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The Two Noble Kinsmen Scenes

Scene 2

The prison.

(Palamon; Arcite; Emilia; Woman; Jailer)

Palamon and Arcite are convinced that they will be prisoners for the rest of their lives, and therefore resolve to make the best of things. Though regretting that they will no longer be able to fight or hunt, and will never marry, they are convinced that since they are together they will be able to survive their time in jail. Arcite praises prison as a way to escape from the evils of the world, and Palamon quite agree. Very self-satisfied, they congratulate themselves on their wisdom and on the strength of their friendship, vowing that nothing shall ever part them. At that moment Emilia and her waiting-woman appear in the garden below, and as she discussed the flowers, both men fall quite head-over-heels for her, with predictable results. They fall to arguing over which one of them has the best right to woo her, Palamon with the deep argument that he saw her first, Arcite with the fact that he saw her as well. They are soon well on the way to mutual hatred, insulting and threatening one another, and vowing to achieve the lady in the other’s despite. The Jailer arrives with orders to bring Arcite to Theseus. Palamon is paranoid that Arcite may have been called for to marry Emilia. The Jailer returns to inform Palamon that Arcite has been set at liberty, on condition that he leave Athenian ground forever. Palamon envies him, as he will have opportunities of coming to Emilia’s attention. The jailer’s orders for Palamon, by contrast, are to move him to a new cell where he will not have a view of the garden. He absolutely refuses, but the Jailer insists, and chains him up even more heavily for the forced journey. Seeing there is no way around it, Palamon gives in, bidding farewell to Emilia. (345 lines)

Enter Palamon, and Arcite in prison.


How do you, noble cousin?


How do you, sir?


Why, strong enough to laugh at misery

And bear the chance of war yet. We are prisoners

I fear forever, cousin.


I believe it,

And to that destiny have patiently

Laid up my hour to come.


O cousin Arcite,

Where is Thebes now? Where is our noble country?

Where are our friends and kindreds? Never more

Must we behold those comforts, never see

The hardy youths strive for the games of honor,

Hung with the painted favors of their ladies,

Like tall ships under sail; then start amongst ’em

And as an east wind leave ’em all behind us,

Like lazy clouds, whilst Palamon and Arcite,

Even in the wagging of a wanton leg,

Outstripp’d the people’s praises, won the garlands,

Ere they have time to wish ’em ours. O, never

Shall we two exercise, like twins of honor,

Our arms again, and feel our fiery horses

Like proud seas under us. Our good swords now

(Better the red-ey’d god of war nev’r ware),

Ravish’d our sides, like age must run to rust,

And deck the temples of those gods that hate us;

These hands shall never draw ’em out like lightning

To blast whole armies more.


No, Palamon,

Those hopes are prisoners with us. Here we are,

And here the graces of our youths must wither

Like a too-timely spring. Here age must find us,

And which is heaviest, Palamon, unmarried.

The sweet embraces of a loving wife,

Loaden with kisses, arm’d with thousand Cupids,

Shall never clasp our necks; no issue know us;

No figures of ourselves shall we ev’r see

To glad our age, and like young eagles teach ’em

Boldly to gaze against bright arms, and say,

“Remember what your fathers were, and conquer!”

The fair-ey’d maids shall weep our banishments,

And in their songs curse ever-blinded Fortune

Till she for shame see what a wrong she has done

To youth and nature. This is all our world:

We shall know nothing here but one another,

Hear nothing but the clock that tells our woes;

The vine shall grow, but we shall never see it;

Summer shall come, and with her all delights,

But dead-cold winter must inhabit here still.


’Tis too true, Arcite. To our Theban hounds,

That shook the aged forest with their echoes,

No more now must we hallow; no more shake

Our pointed javelins, whilst the angry swine

Flies like a Parthian quiver from our rages,

Struck with our well-steel’d darts. All valiant uses

(The food and nourishment of noble minds)

In us two here shall perish; we shall die

(Which is the curse of honor) lastly

Children of grief and ignorance.


Yet, cousin,

Even from the bottom of these miseries,

From all that fortune can inflict upon us,

I see two comforts rising, two mere blessings,

If the gods please—to hold here a brave patience,

And the enjoying of our griefs together.

Whilst Palamon is with me, let me perish

If I think this our prison.



’Tis a main goodness, cousin, that our fortunes

Were twin’d together. ’Tis most true, two souls

Put in two noble bodies, let ’em suffer

The gall of hazard, so they grow together,

Will never sink; they must not, say they could;

A willing man dies sleeping, and all’s done.


Shall we make worthy uses of this place

That all men hate so much?


How, gentle cousin?


Let’s think this prison holy sanctuary

To keep us from corruption of worse men.

We are young and yet desire the ways of honor,

That liberty and common conversation,

The poison of pure spirits, might, like women,

Woo us to wander from. What worthy blessing

Can be, but our imaginations

May make it ours? And here being thus together,

We are an endless mine to one another;

We are one another’s wife, ever begetting

New births of love; we are father, friends, acquaintance;

We are, in one another, families:

I am your heir, and you are mine; this place

Is our inheritance. No hard oppressor

Dare take this from us; here with a little patience

We shall live long, and loving. No surfeits seek us;

The hand of war hurts none here, nor the seas

Swallow their youth. Were we at liberty,

A wife might part us lawfully, or business,

Quarrels consume us, envy of ill men

Crave our acquaintance; I might sicken, cousin,

Where you should never know it, and so perish

Without your noble hand to close mine eyes,

Or prayers to the gods. A thousand chances,

Were we from hence, would sever us.


You have made me

(I thank you, cousin Arcite) almost wanton

With my captivity. What a misery

It is to live abroad, and every where!

’Tis like a beast, methinks. I find the court here,

I am sure, a more content, and all those pleasures

That woo the wills of men to vanity

I see through now, and am sufficient

To tell the world ’tis but a gaudy shadow

That old Time, as he passes by, takes with him.

What had we been, old in the court of Creon,

Where sin is justice, lust and ignorance

The virtues of the great ones? Cousin Arcite,

Had not the loving gods found this place for us,

We had died as they do, ill old men, unwept,

And had their epitaphs, the people’s curses.

Shall I say more?


I would hear you still.


Ye shall.

Is there record of any two that lov’d

Better than we do, Arcite?


Sure there cannot.


I do not think it possible our friendship

Should ever leave us.


Till our deaths it cannot,

Enter Emilia and her Woman below.

And after death our spirits shall be led

To those that love eternally. Speak on, sir.


This garden has a world of pleasures in’t.

What flow’r is this?


’Tis call’d narcissus, madam.


That was a fair boy certain, but a fool

To love himself. Were there not maids enough?


Pray forward.




Or were they all hard-hearted?


They could not be to one so fair.


Thou wouldst not.


I think I should not, madam.


That’s a good wench!

But take heed to your kindness though.


Why, madam?


Men are mad things.


Will ye go forward, cousin?


Canst not thou work such flowers in silk, wench?




I’ll have a gown full of ’em, and of these:

This is a pretty color, will’t not do

Rarely upon a skirt, wench?


Dainty, madam.


Cousin, cousin, how do you, sir? Why, Palamon!


Never till now I was in prison, Arcite.


Why, what’s the matter, man?


Behold, and wonder!

By heaven, she is a goddess.




Do reverence;

She is a goddess, Arcite.


Of all flow’rs

Methinks a rose is best.


Why, gentle madam?


It is the very emblem of a maid;

For when the west wind courts her gently,

How modestly she blows, and paints the sun

With her chaste blushes! When the north comes near her,

Rude and impatient, then, like chastity,

She locks her beauties in her bud again,

And leaves him to base briers.


Yet, good madam,

Sometimes her modesty will blow so far she falls for’t.

A maid, if she have any honor, would be loath

To take example by her.


Thou art wanton.


She is wondrous fair.


She is all the beauty extant.


The sun grows high, let’s walk in. Keep these flowers,

We’ll see how near art can come near their colors.

I am wondrous merry-hearted, I could laugh now.


I could lie down, I am sure.


And take one with you?


That’s as we bargain, madam.


Well, agree then.

Exeunt Emilia and Woman.


What think you of this beauty?


’Tis a rare one.


Is’t but a rare one?


Yes, a matchless beauty.


Might not a man well lose himself and love her?


I cannot tell what you have done; I have,

Beshrew mine eyes for’t! Now I feel my shackles.


You love her then?


Who would not?


And desire her?


Before my liberty.


I saw her first.


That’s nothing.


But it shall be.


I saw her too.


Yes, but you must not love her.


I will not, as you do—to worship her

As she is heavenly and a blessed goddess;

I love her as a woman, to enjoy her.

So both may love.


You shall not love at all.


Not love at all! Who shall deny me?


I, that first saw her; I, that took possession

First with mine eye of all those beauties in her

Reveal’d to mankind. If thou lov’st her,

Or entertain’st a hope to blast my wishes,

Thou art a traitor, Arcite, and a fellow

False as thy title to her. Friendship, blood,

And all the ties between us, I disclaim

If thou once think upon her.


Yes, I love her,

And if the lives of all my name lay on it,

I must do so; I love her with my soul;

If that will lose ye, farewell, Palamon.

I say again, I love, and in loving her maintain

I am as worthy and as free a lover,

And have as just a title to her beauty,

As any Palamon or any living

That is a man’s son.


Have I call’d thee friend?


Yes, and have found me so. Why are you mov’d thus?

Let me deal coldly with you: am not I

Part of your blood, part of your soul? You have told me

That I was Palamon, and you were Arcite.




Am not I liable to those affections,

Those joys, griefs, angers, fears, my friend shall suffer?


Ye may be.


Why then would you deal so cunningly,

So strangely, so unlike a noble kinsman,

To love alone? Speak truly: do you think me

Unworthy of her sight?


No; but unjust

If thou pursue that sight.


Because another

First sees the enemy, shall I stand still,

And let mine honor down, and never charge?


Yes, if he be but one.


But say that one

Had rather combat me?


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.


You are mad.


I must be—

Till thou art worthy, Arcite, it concerns me,

And in this madness if I hazard thee

And take thy life, I deal but truly.


Fie, sir!

You play the child extremely. I will love her,

I must, I ought to do so, and I dare—

And all this justly.


O that now, that now

Thy false-self and thy friend had but this fortune

To be one hour at liberty, and grasp

Our good swords in our hands, I would quickly teach thee

What ’twere to filch affection from another!

Thou art baser in it than a cutpurse.

Put but thy head out of this window more,

And as I have a soul, I’ll nail thy life to’t!


Thou dar’st not, fool, thou canst not, thou art feeble.

Put my head out? I’ll throw my body out,

And leap the garden, when I see her next,

And pitch between her arms to anger thee.

Enter Jailer above.


No more; the keeper’s coming. I shall live

To knock thy brains out with my shackles.




By your leave, gentlemen.


Now, honest keeper?


Lord Arcite, you must presently to th’ Duke;

The cause I know not yet.


I am ready, keeper.


Prince Palamon, I must awhile bereave you

Of your fair cousin’s company.

Exeunt Arcite and Jailer.


And me too,

Even when you please, of life. Why is he sent for?

It may be he shall marry her; he’s goodly,

And like enough the Duke hath taken notice

Both of his blood and body. But his falsehood!

Why should a friend be treacherous? If that

Get him a wife so noble and so fair,

Let honest men ne’er love again. Once more

I would but see this fair one. Blessed garden,

And fruit and flowers more blessed, that still blossom

As her bright eyes shine on ye, would I were,

For all the fortune of my life hereafter,

Yon little tree, yon blooming apricot!

How I would spread, and fling my wanton arms

In at her window! I would bring her fruit

Fit for the gods to feed on; youth and pleasure,

Still as she tasted, should be doubled on her,

And if she be not heavenly, I would make her

So near the gods in nature, they should fear her;

And then I am sure she would love me.

Enter Jailer above.

How now, keeper,

Where’s Arcite?


Banish’d. Prince Pirithous

Obtained his liberty; but never more,

Upon his oath and life, must he set foot

Upon this kingdom.



He’s a blessed man!

He shall see Thebes again, and call to arms

The bold young men that when he bids ’em charge,

Fall on like fire. Arcite shall have a fortune,

If he dare make himself a worthy lover,

Yet in the field to strike a battle for her;

And if he lose her then, he’s a cold coward.

How bravely may he bear himself to win her,

If he be noble Arcite—thousand ways!

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.


My lord, for you

I have this charge too—


To discharge my life?


No, but from this place to remove your lordship;

The windows are too open.


Devils take ’em

That are so envious to me! Prithee kill me.


And hang for’t afterward!


By this good light,

Had I a sword, I would kill thee.


Why, my lord?


Thou bring’st such pelting scurvy news continually,

Thou art not worthy life. I will not go.


Indeed you must, my lord.


May I see the garden?




Then I am resolv’d, I will not go.


I must

Constrain you then; and for you are dangerous

I’ll clap more irons on you.


Do, good keeper.

I’ll shake ’em so, ye shall not sleep,

I’ll make ye a new morris. Must I go?


There is no remedy.



Farewell, kind window.

May rude wind never hurt thee! O my lady,

If ever thou hast felt what sorrow was,

Dream how I suffer!—Come; now bury me.

Exeunt Palamon and Jailer.


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