Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
After a witty and informal prologue, the play opens with the wedding procession of Theseus, duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. Before the marriage ceremony can begin, the festivities are interrupted by three queens in black who implore Theseus to come to their aid. Their husbands have been slain fighting against Creon, king of Thebes, and Creon will not permit their bodies to receive a decent burial. Theseus sympathizes with the queens but orders that the nuptial ceremonies proceed. When the queens persist in their pleas, Theseus directs an army to be readied to march against Thebes but makes it clear that he intends to go forward with the marriage. The distracted queens, now aided by both Hippolyta and her sister Emilia, finally persuade Theseus to delay his wedding and wedding night and to move against Creon and Thebes immediately. Theseus asks his lifelong friend Pirithous to act on his behalf and see that the ceremony and festivities proceed, takes leave of his bride with a kiss, and departs with the three queens.
In Thebes, Palamon and Arcite, nephews of Creon, resolve to leave Thebes because they cannot tolerate Creon’s cruel tyranny any longer. As they prepare to venture forth on their own, word comes that Theseus is at the gates of Thebes with a mighty army. The cousins, loyal to Thebes if not to Creon, prepare to defend their city against Theseus.
The Athenians are victorious, and Theseus, triumphant, tells the...
(The entire section is 1152 words.)
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A Prologue precedes the start of the dramatic action. It praises the literary source of The Two Noble Kinsmen: Chaucer's "The Knight's Tale," a narrative poem set in legendary Greece. The play itself begins with an elaborate procession accompanying Theseus, duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, the Amazon queen, to their wedding. The ritual is interrupted by the sudden appearance of three queens, dressed in mourning clothes, who fall on their knees and beg Theseus to help them. They report that their husbands were slain in battle by Creon, king of Thebes, and that Creon has refused to allow their bodies to be buried. The queens ask Theseus to delay his marriage to Hippolyta and go to war against Creon at once. As Theseus considers whether to proceed with the wedding or postpone it, the queens appeal to Hippolyta and her younger sister Emilia to intercede on their behalf. Hippolyta urges Theseus to put off the ceremony in deference to avenging the slain kings, and Emilia endorses her sister's petition. Theseus agrees to set out with his army for Thebes as soon as possible. The setting shifts from Athens to Thebes, where Palamon and Arcite, Creon's nephews, are discussing his vicious rulership. They resolve to leave Thebes but change their minds when they learn that Theseus has declared war on the city and its sovereign. In Athens, Hippolyta and Emilia converse with each other about friendship, love, and marriage. The scene shifts back to Thebes, and...
(The entire section is 1505 words.)