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TOPIC: Background information (Two Noble Kinsmen)

Background information (Two Noble Kinsmen) 11 years 1 month ago #151

  • William Shakespeare
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The principal edition of The Two Noble Kinsmen is the 1634 quarto published by John Waterson. All other subsequent editions of the play can be shown to have been derived from this one.

he Two Noble Kinsmen was the first published in 1634 in quarto format although it is generally thought to have been written sometime around 1613. The title page ascribes the play to "the memorable Worthies of their time; Mr. John Fletcher, and Mr. William Shakspeare" and most modern critics accept this ascription at face value. That the play was excluded from the 1623 Shakespeare first folio has been used by some critics to dispute Shakespeare's role in the play's composition, however, Pericles was also excluded from the first folio and Troilus and Cressida was only included in some editions, having been stitched into the binding between Henry VIII and Coriolanus and is subsequently absent from the title pages of those editions. Nor was the play present in the first Beaumont and Fletcher folio of 1647 as it only included previously unpublished plays. However, when the second Beaumont and Fletcher folio was published in 1679 an additional eighteen plays were included, The Two Noble Kinsmen being one of these.

The play has appeared in all subsequent B&F collected editions. It was not included in a complete Shakespeare edition until 1841 (The Pictorial Shakespeare) and after that only appeared sporadically as a Shakespeare play in the nineteenth century. This situation slowly changed during the twentieth century to the result that it currently appears in all of the major modern collections of Shakespeare's works: the Oxford, Riverside, Arden, Norton, Cambridge, and Penguin editions, though curiously enough not the new Pelican Shakespeare. Apparently this is primarily due to the poor sales of the Penguin edition of 1977.

It is interesting to note that of all the single edition versions of the play in the twentieth century, only one, the Regents Renaissance Drama edition (ed. Richard Proudfoot 1970), bears both the names of Shakespeare and Fletcher on the edition's front cover. Even the excellent new audio recording of the play (Penguin: Arkangel Shakespeare, ISBN 0140868968) announces the play as "by William Shakespeare." Such decisions no doubt have more to do with publishing and sales than they have to do with the practices of editing, yet they still have an effect on how the play is perceived by potential readers.

Drew Whitehead
Last Edit: 5 years 9 months ago by William Shakespeare.
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Background information (Two Noble Kinsmen) 1 year 2 months ago #7227

  • Steve Minkin
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My Shakespeare group will be reading this in three weeks, and these are some of my recent notes about the play.

Estimates of the chronology of the final plays:
"The Tempest" – 1610-11
Then three collaborations with Thomas Fletcher:
The lost play Cardenio (aka Double Falsehood) 1612-13
Henry VIII (aka All Is True) 1612-13
The Two Noble Kinsmen at 1613-14.

The Two Noble Kinsmen was not included in the First Folio (1623) nor in any of subsequent Folios (1632, 1663, & 1685); but it was registered to the company in 1634, and a quarto edition of the play was published later that year. That Quarto is the text upon which all later editions are based. It was also published in the Second Beaumont and Fletcher Folio (1679).

Generally speaking, Will wrote the first and last acts, and the first scene of Act III, and Fletcher (15 years younger than him, and a much breezier and lighter writer) wrote the rest.

There is a reference to Palamon, one of the TNK, in Ben Jonson's play "Bartholomew's Fair" (1614), indicating that theater-goers at the time would have known the character.

John Fletcher was an established writer of urban comedies and the company's principal playwright (Will having retired) at the time he worked with Will on this one. The charming subplot involving the jailer's daughter appears to be Fletcher's creation. It's a crowd pleaser, and Fletcher handles it deftly. It is when he has to render the extended oaths, soliloquies, pleas and declarations that drive the main plot that his words sometimes seem like place-holders for the powerful poetry Shakespeare puts in the same characters' mouths elsewhere in the play. Shakespeare's writing in this play is dark and complex, lyrical rather than dramatic, and often ceremonial. The contrast in styles is far more striking in this one than in the other collaborations we've read, Pericles and Timon, and is surely one of the reasons the play has rarely been performed.

Shakespeare's first scenes in Acts I, III, and V are all highly ceremonial. In I, i, The Three Queens paint a grim picture of their husbands' bones being left to rot in the sun like dead animals as they appeal to Theseus to right the situation. In III, i, Palamon and Arcite exchange chivalrous flatteries and challenges with each other. Shakespeare manages their exchanges as an "intricate mix of pomposity and courtesy" [Bloom] which falls apart when Fletcher takes over in the next scene. The most extended and formal case is the powerful V, i scene, which consists of three lengthy prayers by Arcite, Palamon, and Emilia to their gods (respectively, Mars, Venus and Diana). Before the final act is over, all of them get their prayers fulfilled: Arcite wins the battle (but is then thrown from a horse and dies), Palamon wins the lady, and Emilia weds the one who loved her more.

There are a couple of clear echoes from previous plays:
1} The preparations for the The Morris Dancers in III, v (a scene lifted from a play by Beaumont, Fletcher's main collaborator) remind us of the Rude Mechanicals' preparations before the very same wedding(!) in A Midsummer Night's Dream
2) The jailer's daughter loses her mind and sings fragments of songs, just as Ophelia did. (The Morris Dancers are one woman short, and when they find 'a madwoman' they know have a perfect fill-in for the missing dancer!)
Last Edit: 1 year 2 months ago by Steve Minkin.
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Background information (Two Noble Kinsmen) 1 year 2 months ago #7230

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Since the text is so unfamiliar to almost all of us, I included a number of passages I found striking in my notes to the reading group. Here are some, all by Will except this first one, which is from Fletcher's Jailer's daughter whose love for Palamon has driven her mad:

There is at least two hundred now with child by him [Palamon]–
There must be four; yet I keep close for all this,
Close as a cockle; and all these must be boys –
He has the trick on't – and at ten years old
They must be all gelt for musicians,
And sing the wars of Theseus.
IV, i
[gelt for musicians = turned into castrati]

From the opening scene, the three queens appealing to Theseus about their husbands' bones being left to rot in the sun:
Think, dear Duke, think
What beds our slain kings have.
What griefs our beds,
That our dear lords have none.
None fit for th' dead.
I, i

The concluding lines of Act I:
This world's a city full of straying streets,
And death's the market-place, where each one meets.
I, v

Act III, scene 1 (the one scene written by Shakespeare other than the opening and closing acts) opens with Arcite's observation of the May Day celebrations and is taken directly from Chaucer. This is followed by the dramatic meeting of the two knights, their first encounter since they quarreled over Emilia in jail. Since then, Arcite (exiled, supposedly back in Thebes but actually still in Athens, in disguise) has won Emilia's favor and is part of her retinue while Palamon (freed from jail by the smitten jailer's daughter) is a fugitive. Arcite's May Day meditations are immediately followed by his thoughts of Palamon, who is hiding in the woods nearby, and overhears him, and responds:
Poor cousin Palamon, poor prisoner, thou
So little dreamest upon my fortune that
Thou thinkest thyself the happier thing, to be
So near Emilia; me thou deemest at Thebes,
And therein wretched, although free. But if
Thou knewest my mistress breathed on me, and that
I eared her language, lived in her eye – O coz,
What passion would enclose thee!

[Enter Palamon as out of a bush, with his shackles;
he bends his fist at Arcite]

Traitor kinsman,
Thou shouldst perceive my passion, if these signs
Of prisonment were off me, and this hand
But owner of a sword. By all oaths in one,
I and the justice of my love would make thee
A confessed traitor, . . .
A very thief in love, a chaffy lord
Not worth the name of villain . .

[later in the same scene]
. . . You love me not; be rough with me, and pour
This oil out of your language . . .
Plainly spoken.
Yet pardon me hard language; when I spur
My horse, I chide him not; content and anger
In me have but one face.

[part of Palamon's prayer to Venus in V, i-- Heaven help us all!]
. . . I knew a man
Of eighty winters – this I told them – who
A lass of fourteen brided. 'Twas thy [Venus's] power
To put life into dust; the aged cramp
Had screwed his square foot round,
The gout had knit his fingers into knots,
Torturing convulsions from his globy eyes
Had almost drawn their spheres, that what was life
In him seemed torture. This anatomy
Had by his young fair fere a boy, and I
Believed it was his, for she swore it was,
And who would not believe her?

The concluding lines of the next to last scene, V, iii, Arcite having defeated Palamon, who is now scheduled to be executed.
Is this winning?
O all you heavenly powers, where is your mercy?
But that your wills have said it must be so,
And charge me live to comfort this unfriended,
This miserable prince, that cuts away
A life more worthy from him than all women,
I should, and would, die too.
Infinite pity
That four such eyes should be so fixed on one
That two must needs be blind for't.

And finally the last speech of the final scene by the ranking nobleman:
Never fortune
Did play a subtler game: the conquered triumphs,
The victor has the loss . . .
. . . 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. Let us be thankful
For that which is, and with you leave dispute
That are above our question. Let's go off,
And bear us like the time.
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