The Two Noble Kinsmen (Vol. 41)
The Two Noble Kinsmen
For further information on the critical history of The Two Noble Kinsmen, see SC, Volume 9.
Probably the last play with which Shakespeare was associated, the title page of The Two Noble Kinsmen attributes authorship to both him and John Fletcher, Shakespeare's successor as playwright for the King's Men (the most favored acting company in the Jacobean period). Incongruities in the text due to joint authorship and the seeming predominance of writing attributed to Fletcher, coupled with the play's absence from the authoritative First Folio, have led to the play's neglect for most of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. However, recent critics have argued for the play's importance in the canon. Glynne Wickham (1980) cites several themes in the play that continue the thoughts of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Other critics, such as Cyrus Hoy (1962) and C. H. Hobday (1965), have studied the play's language and imagery to distinguish the parts written by Shakespeare and Fletcher, and argue that Shakespeare played a larger role in its authorship than had been previously believed.
In his influential Shakespeare and The Two Noble Kinsmen (1965), Paul Bertram claims that Shakespeare was the play's sole author. Most contemporary critics, however, recognize the play to be a joint venture and see Fletcher's portions of the text—as well as Shakespeare's—as a valuable contribution to English literature. Eugene M. Waith (1986) sees in the contributions of both Fletcher and Shakespeare valuable comments on traditional medieval views of love and friendship. Barry Weiler (1989) claims that The Two Noble Kinsmen appropriates and twists the opinions of its medieval source materials—especially Chaucer and Boccaccio—on love and friendship, and envisions the Jacobean ideals that were gaining acceptance at the time of the play's composition.
The estimation of the play's importance to western literature has indeed grown since its appearance. Douglas Bruster (1995) claims that the character of the jailer's daughter is "a pivotal figure in Jacobean drama" because Shakespeare and Fletcher used her character to comment on social and cultural changes that shaped later dramatic efforts. Richard Abrams (1985) and Laurie J. Shannon (1997) both argue that the figure of Emilia positions Shakespeare and Fletcher against the popular ideals of women at the time of the play's composition and advances different social values centered around female conceptions of friendship. For such critics, the wealth of recent scholarship that distinguishes the contributions of Shakespeare and Fletcher provide a valuable tool for understanding the development of Shakespeare's world view; but the importance of the play to Shakespearean scholarship should not diminish its larger importance to the development of western drama. The Two Noble Kinsmen represents a decisive break with the very source materials which it drew upon and signals a new direction in the portrayal of ideals of love and friendship, a reconception of gender roles, and more complex methods of characterization that would be central to later dramatists.
Glynne Wickham (essay date 1977)
SOURCE: "The Two Noble Kinsmen or A Midsummer Night's Dream, Part II?," in The Elizabethan Theatre VII, edited by G. R. Hibbard, P. D. Meany Company Inc., 1980, pp. 167-96.
[In the following essay, originally presented at the Seventh Waterloo Conference in 1977, Wickham briefly surveys the critical history of The Two Noble Kinsmen and examines the similarities between it and A Midsummer Night's Dream, claiming that the former continues themes introduced in the latter.]
It will not be my purpose to devote time to further discussion of Shakespeare's and Fletcher's respective contributions to this play. To dispose of that question at the outset, therefore, let me simply say that I accept (with only modest reservations) Littledale's assumption of the Shakespearean and non-Shakespearean scenes, supplemented by Alfred Hart's vocabulary tests, and thus base this paper on their findings. Rather do I wish to pursue a line of thought about The Two Noble Kinsmen first raised by Muriel Bradbrook (appropriately also in Canada) at the first International Shakespeare Congress at Vancouver in 1971.
On that occasion she suggested that the play owed much of both its form and content to two historical events—the death of the heir apparent, Henry Stuart, Prince of Wales on 6th November, 1612, followed by the...
(The entire section is 15590 words.)
Cyrus Hoy (essay date 1962)
SOURCE: "The Shares of Fletcher and his Collaborators in the Beaumont and Fletcher Canon (VII)," in Studies in Bibliography: Papers of the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia, Vol. 15, 1962, pp. 71-90.
[In the following excerpt, Hoy surveys the linguistic evidence that distinguishes the work of Shakespeare and Fletcher in The Two Noble Kinsmen.]
This monograph concludes with an account of Fletcher's presumptive collaborations with Shakespeare, only one of which has a place in the standard Beaumont and Fletcher canon. About Fletcher's share in The Two Noble Kinsmen, there is no real difficulty. The linguistic evidence is sufficient to point with reasonable clarity to the specific scenes of his authorship. Shakespeare's presence in the play will have to be proved on other than linguistic grounds. All that can be said is that the linguistic pattern displayed in the non-Fletcherian scenes that are generally attributed to him is not inconsistent with the pattern of linguistic preferences—in so far as there is one—exhibited in the acknowledged work of his last period. Since the case for Fletcher's presence in Henry VIII is, in large part, based on the widespread use of ye in the text of the 1623 Shakespeare folio, it has been deemed proper to close the present study of Fletcher's work in collaboration with an...
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Douglas Bruster (essay date 1995)
SOURCE: "The Jailer's Daughter and the Politics of Madwomen's Language," in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 46, No. 3, Fall, 1995, pp. 277-300.
[In the essay that follows, Bruster explores the character of the jailer's daughter as "'a pivotal figure in Jacobean drama, " highlighting relations of power in the play and commenting on Jacobean culture and social change.]
The jailer's daughter in Shakespeare and Fletcher's The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613) is a pivotal figure in Jacobean drama. More than any other character in Shakespeare's late plays, she embodies changes in both dramatic representation and the larger culture of early modern England. As if testifying to the social and dramatic difference of this important character (who is absent, it should be pointed out, in the source materials from which the play's more familiar main plot derived), Shakespeare and Fletcher work to isolate her from the rest of the drama's action and characters.1 Grounded in a pathetic madness, she stands outside the play's self-definition of the social and is not recognized as politically significant by any character in the drama. As I will argue, however, it is precisely in the mad language of this otherwise disempowered character that we get the richest picture of the arrangements of power in the play, of social relations in the early modern...
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Love And Friendship
Eugene M. Waith (essay date 1986)
SOURCE: "Shakespeare and Fletcher on Love and Friendship," in Shakespeare Studies: An Annual Gathering of Research, Criticism, and Review, Vol. XVIII, 1986, pp. 235-49.
[In the essay that follows, Waith explores the conflict between friendship and love in The Two Noble Kinsmen, and examines the differences between Shakespeare and Fletcher in their treatment of this theme.]
The loue of men to women is a thing common and of course: the friendshippe of man to man infinite and immortali.
These words of Eumenides in Lyly's Endimion1 give euphuistic form to one side of the conflict between love and friendship, which constitutes one plot in that play and underlies the main action of The Two Noble Kinsmen. By 1613, when Shakespeare and Fletcher's play was first performed, similar conflicts had been the subject of many stories in western literature, the earliest of them found in the twelfth-century collection of tales called the Disciplina Clericalis by Petrus Alfonsi, a Sephardic Jew converted to Christianity.2 Brought up in Moorish Spain, he probably derived his story from Near Eastern sources, but it proved to be very appealing to western readers. It was given its best known form by Boccaccio as the eighth story of the tenth day in the...
(The entire section is 13411 words.)
Laurie J. Shannon (essay date 1997)
SOURCE: "Emilia's Argument: Friendship and 'Human Title' in The Two Noble Kinsmen;' in ELH, Vol. 64, No. 3, Fall, 1997, pp. 657-82.
[In the following essay, Shannon examines the character of Emilia and claims that she "revises the definitional prejudices of the male model regarding both gender and sexuality. "]
The masculinity of ideal friendship in the Renaissance is as proverbial as the "one soul in two bodies" formulation that celebrates it. Extending Cicero's disqualification of women from ideal friendship in De Amicitia, Montaigne's influential essay "De l'amitié" argued that women's minds were "not strong enough to endure the pulling of a knot so hard, so fast, so durable" as that composing a friendship based on (masculine) virtue.1 Writers throughout the Renaissance commonly employed the classical trope of a virtuous friendship between male equals as a counterpoint to the conditions of engagement with a political tyrant. In gender terms, the manly autonomy of friendship virtue and its rule by reason contrasts both with the obedient deference deemed appropriate for women and with an inference of "womanishness" or effeminacy regarding the tyrant, whose subjection to passion and appetitiveness emasculates him in the gendered register of Renaissance moral values.2 Not without reason did Montaigne describe...
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Hamlin, Will. "A Select Bibliographical Guide to The Two Noble Kinsmen." In Shakespeare, Fletcher, and 'The Two Noble Kinsmen', edited by Charles H. Frey, pp. 186-216. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1989.
Annotated bibliography of secondary sources on The Two Noble Kinsmen written from the early eighteenth century through 1987.
Bertram, Paul. "The Composition of the Play." In Shakespeare and The Two Noble Kinsmen, pp. 244-82. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1965.
Argues that Shakespeare is the sole author of The Two Noble Kinsmen.
Cutts, John P. "Shakespeare's Song and Masque Hand in 'The Two Noble Kinsmen'." English Miscellany 18 (1967): 55-85.
Examines the authorship of different sections of the play by exploring its use of masque, music, and song.
Hadorn, Peter T. "The Two Noble Kinsmen and the Problem of Chivalry." In Medievalism in England, edited by Leslie J. Workman, pp. 45-57. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1992.
Compares The Two Noble Kinsmen with Troilus and Cressida, claiming that both plays question the ideology of chivalry that held currency at the time of the plays' compositions.
Kehler, Dorothea. "Shakespeare's Emilias and the Politics of...
(The entire section is 401 words.)