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.
Arcite (AHR-sit), his cousin, an equally worthy young man. He seems, on occasion, a little more forceful than Palamon; it is he who suggests that they leave Thebes and he who comforts his cousin during their imprisonment. Resourcefully disguising himself as a country yeoman to obtain a place in Emilia’s household, he wins favor with the whole court until he is discovered fighting with Palamon. He is never so violently jealous as Palamon is, and, refusing to take advantage of his cousin’s weakness after he has escaped from prison, he offers Palamon first food, then honorable combat. He achieves the victory for which he prayed to Mars, but he is brought down by fate in a freak riding accident.
Theseus (THEE-see-uhs), the noble duke of Athens, a staunch defender of right. His first impulsive decision is generally an absolute one, but he is amenable to the suggestions of his friends and advisers. He yields to the pleas of his Amazon bride and her sister and agrees to delay his wedding to avenge the wrongs of the widowed Theban woman against their tyrannical ruler, Creon. Although he condemns Palamon and Arcite to death when he discovers them in a forbidden duel, he is persuaded to allow them to fight a tournament for the hand of their beloved Emilia, for he hates, as much as his wife and sister do, to lose either of the valiant young men.
Hippolyta (hih-POL-ih-tuh), Theseus’ wife, the former queen of the Amazons, a wise and sympathetic wife and sister. She urges Theseus to postpone their wedding when she recognizes the great need of the Theban women. Later, she pleads for the lives of Palamon and Arcite.
(The entire section is 816 words.)