Study Guide

The Two Noble Kinsmen

by William Shakespeare, John Fletcher

The Two Noble Kinsmen Essay - The Two Noble Kinsmen (Vol. 70)

The Two Noble Kinsmen (Vol. 70)

Introduction

The Two Noble Kinsmen

For further information on the critical history of The Two Noble Kinsmen, see SC, Volumes 9, 41, 50, and 58.

One of Shakespeare's least known plays, The Two Noble Kinsmen is believed to have been written by both Shakespeare and John Fletcher. Although most scholars accept the idea of joint authorship, some critics claim that Shakespeare had no part in the writing of the play. Not only is the question of the nature of Fletcher and Shakespeare's collaboration a topic of critical debate, but the concept of collaboration itself has been examined as a theme of the play. Other areas of critical investigation include the theme of friendship and the play's genre. In his introduction to The Two Noble Kinsmen, G. R. Proudfoot (1970) discusses the ways in which the play diverges from the formula of tragicomedy, noting that unlike other contemporary tragicomedies, The Two Noble Kinsmen sustains its somber quality through the play's ending. After reviewing the play's relation to Chaucer's The Knight's Tale, and surveying its themes, Proudfoot concludes that the play is notable not for its characters, but for its masterful control of tragicomic effects. In reviews of modern productions of The Two Noble Kinsmen, the portrayal of the relationship between the two kinsmen, Palamon and Arcite, is frequently of major interest.

The issue of collaboration, in terms of the authorial relationship between Shakespeare and Fletcher, and as a theme in the play, has been explored by critics such as Charles H. Frey (1989) and Donald K. Hedrick (1989). Frey argues that the play exhibits a strategy designed to deflect the audience's attention away from the nature of the authors' collaboration (with each other and/or with their source material) in order to direct attention to the more important collaboration between the producers of the play and the audience. Hedrick takes a different approach to the issue of collaboration, claiming that The Two Noble Kinsmen's thematic exploration of the nature of artistic rivalry suggests that Shakespeare did not collaborate in the writing of the play. Hedrick goes on to explain that Fletcher's coauthor “is wholly unskilled in the degree and kind of indirect, inferential, second-order speech acts characteristic of Shakespeare.” Additionally, Hedrick employs the feminist theory of homosociability as a tool for dissecting the play's depiction of collaboration as a subtext, maintaining that such an approach further underscores the improbability of Shakespeare's joint authorship. Just as Hedrick's analysis includes a discussion of the homosocial relationships in The Two Noble Kinsmen, Alan Stewart (1999) similarly investigates the nature of the idealized male friendship between Palamon and Arcite. Stewart examines the failure of their friendship, and suggests that the relationship is doomed because of the conflict between humanist and chivalric notions of male friendship, and the realities of male relations and kinship bonds in Jacobean England.

The nature of the relationship between Palamon and Arcite is just as fascinating to modern producers of the play as it is to Shakespearean scholars. One production of The Two Noble Kinsmen, directed by Tim Carroll and performed at the Globe Theater, has been assessed by Matt Wolf (2000) and Lois Potter (2001). Potter praises the performances of Jasper Britton as Palamon and Will Keen as Arcite, observing their ability to establish a good relationship with the audience and applauding their treatment of the relationship's mixture of tragic and comic elements. Potter additionally states that Kate Fleetwood's performance as the Jailer's Daughter underscored the serious issue of the character's madness, and comments that as a whole the production was satisfying. In Wolf's favorable appraisal of the production, he offers high praise for Britton's Palamon and describes the production as “enchanting.”

Criticism: Production Reviews

Matt Wolf (review date 2000)

SOURCE: Wolf, Matt. “The Actor's the Thing at Shakespeare's Globe.” Variety 380, no. 3 (4-10 September 2000): 32-4.

[In the following excerpted review, Wolf assesses Tim Carroll's production of The Two Noble Kinsmen at the Globe Theater, offering his praise of Jasper Britton's performance as Palamon and finding the production as a whole “enchanting.”]

Among the various criticisms made of Shakespeare's Globe over the four seasons that the rebuilt playhouse has been attracting summertime hordes, one lament has more or less stuck: the theater's inability to attract name performers to a venue seemingly bigger than any individual who might appear there....

(The entire section is 474 words.)

Lois Potter (review date 2001)

SOURCE: Potter, Lois. “This Distracted Globe: Summer 2000.” Shakespeare Quarterly 52, no. 1 (spring 2001): 124-32.

[In the following excerpted review of The Two Noble Kinsmen, directed by Tim Carroll for the Globe Theater, Potter comments on the director's excising of the text, noting that Carroll valued simplicity over spectacle.]

The Globe season of 2000 paired two famous Shakespeare plays about madness, metatheatricality, and exotic travel (Hamlet and The Tempest) with two rarities: a Fletcher-Shakespeare collaboration (The Two Noble Kinsmen), whose most popular character has always been an Ophelia-like madwoman; and The...

(The entire section is 1357 words.)