A forest near Athens.
The court of Athens goes a-maying. Arcite congratulates himself on how well things are going, and pities Palamon, locked up in jail and unable to sneak his way into Emilia’s favors. Enraged, Palamon emerges from the bush where he has been hiding, still in chains, and rages against Arcite as a traitor. Arcite tries unsuccessfully to calm him down, and finally promises to duel with Palamon to clear his name. Palamon doubts that a traitor can still be any good with a sword. He swears to stand up to Arcite, so long as he has some weapons and some food to get his strength back. Arcite tells him to hide again, promising to bring him these things. Palamon is touched at this nobility. They hear the horns of the court, and Palamon hides again. They promise to meet again. (139 lines)
Cornets in sundry places. Noise and hallowing, as people a-Maying.
Enter Arcite alone.
The Duke has lost Hippolyta; each took
A several land. This is a solemn rite
They owe bloom’d May, and the Athenians pay it
To th’ heart of ceremony. O queen Emilia,
Fresher than May, sweeter
Than her gold buttons on the boughs, or all
Th’ enamell’d knacks o’ th’ mead or garden! Yea
(We challenge too) the bank of any nymph,
That makes the stream seem flowers! Thou, O jewel
O’ th’ wood, o’ th’ world, hast likewise blest a place
With thy sole presence. In thy rumination
That I, poor man, might eftsoons come between
And chop on some cold thought! Thrice-blessed chance,
To drop on such a mistress, expectation
Most guiltless on’t. Tell me, O Lady Fortune
(Next after Emily my sovereign), how far
I may be proud. She takes strong note of me,
Hath made me near her; and this beauteous morn
(The prim’st of all the year) presents me with
A brace of horses; two such steeds might well
Be by a pair of kings back’d, in a field
That their crowns’ titles tried. Alas, alas,
Poor cousin Palamon, poor prisoner, thou
So little dream’st upon my fortune that
Thou think’st thyself the happier thing to be
So near Emilia. Me thou deem’st at Thebes,
And therein wretched, although free. But if
Thou knew’st my mistress breath’d on me, and that
I ear’d her language, liv’d in her eye, O coz,
What passion would enclose thee!
Enter Palamon, as out of a bush, with his shackles; bends his fist at Arcite.
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 confess’d traitor! O thou most perfidious
That ever gently look’d! The void’st of honor
That ev’r bore gentle token! Falsest cousin
That ever blood made kin, call’st thou her thine?
I’ll prove it in my shackles, with these hands
Void of appointment, that thou li’st, and art
A very thief in love, a chaffy lord,
Nor worth the name of villain! Had I a sword,
And these house-clogs away—
Dear cousin Palamon—
Cozener Arcite, give me language such
As thou hast show’d me feat.
Not finding in
The circuit of my breast any gross stuff
To form me like your blazon, holds me to
This gentleness of answer: ’tis your passion
That thus mistakes, the which to you being enemy,
Cannot to me be kind. Honor and honesty
I cherish and depend on, howsoev’r
You skip them in me, and with them, fair coz,
I’ll maintain my proceedings. Pray be pleas’d
To show in generous terms your griefs, since that
Your question’s with your equal, who professes
To clear his own way with the mind and sword
Of a true gentleman.
That thou durst, Arcite!
My coz, my coz, you have been well advertis’d
How much I dare; y’ave seen me use my sword
Against th’ advice of fear. Sure, of another
You would not hear me doubted, but your silence
Should break out, though i’ th’ sanctuary.
I have seen you move in such a place which well
Might justify your manhood; you were call’d
A good knight and a bold. But the whole week’s not fair
If any day it rain. Their valiant temper
Men lose when they incline to treachery,
And then they fight like compell’d bears, would fly
Were they not tied.
Kinsman, you might as well
Speak this and act it in your glass, as to
His ear which now disdains you.
Come up to me,
Quit me of these cold gyves, give me a sword
Though it be rusty, and the charity
Of one meal lend me; come before me then,
A good sword in thy hand, and do but say
That Emily is thine, I will forgive
The trespass thou hast done me, yea, my life
If then thou carry’t, and brave souls in shades
That have died manly, which will seek of me
Some news from earth, they shall get none but this—
That thou art brave and noble.
Again betake you to your hawthorn house.
With counsel of the night, I will be here
With wholesome viands; these impediments
Will I file off; you shall have garments, and
Perfumes to kill the smell o’ th’ prison; after,
When you shall stretch yourself, and say but, “Arcite,
I am in plight,” there shall be at your choice
Both sword and armor.
O you heavens, dares any
So noble bear a guilty business? None
But only Arcite; therefore none but Arcite
In this kind is so bold.
I do embrace you and your offer. For
Your offer do’t I only, sir; your person
Without hypocrisy I may not wish
More than my sword’s edge on’t.
Wind horns off. Cornets.
You hear the horns:
Enter your musit, lest this match between ’s
Be cross’d ere met. Give me your hand, farewell.
I’ll bring you every needful thing. I pray you
Take comfort and be strong.
Pray hold your promise;
And do the deed with a bent brow. Most certain
You love me not; be rough with me, and pour
This oil out of your language. By this air,
I could for each word give a cuff, my stomach
Not reconcil’d by reason.
Yet pardon me hard language. When I spur
My horse, I chide him not; content and anger
In me have but one face.
Wind horns within.
Hark, sir, they call
The scatter’d to the banquet. You must guess
I have an office there.
Sir, your attendance
Cannot please heaven, and I know your office
Unjustly is achiev’d.
If a good title,
I am persuaded this question, sick between ’s,
By bleeding must be cur’d. I am a suitor
That to your sword you will bequeath this plea,
And talk of it no more.
But this one word:
You are going now to gaze upon my mistress,
For note you, mine she is—
Nay, pray you—
You talk of feeding me to breed me strength;
You are going now to look upon a sun
That strengthens what it looks on; there you have
A vantage o’er me, but enjoy’t till
I may enforce my remedy. Farewell.