Another part of the forest near Athens.
(Palamon; Arcite; Theseus; Hippolyta; Emilia; Pirithous)
Palamon, restored to health, waits impatiently for Arcite to return. Arcite arrives, carrying two sets of armor and two swords. They help each other to arm, bringing up old memories and chatting as they do so. Prepared to fight, they say farewell to one another, each forgiving the other in advance for killing them. As they begin to fight, the hunting horns of Theseus are heard; Arcite breaks off the fight, for both of them will be executed if the Duke catches them. Palamon refuses to hide, accusing his cousin of cowardice, and they begin to fight again. Theseus and the hunt enter, and the Duke orders the fight to be broken up; incensed that anybody should be dueling without his permission, he swears both shall die. Palamon reveals his identity and Arcite’s and explains the cause of their battle, begging for permission to continue. Theseus reminds them that he has sworn their deaths; Arcite points out that they are not asking for mercy, merely for the chance to kill each other themselves. Hippolyta is horrified that her sister will be blamed for the cousins’ deaths, and though Emilia refuses to take the blame for their falling in love with her, both sisters kneel and beg for the cousins’ lives, asking Theseus that they merely be banished. Theseus points out that it is obvious that if banished, they will simply find each other and kill one another at some other time, and again points to his oath to have them executed. Emilia argues that the oath was spoken in anger and that the Duke can therefore not be held to it. She begs again that they be banished, having sworn that they will never fight over her again. Neither man will accept to take that oath, however. Theseus proposes that Emilia choose one of them as husband, and that the other be executed. Emilia, however, cannot decide between them. Theseus orders the two knights to return in a month with three friends each to fight it out, the victor to marry Emilia and the loser (and friends) to be executed. They agree, and Emilia, seeing no other option, does as well. (376 lines)
Enter Palamon from the bush.
About this hour my cousin gave his faith
To visit me again, and with him bring
Two swords and two good armors. If he fail,
He’s neither man nor soldier. When he left me,
I did not think a week could have restor’d
My lost strength to me, I was grown so low
And crestfall’n with my wants. I thank thee, Arcite,
Thou art yet a fair foe; and I feel myself,
With this refreshing, able once again
To out-dure danger. To delay it longer
Would make the world think, when it comes to hearing,
That I lay fatting like a swine, to fight,
And not a soldier: therefore this blest morning
Shall be the last; and that sword he refuses,
If it but hold, I kill him with. ’Tis justice.
So, love and fortune for me!
Enter Arcite with armors and swords.
O, good morrow.
Good morrow, noble kinsman.
I have put you
To too much pains, sir.
That too much, fair cousin,
Is but a debt to honor, and my duty.
Would you were so in all, sir! I could wish ye
As kind a kinsman as you force me find
A beneficial foe, that my embraces
Might thank ye, not my blows.
I shall think either,
Well done, a noble recompense.
Then I shall quit you.
Defy me in these fair terms, and you show
More than a mistress to me; no more anger,
As you love any thing that’s honorable.
We were not bred to talk, man. When we are arm’d
And both upon our guards, then let our fury,
Like meeting of two tides, fly strongly from us,
And then to whom the birthright of this beauty
Truly pertains (without obbraidings, scorns,
Despisings of our persons, and such poutings,
Fitter for girls and schoolboys) will be seen,
And quickly, yours or mine. Will’t please you arm, sir?
Or if you feel yourself not fitting yet
And furnish’d with your old strength, I’ll stay, cousin,
And ev’ry day discourse you into health,
As I am spar’d. Your person I am friends with,
And I could wish I had not said I lov’d her,
Though I had died; but loving such a lady
And justifying my love, I must not fly from’t.
Arcite, thou art so brave an enemy
That no man but thy cousin’s fit to kill thee.
I am well and lusty, choose your arms.
Choose you, sir.
Wilt thou exceed in all, or dost thou do it
To make me spare thee?
If you think so, cousin,
You are deceived, for as I am a soldier,
I will not spare you.
That’s well said.
You’ll find it.
Then as I am an honest man, and love
With all the justice of affection,
I’ll pay thee soundly. This I’ll take.
That’s mine then.
I’ll arm you first.
Do. Pray thee tell me, cousin,
Where got’st thou this good armor?
’Tis the Duke’s,
And to say true, I stole it. Do I pinch you?
Is’t not too heavy?
I have worn a lighter,
But I shall make it serve.
I’ll buckle’t close.
By any means.
You care not for a grand-guard?
No, no, we’ll use no horses. I perceive
You would fain be at that fight.
I am indifferent.
Faith, so am I. Good cousin, thrust the buckle
Through far enough.
I warrant you.
My casque now.
Will you fight bare-arm’d?
We shall be the nimbler.
But use your gauntlets though. Those are o’ th’ least;
Prithee take mine, good cousin.
Thank you, Arcite.
How do I look? Am I fall’n much away?
Faith, very little. Love has us’d you kindly.
I’ll warrant thee, I’ll strike home.
Do, and spare not.
I’ll give you cause, sweet cousin.
Now to you, sir.
Methinks this armor’s very like that, Arcite,
Thou wor’st that day the three kings fell, but lighter.
That was a very good one, and that day,
I well remember, you outdid me, cousin;
I never saw such valor. When you charg’d
Upon the left wing of the enemy,
I spurr’d hard to come up, and under me
I had a right good horse.
You had indeed,
A bright bay, I remember.
Yes, but all
Was vainly labor’d in me; you outwent me,
Nor could my wishes reach you. Yet a little
I did by imitation.
More by virtue.
You are modest, cousin.
When I saw you charge first,
Methought I heard a dreadful clap of thunder
Break from the troop.
But still before that flew
The lightning of your valor. Stay a little;
Is not this piece too strait?
No, no, ’tis well.
I would have nothing hurt thee but my sword,
A bruise would be dishonor.
Now I am perfect.
Stand off then.
Take my sword, I hold it better.
I thank ye. No, keep it, your life lies on it.
Here’s one, if it but hold, I ask no more
For all my hopes. My cause and honor guard me!
And me my love!
They bow several ways; then advance and stand.
Is there aught else to say?
This only, and no more: thou art mine aunt’s son,
And that blood we desire to shed is mutual,
In me, thine, and in thee, mine. My sword
Is in my hand, and if thou kill’st me,
The gods and I forgive thee. If there be
A place prepar’d for those that sleep in honor,
I wish his weary soul that falls may win it.
Fight bravely, cousin. Give me thy noble hand.
Here, Palamon: this hand shall never more
Come near thee with such friendship.
I commend thee.
If I fall, curse me, and say I was a coward,
For none but such dare die in these just trials.
Once more farewell, my cousin.
Fight. Horns within; they stand.
Lo, cousin, lo, our folly has undone us.
This is the Duke, a-hunting as I told you.
If we be found, we are wretched. O, retire
For honor’s sake, and safely presently
Into your bush again, sir. We shall find
Too many hours to die in, gentle cousin.
If you be seen, you perish instantly
For breaking prison, and I, if you reveal me,
For my contempt. Then all the world will scorn us,
And say we had a noble difference,
But base disposers of it.
No, no, cousin,
I will no more be hidden, nor put off
This great adventure to a second trial.
I know your cunning, and I know your cause.
He that faints now, shame take him! Put thyself
Upon thy present guard—
You are not mad?
Or I will make th’ advantage of this hour
Mine own; and what to come shall threaten me
I fear less than my fortune. Know, weak cousin,
I love Emilia, and in that I’ll bury
Thee and all crosses else.
Then come what can come,
Thou shalt know, Palamon, I dare as well
Die as discourse or sleep. Only this fears me,
The law will have the honor of our ends.
Have at thy life!
Look to thine own well, Arcite.
Fight again. Horns.
Enter Theseus, Hippolyta, Emilia, Pirithous, and Train.
What ignorant and mad malicious traitors
Are you, that ’gainst the tenor of my laws
Are making battle, thus like knights appointed,
Without my leave and officers of arms?
By Castor, both shall die.
Hold thy word, Theseus.
We are certainly both traitors, both despisers
Of thee and of thy goodness. I am Palamon,
That cannot love thee, he that broke thy prison—
Think well what that deserves; and this is Arcite,
A bolder traitor never trod thy ground,
A falser nev’r seem’d friend. This is the man
Was begg’d and banish’d, this is he contemns thee
And what thou dar’st do; and in this disguise,
Against thy own edict, follows thy sister,
That fortunate bright star, the fair Emilia,
Whose servant (if there be a right in seeing,
And first bequeathing of the soul to) justly
I am, and which is more, dares think her his.
This treachery, like a most trusty lover,
I call’d him now to answer. If thou be’st,
As thou art spoken, great and virtuous,
The true decider of all injuries,
Say, “Fight again!” and thou shalt see me, Theseus,
Do such a justice thou thyself wilt envy.
Then take my life, I’ll woo thee to’t.
What more than man is this!
I have sworn.
We seek not
Thy breath of mercy, Theseus. ’Tis to me
A thing as soon to die as thee to say it,
And no more mov’d. Where this man calls me traitor,
Let me say thus much: if in love be treason
In service of so excellent a beauty,
As I love most, and in that faith will perish,
As I have brought my life here to confirm it,
As I have serv’d her truest, worthiest,
As I dare kill this cousin that denies it,
So let me be most traitor, and ye please me.
For scorning thy edict, Duke, ask that lady
Why she is fair, and why her eyes command me
Stay here to love her; and if she say “traitor,”
I am a villain fit to lie unburied.
Thou shalt have pity of us both, O Theseus,
If unto neither thou show mercy. Stop,
As thou art just, thy noble ear against us;
As thou art valiant, for thy cousin’s soul,
Whose twelve strong labors crown his memory,
Let ’s die together, at one instant, Duke.
Only a little let him fall before me,
That I may tell my soul he shall not have her.
I grant your wish, for to say true, your cousin
Has ten times more offended, for I gave him
More mercy than you found, sir, your offenses
Being no more than his. None here speak for ’em,
For ere the sun set, both shall sleep forever.
Alas, the pity! Now or never, sister,
Speak, not to be denied. That face of yours
Will bear the curses else of after-ages
For these lost cousins.
In my face, dear sister,
I find no anger to ’em, nor no ruin:
The misadventure of their own eyes kill ’em;
Yet that I will be woman, and have pity,
My knees shall grow to th’ ground but I’ll get mercy.
Help me, dear sister, in a deed so virtuous
The powers of all women will be with us.
Most royal brother—
Sir, by our tie of marriage—
By your own spotless honor—
By that faith,
That fair hand, and that honest heart you gave me—
By that you would have pity in another,
By your own virtues infinite—
By all the chaste nights I have ever pleas’d you—
These are strange conjurings.
Nay then I’ll in too.
By all our friendship, sir, by all our dangers,
By all you love most—wars, and this sweet lady—
By that you would have trembled to deny
A blushing maid—
By your own eyes, by strength,
In which you swore I went beyond all women,
Almost all men, and yet I yielded, Theseus—
To crown all this, by your most noble soul,
Which cannot want due mercy, I beg first.
Next hear my prayers.
Last let me entreat, sir.
Mercy on these princes.
Ye make my faith reel. Say I felt
Compassion to ’em both, how would you place it?
Upon their lives; but with their banishments.
You are a right woman, sister, you have pity,
But want the understanding where to use it.
If you desire their lives, invent a way
Safer than banishment. Can these two live,
And have the agony of love about ’em,
And not kill one another? Every day
They’ld fight about you; hourly bring your honor
In public question with their swords. Be wise then
And here forget ’em; it concerns your credit
And my oath equally. I have said they die;
Better they fall by th’ law than one another.
Bow not my honor.
O my noble brother,
That oath was rashly made, and in your anger,
Your reason will not hold it. If such vows
Stand for express will, all the world must perish.
Beside, I have another oath ’gainst yours,
Of more authority, I am sure more love,
Not made in passion neither, but good heed.
What is it, sister?
Urge it home, brave lady.
That you would nev’r deny me any thing
Fit for my modest suit and your free granting.
I tie you to your word now; if ye fall in’t,
Think how you maim your honor
(For now I am set a-begging, sir, I am deaf
To all but your compassion), how their lives
Might breed the ruin of my name; opinion,
Shall any thing that loves me perish for me?
That were a cruel wisdom. Do men proin
The straight young boughs that blush with thousand blossoms,
Because they may be rotten? O Duke Theseus,
The goodly mothers that have groan’d for these,
And all the longing maids that ever lov’d,
If your vow stand, shall curse me and my beauty,
And in their funeral songs for these two cousins
Despise my cruelty, and cry woe worth me,
Till I am nothing but the scorn of women.
For heaven’s sake save their lives, and banish ’em.
On what conditions?
Swear ’em never more
To make me their contention, or to know me,
To tread upon thy dukedom, and to be,
Where ever they shall travel, ever strangers
To one another.
I’ll be cut a-pieces
Before I take this oath. Forget I love her?
O all ye gods, despise me then. Thy banishment
I not mislike, so we may fairly carry
Our swords and cause along; else, never trifle,
But take our lives, Duke. I must love, and will,
And for that love must and dare kill this cousin,
On any piece the earth has.
Will you, Arcite,
Take these conditions?
He’s a villain then.
These are men!
No, never. Duke. ’Tis worse to me than begging
To take my life so basely. Though I think
I never shall enjoy her, yet I’ll preserve
The honor of affection, and die for her,
Make death a devil.
What may be done? For now I feel compassion.
Let it not fall again, sir.
If one of them were dead, as one must, are you
Content to take th’ other to your husband?
They cannot both enjoy you. They are princes
As goodly as your own eyes, and as noble
As ever fame yet spoke of. Look upon ’em
And if you can love, end this difference.
I give consent.—Are you content too, princes?
With all our souls.
He that she refuses
Must die then.
Any death thou canst invent, Duke.
If I fall from that mouth, I fall with favor,
And lovers yet unborn shall bless my ashes.
If she refuse me, yet my grave will wed me,
And soldiers sing my epitaph.
Make choice then.
I cannot, sir, they are both too excellent:
For me, a hair shall never fall of these men.
What will become of ’em?
Thus I ordain it,
And by mine honor, once again it stands,
Or both shall die: you shall both to your country,
And each within this month, accompanied
With three fair knights, appear again in this place,
In which I’ll plant a pyramid; and whether,
Before us that are here, can force his cousin
By fair and knightly strength to touch the pillar,
He shall enjoy her; the other lose his head,
And all his friends; nor shall he grudge to fall,
Nor think he dies with interest in this lady.
Will this content ye?
Yes. Here, cousin Arcite,
I am friends again till that hour.
I embrace ye.
Are you content, sister?
Yes, I must, sir,
Else both miscarry.
Come shake hands again then,
And take heed, as you are gentlemen, this quarrel
Sleep till the hour prefix’d, and hold your course.
We dare not fail thee, Theseus.
Come, I’ll give ye
Now usage like to princes and to friends.
When ye return, who wins I’ll settle here;
Who loses, yet I’ll weep upon his bier.