The Two Noble Kinsmen

Type: 
Comedy
First Performed: 
1612-13
First Printed: 
1634
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Oxlips in their cradles growing,
Marigolds on death-beds blowing,
Larks-heels trim.

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The Two Nobel Kinsmen is listed as one of Shakespeare's plays because most scholars believe it to be a collaborative work of Shakespeare and John Fletcher, who was a prominent actor and Shakespeare's close friend. Fletcher succeeded Shakespeare as the foremost dramatist for the King's Men.

After Thebes is defeated by the Athenians, close friends and cousins Arcite and Palamon are taken prisoner by Duke Theseus and Queen Hippolyta. In their cell, the cousins swear that their strong bond will carry them through the suffering they now face.

When Palamon and Arcite see the queen’s sister Emilia in a garden below their cell window, they both fall in love with her at first sight. Their friendship quickly deteriorates into threats and quarrelling, and a bitter rivalry begins.

Arcite is released from prison and banished from Athens, but returns to the city in disguise to find Emilia. The jailor’s daughter falls in love with Palamon and helps him escape, but he deserts her in the wilderness. She is driven mad by the rejection and by the news that freeing Palamon has brought a death sentence to her father.

Palamon meets Arcite, who unsuccessfully attempts to make peace but ultimately decides their rivalry can only be resolved by a duel. Meanwhile, a former suitor of the jailor’s daughter finds her and convinces her he is Palamon to win her love.  

When Theseus discovers the kinsmen and learns of their duel, he decides to make it a public tournament. The winner will marry Emilia and the loser will die. On the day of battle, Arcite prays to Mars for victory while Palamon prays to Venus for the hand of Emilia. Attracted to both men, Emilia prays to marry the one whose love is strongest.

Arcite wins the battle, and Palamon prepares to be executed. When Arcite is suddenly thrown from his horse and killed, Palamon weds Emilia.