As the prologue acknowledges, the primary source of The Two Noble Kinsmen is Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Knight’s Tale” (1387-1400), which was itself based on Giovanni Boccaccio’s romantic version in the Teseida (1340-1341; The Book of Theseus, 1974) of a story from Statius’s Latin epic Thebais (c. 90; Thebaid, 1767). Statius, in turn, derived his story from one of the oldest and most tragic Greek legends: the history of Thebes. Although the only book-length study of The Two Noble Kinsmen—Paul Bertram’s excellent Shakespeare and “The Two Noble Kinsmen” (1965)—argues that the play is solely the work of William Shakespeare, most scholars agree that John Fletcher collaborated with Shakespeare on the play. Shakespeare is thought to have written act 1, the first scenes of acts 2 and 3, and act 5.
Many scholars have noted the unity of image and purpose throughout the play and argue that the two playwrights collaborated throughout the writing of the script, even if one or the other is primarily responsible for certain parts. The scenes attributed to Shakespeare are generally criticized for their formal, ritualistic quality and lack of concern for character development. Fletcher’s scenes are acknowledged to be more dramatically effective but also more melodramatic.
The play revisits themes and concerns of Shakespeare’s earlier plays: the nature and influence of the patriarchy, the disruptive power of love, the movement from innocence to experience, and humanity’s relationship to fate and the gods. Shakespeare’s vision here is darker and more melancholy than in previous plays. Theseus, the champion of patriarchy, is rather cold and remote, and his determination to impose order on the chaotic forces within and without human beings is revealed as successful only in partial ways and only after the destruction or...
(The entire section is 785 words.)