Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Palamon (PAL-uh-mon), a young knight, the nephew of Creon, the king of Thebes. Palamon sees and abhors the corruption of his uncle’s government. With his cousin and closest friend, Arcite, he plans to leave Thebes, but when he learns that Theseus, the duke of Athens, is marching against the city, he sees it as his duty to stay and defend it. Imprisoned by the Athenian ruler, he responds with enthusiasm to Arcite’s eager insistence that their friendship will make even lifelong captivity palatable. A few moments later, he shatters this friendship with one brief glimpse of Emilia, who is walking in the garden beneath their window. He will not tolerate Arcite’s professions of love and claims the preeminence of his affection on the grounds that he saw the lady first. He rages with jealousy when his cousin is sent into the country, and he insists on fighting a duel to the death when Arcite comes on him in the woods where he is wandering, hungry and still in chains after his escape from prison. Arcite’s kindness wins from him grudging recognition of his cousin’s nobility in all matters but love, but he begs Theseus to allow their combat to take place. He prays before the fateful battle to the goddess of love, and his prayer is answered, rather deviously, by Arcite’s untimely death. He laments life’s painful irony, which allows him to win his lady through the loss of his dearest friend.
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One of the play's title characters, he is the nephew of Creon, king of Thebes, and the cousin of Palamon. Arcite is the victor in the trial-by-combat to determine who will marry Emilia, but he is mortally wounded when his horse rears up and falls backward on him. With his dying breath, he bestows his right to Emilia on Palamon: his kinsmen, dearest friend, and rival. Arcite and Palamon resemble each other in many ways. Born into the same distinguished family, each of them has won many honors in competitions and on the battlefield. They have hunted wild animals fearlessly and pursued women with youthful warmth and enthusiasm. Each of them is determined to have Emilia for himself. Yet despite the many similarities between them, it is possible to find some differences as well.
Arcite seems more conscientious and practical than Palamon. When the two of them are discussing the impact of Creon's corrupt rule in Thebes, Palamon complains that veteran soldiers are being mistreat- affected and that there are ' decays of many kind'' (I.ii.29). In the Athenian prison, when Palamon laments that their future is bleak, he focuses on the loss of further honors. By contrast, Arcite mourns the fact that he will never have a wife and children. He points out to Palamon that at least they will find comfort in each other's company and that making the best of their situation is better than self-pity. When Arcite is released from prison, he disguises himself and enters an...
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Like her sister Hippolyta, she belongs to a race of female warriors, yet by nature she is gentle and passive. Some commentators regard her as an ideal figure rather than a real woman. They see her as cold and aloof, unwilling to choose between Palamon and Arcite because she lacks passion or sexual desire. Others treat her as an ambiguous figure, incapable of discerning the differences between the two men who love her and reluctant to move from maidenhood to maturity. It may be that her failure to choose between the cousins is no more than a reflection of dramatic necessity. Her betrothal to Arcite when he wins the tournament, and then to Palamon when Arcite is killed, would seem less justifiable if she had ever expressed a preference for one over the other. In the end, she must take whichever man the fates decree.
At times Emilia's love for Palamon and Arcite appears to be so unsubstantial that it hardly seems to matter which one becomes her husband. Though she has several opportunities to choose between them, she refuses to do so. Sometimes she appears to love the young men equally. For example, in IV.ii, she talks aloud to herself as she gazes at small portraits of them that she holds in her hands.' 'Good heaven, / What a sweet face has Arcite!" she remarks, "Here love himself sits smiling" (IV.ii.6- 7, 14). Yet only a moment later she exclaims "Palamon, thou art alone / And only beautiful" (IV.ii.37-38). Even during their trial-by-combat in V.iii, she...
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Her father is in charge of the prison where Palamon and Arcite are held after their capture in I.iv. She falls in love with Palamon, even though she realizes that he is far above her in social status. Her love becomes an obsession, and she loses her sanity. By the close of the play, she is reportedly restored to health and about to marry the man with whom she was in love before Palamon entered her life.
The jailer's daughter has a series of soliloquies which trace the course of her infatuation and gradual descent into madness. In II.iv, she recollects that when she first saw Palamon she thought he was a very attractive young man. Before long, she began to pity him, regretting that he was shut up in prison. "Then," she says, "I loved him, / Extremely loved him, infinitely loved him" (II.iv.14-15). She wonders how she can make her feelings clear, for she would gladly be his lover. She resolves to free him from prison, though she admits that by doing this she'll be breaking the law and endangering her father's position. In III.ii, after she has released Palamon, he disappears into the woods and she cannot find him. As she searches through the night, listening to the howling of wolves and other strange noises, she admits that she has lost all fear for herself; her only concern is Palamon's safety. She remarks that she's becoming bewildered and lightheaded: she hasn't slept or eaten for two days. She fears she may be slipping into a frame of mind that will...
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One of the title characters, he is the nephew of Creon, king of Thebes, and the cousin of Arcite. Palamon is the first to see Emilia and declare that he's in love. As the one who survives at the close of the play, he is the last to claim her as his bride. The young men's passion for Emilia turns their close attachment to each other into heated rivalry. The relationship between Palamon and Arcite becomes the focus of one of the play's principal issues: the conflict between love and friendship. Some commentators find little basis for distinguishing one cousin from another. Both young men are nobly born, competitive by nature, brave in battle, deeply concerned with personal honor and reputation, and relentless in asserting what they see as their right to Emilia. Much of what can be said about Palamon applies equally to Arcite, but some differences can be found between them.
Palamon sometimes seems more impetuous, less thoughtful than Arcite. On the basis of one glimpse of Emilia, he links his honor and his life to winning her. When Arcite admits that he is in love with her, too, Palamon accuses him of treachery and threatens to use his prison shackles to knock his cousin's brains out. In III.vi, the kinsmen have a chance to avoid being recaptured by the duke, but Palamon scorns to take it, viewing it as the coward's way out. He boldly tells Theseus who they are— and reveals that all the time Arcite has been in Emilia's service, he has been in love with...
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One of the greatest of the legendary Greek heroes, he was celebrated as an incomparable warrior. His numerous exploits included the destruction of the Minotaur in the labyrinth on the island of Crete. The mythology that developed around the figure of Theseus included his friendship with Pirithous and his marriage to Hippolyta, the Amazon queen.
In The Two Noble Kinsmen, Theseus represents justice and a well-ordered community. He defends virtue and avenges violations of the rules of a civil society. A serious-minded man, he faithfully adheres to the standard of behavior imposed on him by others and accepts—with some degree of sadness— the notion that the fates are unpredictable and sometimes unjust. He embodies many of the principles of the ideal knight of medieval chivalry, yet on occasion he finds himself torn between conflicting demands of love and duty.
His sensitivity is evident in the first scene of the play, when the Theban queens disrupt the celebration of his marriage to Hippolyta. He recalls the beauty of the first queen on her own wedding day, when she was as young and beautiful as Hippolyta is now. The ravages of time and grief have transformed the queen, and Theseus is stricken by this recognition. When the Theban queens beg him to delay his marriage until after he has attacked Thebes and made Creon pay for his abusive treatment of their husbands' corpses, Theseus hesitates. The conflict he feels between love and duty is...
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An Athenian soldier, Artesius is one of the attendants in the bridal procession in Li and an observer of the three queens' appeal to Theseus. When Theseus decides to go war against Thebes, he instructs Artesius to gather the Athenian forces and meet him at the port of Aulis.
Wearing a white robe to emphasize his innocence, the Boy is part of Theseus and Hippolyta's wedding procession in I.i. He strews flowers as he sings a song calling on Nature to bless the marriage.
Rustics from a village outside Athens, they perform a folk dance for the entertainment of Theseus and his court in connection with the festival of spring. In II.iii, four of the countrymen talk excitedly— and lewdly—about preparations for the performance, to be directed by the local schoolmaster. In high spirits, they speak of the honor the dance will reflect on their village and of how they will outshine all the dancers in Athens. In III.v, six countrymen meet in a clearing in the forest, costumed for the dance: one is dressed as the Lord of May, another as a servingman, a third as the host of an inn, a fourth as a shepherd, and a fifth as a fool or jester. The sixth—the Bavian or Babion—is dressed as a baboon. When it becomes apparent that the countrywoman who was to dance the part of the female fool has failed to show up, the men fear the performance will have to be cancelled. But the jailer's daughter...
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