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The Two Noble Kinsmen Scenes

Scene 2

Thebes. The palace.

(Palamon; Arcite; Valerius)

The cousins Arcite and Palamon decide to leave Thebes, disgusted at their uncle Creon’s evil ways. Before they can go, however, Valerius comes to call them to Creon’s side. The King is in a rage because he has received Theseus’s challenge. Despite their loathing of the King, the two cousins decide to stay and fight Creon, for Thebes’s sake rather than for his. (133 lines)

Enter Palamon and Arcite.


Dear Palamon, dearer in love than blood,

And our prime cousin, yet unhard’ned in

The crimes of nature—let us leave the city

Thebes, and the temptings in’t, before we further

Sully our gloss of youth:

And here to keep in abstinence we shame

As in incontinence; for not to swim

I’ th’ aid o’ th’ current were almost to sink,

At least to frustrate striving, and to follow

The common stream, ’twould bring us to an eddy

Where we should turn or drown; if labor through,

Our gain but life and weakness.


Your advice

Is cried up with example. What strange ruins,

Since first we went to school, may we perceive

Walking in Thebes! Scars and bare weeds

The gain o’ th’ martialist, who did propound

To his bold ends honor and golden ingots,

Which though he won, he had not; and now flurted

By peace, for whom he fought, who then shall offer

To Mars’s so scorn’d altar? I do bleed

When such I meet, and wish great Juno would

Resume her ancient fit of jealousy

To get the soldier work, that peace might purge

For her repletion, and retain anew

Her charitable heart, now hard, and harsher

Than strife or war could be.


Are you not out?

Meet you no ruin but the soldier in

The cranks and turns of Thebes? You did begin

As if you met decays of many kinds.

Perceive you none that do arouse your pity

But th’ unconsider’d soldier?


Yes, I pity

Decays where e’er I find them, but such most

That sweating in an honorable toil

Are paid with ice to cool ’em.


’Tis not this

I did begin to speak of. This is virtue

Of no respect in Thebes. I spake of Thebes,

How dangerous, if we will keep our honors,

It is for our residing; where every evil

Hath a good color; where ev’ry seeming good’s

A certain evil; where not to be ev’n jump

As they are, here were to be strangers, and

Such things to be, mere monsters.


’Tis in our power

(Unless we fear that apes can tutor’s) to

Be masters of our manners. What need I

Affect another’s gait, which is not catching

Where there is faith? Or to be fond upon

Another’s way of speech, when by mine own

I may be reasonably conceiv’d; sav’d too,

Speaking it truly? Why am I bound

By any generous bond to follow him

Follows his tailor, haply so long until

The follow’d make pursuit? Or let me know

Why mine own barber is unblest, with him

My poor chin too, for ’tis not scissor’d just

To such a favorite’s glass? What canon is there

That does command my rapier from my hip,

To dangle’t in my hand, or to go tiptoe

Before the street be foul? Either I am

The forehorse in the team, or I am none

That draw i’ th’ sequent trace. These poor slight sores

Need not a plantin; that which rips my bosom

Almost to th’ heart’s—


Our uncle Creon.



A most unbounded tyrant, whose successes

Makes heaven unfear’d, and villainy assured

Beyond its power there’s nothing; almost puts

Faith in a fever, and deifies alone

Voluble chance; who only attributes

The faculties of other instruments

To his own nerves and act; commands men service,

And what they win in’t, boot and glory; one

That fears not to do harm; good, dares not. Let

The blood of mine that’s sib to him be suck’d

From me with leeches! Let them break and fall

Off me with that corruption!


Clear-spirited cousin,

Let’s leave his court, that we may nothing share

Of his loud infamy; for our milk

Will relish of the pasture, and we must

Be vile, or disobedient—not his kinsmen

In blood unless in quality.


Nothing truer.

I think the echoes of his shames have deaf’d

The ears of heav’nly justice. Widows’ cries

Descend again into their throats, and have not

Due audience of the gods.

Enter Valerius.



The King calls for you; yet be leaden-footed

Till his great rage be off him. Phoebus, when

He broke his whipstock and exclaim’d against

The horses of the sun, but whisper’d, to

The loudness of his fury.


Small winds shake him.

But what’s the matter?


Theseus (who where he threats appalls) hath sent

Deadly defiance to him, and pronounces

Ruin to Thebes; who is at hand to seal

The promise of his wrath.


Let him approach.

But that we fear the gods in him, he brings not

A jot of terror to us. Yet what man

Thirds his own worth (the case is each of ours),

When that his action’s dregg’d with mind assur’d

’Tis bad he goes about.


Leave that unreason’d.

Our services stand now for Thebes, not Creon.

Yet to be neutral to him were dishonor;

Rebellious to oppose; therefore we must

With him stand to the mercy of our fate,

Who hath bounded our last minute.


So we must.

Is’t said this war’s afoot? Or it shall be,

On fail of some condition?


’Tis in motion,

The intelligence of state came in the instant

With the defier.


Let’s to the King, who were he

A quarter carrier of that honor which

His enemy come in, the blood we venture

Should be as for our health, which were not spent,

Rather laid out for purchase. But alas,

Our hands advanc’d before our hearts, what will

The fall o’ th’ stroke do damage?


Let th’ event,

That never-erring arbitrator, tell us

When we know all ourselves, and let us follow

The becking of our chance.



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