, but the Thebans are defeated by Theseus. Palamon and Arcite are imprisoned, but philosophically resign themselves to their fate. Their stoicism is instantly destroyed when from their prison window they see the Athenian princess Emilia. Both fall in love with her, and their friendship turns to bitter rivalry. Arcite is released after a relative intercedes on his behalf. He is banished from Athens, but he disguises himself, wins a local wrestling match, and is appointed as Emilia's attendant.

Meanwhile, the jailer's daughter has fallen in love with Palamon and helps him escape. She follows him, but he ignores her: still obsessed with Emilia. He lives in the forest half-starved, where he meets Arcite. The two argue, but Arcite offers to bring Palamon food, drink and armaments so that they can meet in an equal fight over Emilia. The jailer's daughter, forsaken, has gone mad. She sings and babbles in the forest. She meets a troupe of local countrymen who want to perform a Morris dance
Morris dance
Morris dance is a form of English folk dance usually accompanied by music. It is based on rhythmic stepping and the execution of choreographed figures by a group of dancers. Implements such as sticks, swords, handkerchiefs and bells may also be wielded by the dancers...

 before the king and queen. Theseus and Hippolyta appear, hunting. The yokels perform a bizarre act for them with the jailer's mad daughter. The royal couple reward them.

Arctite returns with the food and weapons. After a convivial dinner with reminiscences, the two fight. Theseus and his entourage arrive on the scene. He orders that Palamon and Arcite both be arrested and executed. Hippolyta and Emilia intervene, and so Theseus agrees to a public tournament between the two for Emilia's hand, after which the loser will be executed.

The jailer and his friends rescue his daughter. He tries to restore her mental health. With the advice of a doctor, he encourages her former suitor to pretend to be Palamon so that she will be gradually accustomed to see him as her true love. His devotion slowly wins her over.

Before the tournament, Arcite prays to Mars that he win the battle; Palamon prays to Venus that he marry Emilia; Emilia prays to Diana that she be wed to the one who loves her best. Each prayer is granted: Arcite wins the combat, but is then thrown from his horse and dies, leaving Palamon to wed Emilia.


In addition to whatever public performances occurred ca. 1613–14, evidence suggests a performance at Court in 1619. In 1664, after the theatres had re-opened with the Restoration
English Restoration
The Restoration of the English monarchy began in 1660 when the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies were all restored under Charles II after the Interregnum that followed the Wars of the Three Kingdoms...

, Sir William Davenant
William Davenant
Sir William Davenant , also spelled D'Avenant, was an English poet and playwright. Along with Thomas Killigrew, Davenant was one of the rare figures in English Renaissance theatre whose career spanned both the Caroline and Restoration eras and who was active both before and after the English Civil...

 produced an adaptation of The Two Noble Kinsmen for the Duke's Company
Duke's Company
The Duke's Company was one of the two theatre companies that were chartered by King Charles II at the start of the English Restoration era, when the London theatres re-opened after their eighteen-year closure during the English Civil War and the Interregnum.The Duke's Company had the patronage of...

 titled The Rivals. Thomas Betterton
Thomas Betterton
Thomas Patrick Betterton , English actor, son of an under-cook to King Charles I, was born in London.-Apprentice and actor:...

 played "Philander," Davenant's version of Palamon. Samuel Pepys
Samuel Pepys
Samuel Pepys FRS, MP, JP, was an English naval administrator and Member of Parliament who is now most famous for the diary he kept for a decade while still a relatively young man...

 saw Davenant's production, and judged it "no excellent play, but good acting in it" (10 Sept. 1664).

In popular culture

The Two Noble Kinsmen is the only one of Shakespeare's plays that has never been adapted for film or television.

In The Simpsons
The Simpsons
The Simpsons is an American animated sitcom created by Matt Groening for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series is a satirical parody of a middle class American lifestyle epitomized by its family of the same name, which consists of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie...

 Season 15 episode "Co-Dependent's Day
Co-Dependent's Day
"Co-Dependent's Day" is the fifteenth episode of The Simpsons fifteenth season. The episode aired on March 21, 2004.-Plot:Homer, Bart, and Lisa see the newest Cosmic Wars film, The Gathering Shadow, and the movie turns out to be less than what they expected. At home, Marge suggests that Bart and...

," after Moe unthinkingly gives away a rare 1886 bottle of Chateau Latour
Château Latour
Château Latour is a French wine estate, rated as a First Growth under the 1855 Bordeaux Classification. Latour lies at the very southeastern tip of the commune of Pauillac in the Médoc region to the north-west of Bordeaux, at its border with Saint-Julien, and only a few hundred metres from the...

, he proceeds to dry his tears with another priceless collector's item, an original manuscript of The Two Noble Kinsmen.

External links