Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

May Books 29) The Two Noble Kinsmen, by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher

The two noble kinsmen of the title are Palamon and Arcite, kin of the ruler of Thebes, taken as prisoners of war to Athens where they both fall in love with the Duke's sister. Arcite is paroled, Palamon escapes, and they are duelling to the death for the fair Emilia when the Duke discovers them and makes them go away for a while in order to come back and fight properly. Arcite wins the combat, but just as Palamon and his team-mates are about to be executed, Arcite falls off his horse and dies, so Palamon gets to marry Emilia and everyone (except Arcite) lives happily ever after.

As you can tell from the summary, the sexual politics of this play is a bit, er, challenging. And I haven't mentioned the unfortunate jailer's daughter who falls in love with Palamon, engineers his escape, goes mad with guilt, and eventually goes off with the anonymous Athenian bloke who was always in love with her. He is described in the cast list as "Wooer". Her doctor advises him to have sex with her even though she thinks he is Palamon, but only if it will make her feel better.

As you can tell from that second paragraph, the deeper sexual politics of this play is a bit, er, challenging. And I haven't mentioned the deep manly love that Palamon and Arcite profess for one another when they are not competing to win Emilia, nor Emilia's early professed deep womanly love for the otherwise unmentioned Flavinia (though if I was directing this I would make her the jailer's daughter). The least odd bit of the play is the first scene where three widowed queens beg the Duke of Athens to make war on Thebes to recover their husbands' corpses. There is also a comic rustic dance and some divine manifestations.

And yet plenty of other Shakespeare plays have very dodgy sexual politics - thinking especially of The Taming of the Shrew - and can be staged effectively, and I expect that this is no exception. Arkangel have made a very decent fist of it, especially with Jonathan Firth as Palamon and Sarah-Jane Holm as the jailer's daughter (and I've been listening to her father as Frodo Baggins too). I can understand why it is relatively obscure, but I am a little surprised that there has never been a TV or film version of it. It is not a particularly strong piece of work, but it's not all that bad.

Henry VI, Part I | Henry VI, Part II | Henry VI, Part III | Richard III | Comedy of Errors | Titus Andronicus | Taming of the Shrew | Two Gentlemen of Verona | Love's Labour's Lost | Romeo and Juliet | Richard II | A Midsummer Night's Dream | King John | The Merchant of Venice | Henry IV, Part I | Henry IV, Part II | Henry V | Julius Caesar | Much Ado About Nothing | As You Like It | Merry Wives of Windsor | Hamlet | Twelfth Night | Troilus and Cressida | All's Well That Ends Well | Measure for Measure | Othello | King Lear | Macbeth | Antony and Cleopatra | Coriolanus | Timon of Athens | Pericles | Cymbeline | The Winter's Tale | The Tempest | Henry VIII | The Two Noble Kinsmen | Edward III | Sir Thomas More (fragment)
Tags: bookblog 2009, writer: shakespeare

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