Two Distincts, Division None: Shakespeare and Fletcher's The Two Noble Kinsmen of 1613 - Essay

William Shakespeare, John Fletcher

Two Distincts, Division None: Shakespeare and Fletcher's The Two Noble Kinsmen of 1613

(Shakespearean Criticism)

Philip J. Finkelpearl, Wellesley College

The Two Noble Kinsmen, Shakespeare and Fletcher's adaptation of Chaucer's "The Knight's Tale," can be dated in 1613 with some precision.1 The date is of some importance because several distinguished scholars have recently linked the play to the marriage of Princess Elizabeth and to other events of the same year.2 Here, in an essay honoring the most rigorous biographer Shakespeare has ever had, I want to consider the precise sense in which The Two Noble Kinsmen can be related to topical matters.

This marriage of Elizabeth to Frederick V, Elector Palatine of the Rhine, was central to the plans of the recently deceased Henry, Prince of Wales, for creating a Protestant alliance to curb the Catholic Habsburgs' power. For the marriage the prince had devised, according to Roy Strong, "a splendid series of spectacles, expressly designed to establish the Stuart court in the eyes of Europe as the fount of revived Protestant chivalry."3 Although the project never fully materialized because of the prince's death, Strong shows that the prince's aims can be detected in various surviving works. One of these was a wedding masque about Virginia by George Chapman for the Middle Temple and Lincoln's Inn that endorsed the anti-Spanish, anti-Catholic, and Protestant aspects of British imperialistic expansion. Another masque, commissioned for the same occasion by the Inner Temple and Gray's Inn and performed a few days after the wedding, was by Francis Beaumont. The preface Beaumont wrote for the published text of his masque indicates that his aims were similar to Chapman's. He designed the dance of mythological figures representing the Rhine and the Thames in the first antimasque and of "Common People" in the second antimasque (later adapted for The Two Noble Kinsmen) to register approval of the match. In the main masque Beaumont presented the political message of the prince through an elaborate fiction about the revival of the Olympic games since "The Olympian games portend to the Match, Celebritie, Victorie, and Felicitie."4 "Victorie," it seems fair to say, is not a term normally associated with marriage. From the viewpoint of would-be heroes—young students at the Inns of Court were particularly critical of King James's pacific foreign policy—"Olympian games" on foreign fields, preferably battlefields, were in desperate need of revival and would be a highly desirable by-product of this match.5

Since The Two Noble Kinsmen, written after the princess's marriage, included a passage from Beaumont's marriage masque and opens with a masque celebrating the marriage of a prince and princess, it has spawned conjecture—there is no document specifically making the connection—that the play was one of the many dramatic celebrations of the courtly occasion. However, Beaumont, who would have been the natural continuator of the impulses behind the masque, had nothing to do with the play. Indeed, the astonishingly prolific, very young playwright—in 1613, twenty-eight years old but responsible for part or all of at least twelve plays over the past six years—produced no more work for the theater. It had been generally assumed that his marriage to an heiress in 1613 had obviated the need to write for a living, but recently I discovered that soon after the masque Beaumont suffered an incapacitating "apoplexe," or a stroke. He lingered until 1616, dying about a month before Shakespeare.6

This unexpected turn of events must have created a problem for the King's Men. That they were experiencing some kind of serious trouble seems to be confirmed by the last line of the prologue of The Two Noble Kinsmen, which speaks apprehensively about the possibility that if this play does not succeed, "Our losses fall so thick we must needs leave" (32).7 After The Tempest in 1611 all evidence points to Shakespeare's spending most of his time in Stratford and curtailing, if not altogether stopping, his writing. His retirement would hardly have seemed financially disastrous to the company at a time when Beaumont and Fletcher were at the height of their popularity and capable of producing work at the same prodigious rate as Shakespeare. Now, suddenly, with Beaumont's stroke the production line was in danger of slowing down. This development may, perhaps, account for the reappearance in 1613 of shareholder Shakespeare as a writer, albeit in the new, reduced role of collaborator. Within the year his name is linked (with varying degrees of certainty) with Fletcher's in as many as three collaborative plays: the lost Cardenlo, Henry VIII, and The Two Noble Kinsmen.

It is instructive to observe the nature of the product that emerges from the union of the greatest of all solo writers with the most successful of all dramatic collaborators. The seamless texture of a "Beaumont & Fletcher" production is a commonplace, occasioning Coleridge's confession, "I have never been able to distinguish the presence of Fletcher during the life of Beaumont, nor the absence of Beaumont during the survival of Fletcher."8 This could never be said about The Two Noble Kinsmen. Whether it is the difference in spelling by Shakespeare and Fletcher of a character's name ("Pirithous" vs. "Perithous") or the repetition in a Shakespeare episode of what had already happened in one by Fletcher (cf. 4.1.23 and 5.6.36) or the rather arbitrary insertion of Beaumont's masque dance, there is evidence—and much more could be cited—of a product hastily cobbled together by partners as distant as Stratford and London.

Nonetheless, the final effect is of a hard-won unity. Initially The Two Noble Kinsmen seems as though it might become another vehicle for the propagation of Prince Henry's neochivalric activism. In the first act, allotted to Shakespeare, the legendary warrior Theseus, unlike the indecisive, humiliatingly pacific reigning King of England, demonstrates the validity of the constant praise he receives for his unrivaled military prowess. Like "a deity equal with Mars" (1.1.227) he decides to forsake his bride on their wedding day to perform a chivalric act. As in Chaucer, at the entreaty of some queens widowed by the cruel ruler Creon he wages a swift, successful war on Thebes. Unlike the amiable Theseus of A Midsummer Night's Dream, although sprung from the same source in Chaucer, here he is revered as a kind of Coriolanus: "O Jove, your actions, / Soon as they move, as aspreys do the fish, / Subdue before they touch" (1.1.137-39). Valor in the form of a remorseless brutality is for him the chiefest virtue, as we hear in his praise of the two noble kinsmen, Palamon and Arcite, whom he captured in the recent war:

By th' helm of Mars, I saw them in the war,
Like to a pair of lions smear'd with prey,
Make lanes in troops aghast. . . .

The very lees of such millions of rates
Exceed the wine of others. . . .

their lives concern us,
Much more than Thebes is worth.

(1.4.17-19, 29-30, 32-33)

As I have been describing this introductory section by Shakespeare, it sounds like an echo of Jonson's Prince Henry's Barriers (1610), an event designed by the prince to announce to the world what he hoped to stand for. There, England's greatest warrior kings are extolled in terms like those lauding Theseus: Richard Coeur de Lion "armed with wroth and fire / Ploughing whole armies up with zealous ire," Edward the First, who "lets no less rivers of blood," the Black Prince, "Mars indeed."9 But despite the glorification of a mortal Mars, Theseus the Slaughterer, in The Two Noble Kinsmen certain passages make us wary about Shakespeare's tone. When a weeping queen urges Hippolyta to kneel for "no longer time / Than a dove's motion when the head's pluck'd off (1.1.97-98), we are uncertain whether this new unit of time is meant as an admirably cold-blooded expression by a precursor of the Marquis de Sade or as the language of a desperate widow whose sensibility has been corrupted by the atrocities she has experienced. And how are we to feel about the total immersion in barbaric military values of Theseus' recently conquered Amazonian queen, Hippolyta?

Hippolyta. . . . We have been soldiers, and we cannot weep
When our friends don their helms, or put to sea,
Or tell of babes broach'd on the lance, or women
That have sod their infants in (and after eat them)
The brine they wept at killing 'em.


In that same passage in which Theseus rates Palamon and Arcite's worth as exceeding that of millions of normal men, he directs his surgeons to heal these paragons so that he can imprison them for life! By the fifth act we are so impressed by the purity of Theseus' chivalric nature that Shakespeare can risk a laugh at the expense of this tunnel-visioned warrior's terms of commendation for a potential husband: "he is a good one / As ever strook at head" (5.3.108-9). One passage encapsulates the glorious defect in Theseus' values. When praised for having gone to war in an honorable cause rather than spending his marriage night with his wife, he responds, "As we are men / thus should we do, being sensually subdu'd / We lose our human title" (1.1.230-32). To be godlike, Martian, requires repression of natural instincts. Theseus is at once ponderous, holier than thou, and a paragon.10

Through such shadings we realize that Shakespeare is constructing his usual complex dialectic. From the first Theseus' sister-in-law Emilia tries to act as "a counter-reflect 'gainst / My brother's heart, and warm it to some pity" (1.1.127-28). But her function expands in 1.3, one of the most remarkable passages in Shakespeare's late work. She hears of the great friendship between Theseus and Perithous and without warning breaks into an emotional, "high-speeded" (1.3.83) contrast between the mature love of two lifelong male friends and the love she experienced at eleven with another girl of the same age. The male relationship has been grounded in "judgment" and responds to the friends' immediate personal needs. The two girls, "things innocent"—they have scarcely acquired enough identity to be called humans, as Emilia explains—

Lov'd for we did, and like the elements
That know no what nor why, yet do effect
Rare issues by their operance, our souls
Did so to one another.


Emilia then describes the identity, the fused oneness, of the two lovers. Whether a flower, a hat, or a tune, if one of them owns it, the other assimilates, imitates, or appropriates it:

Had mine ear
Stol'n some new air, or at adventure humm'd one
From musical coinage, why, it was a note
Whereon her spirits would sojourn (rather dwell on)
And sing it in her slumbers.


We are in the area of mystical love explored in the sonnets and particularly in The Phoenix and the Turtle, where the lovers are "two distincts, division none":

The flow'r that I would pluck
And put between my breasts (O then but beginning
To swell about the blossom), she would long
Till she had such another, and commit it
To the like innocent cradle, where phoenix-like
They died in perfume.


Emilia's friend Flavina died young, and the lovely equation of the deaths of the girl and the roses, two "phoenixes," validates by its eloquence Emilia's belief "That the true love 'tween maid and maid may be / More than in sex dividual" (1.3.81-82); and the seeming formlessness of Emilia's innocent outburst highlights the stiff artificiality of the world that surrounds her.

Emilia's passage sounds the keynote for a play that is structured around differences of age, gender, values, social class, and ways of loving. This theme is explicitly stated in the bridge that Shakespeare constructs in 2.1 to the contributions of Fletcher that begin with 2.2 and continue through most of the play until the fifth act. As we have seen, Theseus had been goaded into fighting and defeating Creon's Thebes, in the process capturing and imprisoning Palamon and Arcite. In 2.1 at Palamon and Arcite's jail we hear praise of the two "noble sufferers" from the daughter of their jailer. She exclaims—doubtless casting a glance at her pedestrian if not ignoble wooer, who is also present—"It is a holiday to look on them. Lord, the diff' rence of men!" (2.1.55-56). Shakespeare's Palamon and Arcite are angry, idealistic moralists, proud of their purity yet wary of the inevitable corruption. In the prologue (generally ascribed to Fletcher) the worry is expressed that Chaucer might find the play "witless chaff and resent the treatment "lighter / Than Robin Hood" that has been accorded to his "fam'd works" (19-21). There is some justification for the prologue's concern because Fletcher's portrayal of the kinsmen, in particular, shows a comic dimension to their chivalrous confrontations. Fletcher's Palamon and Arcite are selfconsciously noble rhetoricians, sentimentally lamenting their exile from a Thebes that Shakespeare's pure knights had detested. When we view them alone together for the first time, the cousins' despair gradually modulates to rapture at the prospect of a life in prison, away from the corruption of this world and the possible disruption of their great friendship:

Palamon. Is there record of any two that lov'd
Better than we do, Arcite?
Arcite. Sure there cannot.
Palamon. I do not think it possible our friendship
Should ever leave us.
Arcite. Till our deaths it cannot.


At this moment the lovely Emilia appears in the courtyard below their cell. Palamon catches sight of her, as does Arcite a moment later, they are both completely smitten by her image, and their friendship immediately comes apart:

Palamon. I saw her first.
Arcite. That's nothing.
Palamon. But it shall be.
Arcite. I saw her too.
Palamon. Yes, but you must not love her.


Here, without doubt is a broadly comic (and Fletcherian) moment that cuts through all the high-sounding talk, and it is not an isolated one. In the ensuing exchange Arcite defends his right to love Emilia, despite Palamon's microsecond priority in viewing her:

Arcite. Because another
First sees the enemy, shall I stand still,
And let mine honor down, and never charge?
Palamon. Yes, if he be but one.
Arcite. But say that one
Had rather combat me?
Palamon. Let that one say so,
And use thy freedom; else, if thou pursuest her,

Be as that cursed man that hates his country,
A branded villain.
Arcite. You are mad.


Emilia as an enemy soldier, Arcite as a traitor to his country! In the same scene Palamon has two other extravagant fantasies. In the first he wishes he were an apricot tree that could supply Emilia with fruit "Fit for the gods to feed on" (2.2.239). He would "make her / So near the gods in nature, they should fear her" (241-42). Then, Palamon concludes, "I am sure she would love me" (243). When a few lines later he learns that Arcite has been freed, he has another mad fantasy:

Were I at liberty, I would do things
Of such a virtuous greatness that this lady,
This blushing virgin, should take manhood to her
And seek to ravish me.


A virgin lady ravishing a man because she is so struck by his virtue! The inseparable partner of the author of The Knight of the Burning Pestle is beginning his portion of the play by shamelessly "camping up" the old, revered "Knight's Tale," in the process adding some surprising and amusing shadings to Shakespeare's "pair of lions."

Fletcher's treatment of Palamon and Arcite in the rest of the play continues to be two-edged but his tone is generally graver. As strict adherents of the chivalric code, their conduct is completely regulated for them. They must act as nobly and honorably as possible while pursuing Emilia to the exclusion of all else. Not surprisingly considering the emphasis of the play, "must" appears more frequently in The Two Noble Kinsmen than in any other play in Shakespeare's canon, almost twice his average.11 Critics have attacked Fletcher for failing to differentiate the protagonists, but that is the point. Adherence to the code makes the two cousins nearly interchangeable automatons, and one may discern a deeper implication in their actions. Although the knightly code may originally have been designed to curb uncivilized instincts, here it sanctions and dignifies the urge for revenge, murder, and suicide. In 3.6 the cousins arm each other for single combat with extravagant, "noble" courtesy, and each tries to cede advantages in the combat to the other. Then they fight with a "mad" (122) impulse to annihilate each other—all this, we must recall, for a girl whom Palamon, at least, has never met. When separated by Theseus, who happens upon them in combat, they now try to outdo each other in a show of indifference for their lives, each pleading to be punished if the other is, each refusing freedom if it means abandoning the quest for Emilia, each eager to be killed if Emilia prefers the other. To Theseus and his court with their identical values this fanatical commitment to love or death appears magnificent. "These are men!" (3.6.265) exclaims Pirithous, and we must agree with all this implies, with the full spectrum from admiration of their purity of commitment to revulsion at their exhibitionistic machismo.

It is left to Theseus, the legendary embodiment of the heroic life, to sanction the kinsmen's noble values by the solution he ordains for their dilemma. Of course, they must engage in a chivalric encounter, but they must find "three fair knights" to fight along with them. The winner "shall enjoy her; the other lose his head, / And all his friends" will also be executed (3.6.296-97). The Spartan harshness of the four executions does not, significantly, derive from Chaucer: its invention is one of the clearest signs that the play is viewing the honor code skeptically and, perhaps, is supporting King James's recent decree (1613) against dueling. When Emilia hears the admiring descriptions of the cavaliers, whose extravagant sense of noblesse oblige has made them partners in her lovers' fight, she underlines the outlandish stringency of the conditions: "Must these men die too?" (4.2.112). Fletcher's Emilia is consistent with Shakespeare's portrayal—soft-hearted, gently questioning the harsh tenets of her civilization—but even her sister, the Amazonian warrior Hippolyta, notes the disproportion between the stakes and the penalty. Such a group of men as those pledged to fight, she says, "would show / Bravely about the titles of two kingdoms. / 'Tis pity love should be so tyrannous" (4.2.144-46). Both love and her husband are pitiless and tyrannous, and thus in their world of "must's," she acknowledges, "It must be" (148). A comment in the subplot wryly makes the same point about courtly values. Asked whether Theseus' conditions for settling Palamon and Arcite's differences are "good," someone comments, "They are honorable, / How good they'll prove, I know not" (4.1.29-31). Honorable behavior is not automatically "good."

This is not the only connection between the subplot and the main plot. Comprising about 20 percent of the play, with no basis in "The Knight's Tale" and attributed almost completely to Fletcher, this nearly independent story of the pathetic fortunes of the Jailer's Daughter makes a powerful judgment about heroes who live their lives on the high wire. Like her father's captives, she, too, has contracted a passion—a hopeless one in her case because of her social position—for Palamon. In a succession of soliloquies alternating with the main plot, we hear that her love is an unquenchable sexual hunger: "O for a prick now, like a nightingale, / To put my breast against" (3.4.25-26). Eventually she goes mad out of sexual frustration. After much Victorian prudery about the sort of "trash" we would expect of the lubricious Fletcher, this subplot and particularly the character of the Daughter have come to be appreciated in recent years as stage-worthy and moving: "Infinitely more interesting than Ophelia. A terribly credible character for us, now," according to the distinguished British actress Imogen Stubbs who played the Daughter in the 1986 Royal Shakespeare Company production at the Swan Theatre.12

The Daughter's scenes are counterpointed to ones showing Palamon and Arcite's rivalry, the mad helplessness of animalistic love being set against the mad automatism of courtly love. It is unclear which is worse for humans: to be subdued by one's senses or by one's "godlike" aspirations. But Fletcher exploits the contrast in another way by showing the world of difference between the treatment of love madness in the cousins' heroic, and the Daughter's pastoral, worlds. In 3.5, just before Theseus' harsh but equable solution to the noble kinsmen's problem, we are shown the Daughter's humane return to society and her family. She has been aimlessly wandering around the countryside in search of Palamon and is suddenly spotted by a troop of country folk—they call themselves "mad boys" (3.5.24)—who in the manner of A Midsummer Night's Dream are preparing a morris dance to entertain Theseus and his court. They are in desperate need of another woman because "Cicely the sempster's daughter" has not appeared. Suddenly they see the Daughter, obviously mad:

First Countryman. A mad woman? We are made, boys!
Schoolmaster. And are you mad, good woman?
Jailer's Daughter. I would be sorry else.


In her sorry state, madness has been her only protection, but now in an open, unquestioning manner, the Countrymen, mad boys that they are, incorporate her madness into theirs. The morris dance in The Inner Temple Masque was so admired by the king that he "called for it againe at the end"; Beaumont intended it to create "a spirit of Countrey jollitie."13 Perhaps the motive in inserting the dance into the play may have been merely commercial, a much-needed added attraction for the King's Men, reeling from their recent "losses." However, the effect is similar to that of the "bergomask" in A Midsummer Night's Dream, its "Countrey jollitie" a healthy madness that momentarily clears the air.

The Jailer's Daughter had seemed destined to play the mad Ophelia, but while we hear of her further sufferings, we never see her alone again and can no longer imagine her destined for a tragic fate. In her next appearance (4.1), just after Theseus has established the bloody conditions that will cure the cousins' madness and after we hear her "Wooer" describe how he saved the Daughter from drowning, she enters, as obsessed by Palamon as ever. Now, however, she is back in a warm family circle that literally "humors" her by pretending to be on a ship taking her to Palamon:

All. Owgh, owgh, owgh! 'Tis up! The wind's fair.
Top the bowling! Out with the mainsail!
Where's your whistle, master?
Brother. Let's get her in.
Jailer. Up to the top, boy!
Brother. Where's the pilot?
First Friend. Here.
Jailer's Daughter. What ken'st thou?
Second Friend. A fair wood.
Jailer's Daughter. Bear for it, master.
Tack about! Sings.
"When Cynthia with her borrowed light," etc.


The family's frantic, desperate "play therapy" offers a uniquely moving moment in Jacobean drama.

But it is the manner in which Fletcher has the Daughter's madness cured that best distinguishes two rhythms of life, two kinds of civilization. The family's doctor sees that the Daughter's trouble is "not an engraff d madness, but a most thick and profound melancholy" (4.3.48-50). The symptom being a kind of schizophrenia, he prescribes a form of therapy that has adherents today. The family must enter her fantasy world and act the parts she assigns them: "It is a falsehood she is in, which is with falsehoods to be combated" (4.3.93-4). This may involve actions that under ordinary circumstances would be considered immoral. Her old "wooer" must play the part of Palamon:

Doctor. .. . do any thing,
Lie with her, if she ask you.
Jailer. Ho there, doctor!
Doctor. Yes, in the way of cure.
Jailer. But first, by your leave,
I'th' way of honesty.
Doctor. That's but a niceness.
Nev'r cast your child away for honesty.
Cure her first this way, then if she will be honest,
She has the path before her.


After the father leaves, this amoral medical empiricist repeats his contempt for the Jailer's unscientific, moralistic qualms: "You fathers are fine fools. Her honesty! / And we should give her physic till we find that—" (5.4.28-29). At the very moment when the climactic battle between the forces of Palamon and Arcite is in preparation—"the noblest sight / That ev'r was seen" (5.2.99-100)—the Wooer, pretending to be Palamon, is preparing to take the Daughter to bed. The "therapy" works, and we hear that the cured Daughter is planning to marry her faithful lover. "Honesty," meaning (as often for Beaumont and Fletcher) unthinking adherence to unnatural precepts, is a "niceness" like love unto death; it is a concern of the heroic world.14 For the rest, those who do not aspire to "nobility" or godhead, it is enough to satisfy natural appetites and keep the noiseless tenor of their way.

The structure of The Two Noble Kinsmen is unusual in that a double plot, largely Fletcher's, is enfolded by Shakespeare's contribution. Only rarely is he concerned with plot or character development. While Fletcher dramatized a contrast between "kinds" of humans, Shakespeare wrapped the human predicaments in broader, cosmological implications. At the opening of the play he establishes the martial, chivalric atmosphere of Athens, but he also keeps reminding us of the higher forces that master our destinies, such as, "Th' impartial gods, who from the mounted heavens / View us their mortal herd, behold who err / And in their time chastise" (1.4.4-6), "This world's a city full of straying streets, / And death's the market-place, where each one meets" (1.5.15-16). When Shakespeare resumes control of the action in the fifth act, he once again raises matters to a higher power, particularly in the magniloquent prayers by the combatants to their tutelary deities before the battle. Arcite's to Mars is as spine-tingling as it is bone-chilling. One thrills to the evocation of a power "whose breath blows down / The teeming Ceres' foison; who dost pluck / With hand armipotent from forth blue clouds / The mason'd turrets" (5.1.52-55). Yet intermixed with the rousing tribute to militarism are passages that may seem less attractive to us than they do to Arcite. The god he unreservedly admires "makes the camp a cestron / Brimm'd with the blood of men" (46-47); he "heal'st with blood / The earth when it is sick, and cur'st the world / O' th' plurisy of people" (64-66). Palamon's great prayer to Venus describes her as even more powerful: "What godlike power / Hast thou not power upon?" (5.1.89-90), but (again in seemingly unconscious derogation) what this love goddess inspires in men is behavior that is humiliating, horrid, or disgusting: "sovereign queen of secrets, who has power / To call the fiercest tyrant from his rage / And weep unto a girl" (5.1.77-79); "thy yoke / [is] . . . heavier / Than lead itself, stings more than nettles" (95-97). Finally, Emilia's exquisite prayer is to a Diana whose purity makes her utterly ineffectual amid such brutal powers: "O sacred, shadowy, cold, and constant queen, / Abandoner of revels, mute, contemplative" (5.1.137-38). Emilia desires to remain outside the sexual world (with much good reason, we are made to feel), but against the two supreme powers, she hopelessly realizes, Diana is impotent: "I shall be gather'd" (170). The bleak conclusion to the play is thus a natural development from the stress Shakespeare has been placing in act 5 on the role of the gods:

Theseus. .. . O you heavenly charmers,
What things you make of us! For what we lack
We laugh, for what we have are sorry, still
Are children in some kind.


However different the members of the "mortal herd" (1.4.4-6) may appear from ground level, we are all alike, ludicrous, helpless "things." The somber conclusion by Theseus is apparently Shakespeare's last written utterance. Of course, we have no more right to identify Shakespeare with Theseus than we do with Prospero or Leontes, but at this concluding moment the sentiment sounds ominously closer to Gloucester's view of us as "flies to wanton boys" than to that of the Victorian Bard on the heights bidding a serene farewell to us as "precious winners all."

In any case, The Two Noble Kinsmen was a collaboration based upon complementarity. Throughout his career Fletcher laughed at mad lovers and overly rhetorical poseurs; questioned the implications of some of the most prominent cant terms of the time, especially "noble"; and viewed critically the inflexibility of the honor code and hence of the duel. Shakespeare, too, had treated such matters, particularly in Coriolanus, where his fifty-eight uses of "noble" remorselessly anatomize the entire spectrum of its meanings from "large-spirited" to "fascistic." Here, however, Shakespeare primarily viewed this play about mad lovers from perspectives we expect in his late plays: on earth that of the idealized love of the Emilia-Flavina relationship and above, virtually from their eighth sphere, that of the marble-hearted "heavenly charmers."

Thus we are left with my initial problem, how this play fits into the theatrical offerings of 1613. It was a play produced at the Blackfriars with an "upscale" audience ready to leap upon any possible contemporary allusion and written by the two most prominent playwrights of the time. It was also a play that began with a masque celebrating a royal marriage, that included a much-admired dance from an actual marriage masque for the princess, and that stressed Prince Henry's favorite topics—honor and chivalric values—written amid other theatrical works that directly celebrated the marriage. Such a play obviously has connections to its time and place, to the topics of the day. But what does it say about them? Certainly it is not a clear endorsement nor is it a criticism of Prince Henry, the king, the princess, or the Protestant political agenda. On the other hand, subtly, tangentially, complexly, it does deal with such topics.15 We are made to thrill at the magnificence and purity of purpose of the worshipers of Venus and Mars in their various manifestations both high and low while laughing at their confusions, their superficiality, and their ultimate impotency. In part, the richness of the play is made possible by the generous inclusiveness of the Elizabethan dramatic form that can contain divergent but overlapping artistic impulses from dissimilar artists. With a clear opportunity to write something that could cater to power, that could flatter and support official doctrine, Shakespeare and Fletcher demonstrated (as was frequently the case in Jacobean drama, pace some New Historicists!) the essential independence of the greatest dramatists.16 With utter indifference to external pressures they sniffed their way all around the issues with no "irritable reaching after fact and reason." Even at the end of his career Shakespeare with much support from his new partner made his old players, as always, "tell all."


1 It adapts a dance from a masque of 20 February 1613 by Beaumont, and Jonson alludes to it in 1614. Despite Paul Bertram's powerfully argued claims for Shakespeare's unassisted authorship in Shakespeare and The Two Noble Kinsmen (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1965), I accept the traditional ascription of joint authorship (for which there is much corroboration) first registered in the Stationers' Register in 1634 and on the title page of the quarto of the same year. There is remarkable unanimity of agreement about the authorship of individual scenes: here I follow the Riverside Shakespeare.

2 See Eugene Waith, ed., The Two Noble Kinsmen (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989); Glynn Wickham, "The Two Noble Kinsmen, or A Midsummer Night's Dream, Part II?," in The Elizabethan Theatre VII, ed. G. R. Hibbard (Papers given at the Seventh International Conference on Elizabethan Theatre, Waterloo, 1977) (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1980), 167-96; M. C. Bradbrook, "Shakespeare as Collaborator," The Living Monument (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), 227-41.

3Henry, Prince Of Wales (London: Thames and Hudson, 1986), 175. Further page references to this book are in the text.

4The Maske of the Inner Temple and Gray es Inne, ed. Fredson Bowers in Bowers, gen. ed., The Dramatic Works in the Beaumont and Fletcher Canon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966), 1:128, lines 36-38.

5 See my Court and Country Politics in the Plays of Beaumont and Fletcher (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), 206-11, for a more detailed discussion of the masque and Beaumont's politics.

6 Ibid., 41-42, 255-58.

7 All quotations are from Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, eds., William Shakespeare: The Complete Works (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986). I insert without notice some readings from the Quarto (notably 4.1.145) where the Oxford edition's emendation is unnecessary. Some have guessed that "losses" refers to the fire of 1613 that leveled the Globe during a production of Henry VIII Some have suggested that the plural "losses" makes possible a reference to Prince Henry's death; or, I would add, to Beaumont's stroke or to the 1613 death of Shakespeare's last surviving brother Richard.

8Coleridge on the Seventeenth Century, ed. Roberta F. Brinkley (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1955), 650.

9 I have been quoting and paraphrasing from Strong, Henry, Prince of Wales, 141, 143-44.

10 See Talbot Donaldson, The Swan at the Well: Shakespeare Reading Chaucer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 67, for a view of Theseus as "untouchable by human feelings." For a radically different view see Waith, Two Noble Kinsmen, "the emphasis on pity in the play supports the idealism of the principal characters."

11 My figures derive from Marvin Spevack, A Complete and Systematic Concordance to the Works of Shakespeare (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1968-80). The nearest rival, The Winter's Tale, has 16 percent fewer "must's." In the 2,350 lines of "The Knight's Tale" "must" occurs only five times.

12 Ronnie Mulryne, This Golden Round: The Royal Shakespeare Company at the Swan (Stratford-upon-Avon: Mulryne and Shewring Ltd., 1989), 110.

13 "The Maske of the Inner Temple," ed. Bowers, 134.

14 For an extended justification of this generalization about Beaumont and Fletcher, see my Court and Country Politics, esp. chap. 10 on The Maid's Tragedy.

15 The same may be said of the other Shakespeare-Fletcher collaboration sometimes linked, such as in the Arden edition, to the princess's marriage, Henry VIII Balanced against the rehabilitation of Henry VIII at the end and the nostalgic tribute to Queen Elizabeth is pervasive criticism of the governance of a despotic king, an evil counselor, and a corrupt clergy.

16 I am asserting a position that I argue at length in "The 'Comedians' Liberty': Censorship of the Jacobean Stage Reconsidered," English Literary Renaissance 16 (1986): 123-38.

Source: "Two Distincts, Division None: Shakespeare and Fletcher's The Two Noble Kinsmen of 1613," in Elizabethan Theater: Essays in Honor of S. Schoenbaum, edited by R. B. Parker and S. P. Zitner, University of Delaware Press, 1996, pp. 184-99.