Sunday, May 1, 2011

Discussion: The Two Noble Kinsmen

The play: The Two Noble Kinsmen

The plot tweet: Two cousins fall for the same girl, defy prison and banishment to be with her. A duel decides it, but the gods have sneaky plans.

My favorite line:
This world's a city full of straying streets,
And death's the market-place where each one meets.


Here we have an interesting reboot of some very early Shakespearean plot lines, including the Midsummer love rectangle framed by the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. The jailer's daughter echoes both Ophelia and Desdemona, and the two kinsmen echo the earlier gentlemen of Verona, who also fall for the same girl.

To me, though, something seems off. The play veers from tragedy to farce too quickly, and not in a coherent, intentional tragicomic way. Am I supposed to be laughing out loud at the scene where Arcite and Palamon swear their undying love and then see Emilia and instantly start threatening to kill each other? (I am.) Am I supposed to think the deceitful "cure" of the jailer's daughter is funny? (I don't.) Either the tone here is odd and uneven or I am misreading this play.

It makes sense for the play to be uneven, though, both because it was co-authored by Shakespeare and Fletcher and because it was first published -- with who knows how many revisions -- long after both men had died.

Scholars have more or less come to agreement about which scenes are Fletcher's and which are Shakespeare's, and no doubt your edition mentions this somewhere in the introduction or notes. At the moment, just consider this: If this is the last play Shakespeare wrote (and it probably is), and if Fletcher wrote the epilogue (and he probably did), then the final lines Shakespeare wrote in his long, successful career are spoken by Theseus in 5.4:

Oh, you heavenly charmers,
What things you make of us! For what we lack
We laugh, for what we have are sorry, still
Are children in some kind. Let us be thankful
For that which is, and with you leave dispute
That are above our question. Let's go off
And bear us like the time.

I'm just going to leave it at that.

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