Shakespeare For White Trash: The Two Noble Kinsmen
July 10, 2013
(Index to the Series appears on Oct. 7, 2010 — https://cradkilodney.wordpress.com/2010/10/07/ )
Theseus — Duke of Athens
Hippolyta –wife of Theseus
Emilia — sister of Hippolyta
Pirithous — Athenian general
Artesius — Athenian captain
Arcite and Palamon — the kinsmen (cousins); also nephews of King Creon of Thebes.
Valerius — a noble of Thebes
Two Friends of the Jailer
Suitor (in other texts referred to as “Wooer”)
Two Attendants with Emilia
Narrator (for Prologue and Epilogue)
(Gerrold, the Schoolmaster, is deleted, as is the unnamed Captain.)
Gist of the story: Two cousins, Arcite and Palamon — both nephews of the King of Thebes — are taken prisoner in a battle with Athens. They are imprisoned, but they console each other with their unbreakable bond of friendship. However, when they see Emilia, sister-in-law of Theseus, from the window of their cell, they quarrel over who gets to marry her. Arcite is freed and sent into exile, while Palamon remains in prison. Arcite doesn’t want to give up Emilia to Palamon, so he contrives to disguise himself and return to Athens to compete in a tournament. Meanwhile, the jailer’s daughter has fallen in love with Palamon and decides to help him escape. The disguised Arcite wins the tournament and is assigned to Emilia as her servant. Palamon escapes and waits in the woods for the jailer’s daughter to return with files for his chains. There he encounters Arcite, and the cousins resume their quarrel over Emilia. They are about to duel when they are discovered by Theseus. When he learns what the quarrel is about, he asks Emilia to choose who shall live and who shall die. Emilia doesn’t want to choose. She wants nothing to do with the quarrel and has no interest in marriage. Finally, Theseus decides that the cousins will return in thirty days with friends to engage in a non-lethal combat for Emilia’s hand in marriage, with the losers to be executed. Arcite defeats Palamon. Palamon and his friends are about to be executed when Arcite suffers a fall from his horse. Before he dies, he gives up Emilia to Palamon. The jailer’s daughter marries the suitor she was originally engaged to.
(The Two Noble Kinsmen is not on every list of Shakespeare plays, as it was co-written with John Fletcher. However, I wanted to include it in this series. It is not quite a tragedy or a comedy. Instead, it is in the category of “Late Romances.” Arcite and Palamon are so similar that we, as readers, don’t want to set one above the other. So our strongest sympathy goes to Emilia, the dedicated virgin, who, recognizing the worth of both men, finds it impossible to choose one to marry and condemn the other to death. The most important scene is Act 5, Scene 1, where Arcite prays to Mars, Palamon prays to Venus, and Emilia prays to Diana. This is the essence of the whole story. TNK is one of Shakespeare’s least-performed plays, which is too bad, because the story is wonderful. The main weaknesses of the original play are the long speeches and extraneous action. This version is very streamlined, however, and would work as well on stage as it does in print. This is the first modernized version of The Two Noble Kinsmen ever published. You’re going to dig it!)
Prologue. The Narrator comes in and addresses the audience. He looks annoyed.
Narrator: Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a story in verse called “The Knight’s Tale.” But did you read it? No-o-o-o! You wouldn’t read a story! You only play stupid video games! And then William Shakespeare and John Fletcher took Chaucer’s story and made it into a play — The Two Noble Kinsmen. But did you read it? No-o-o-o! You still wouldn’t read Shakespeare! He’s too boring! He’s too hard to understand! And then finally, this Canadian writer, Crad Kilodney, who is probably dead now, said to himself, “What the fuck can a writer do with a stupid audience of non-readers who think that Shakespeare must be boring and way too hard to understand?” (He pauses and adopts an exaggerated smile.) Well, you’re about to find out.
Act 1, Scene 1. Athens. Before a temple. Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” is heard as a wedding procession comes in. Leading is Hymen, a young man ridiculously attired in jockey shorts, a bra, and sneakers. He has a stubbly beard. He is strewing flower petals before the procession. Following him is Theseus, attended by two boys dressed in white; Hippolyta, attended by two girls dressed in white; Emilia, holding Hippolyta’s train; and finally Pirithous and Artesius. Hymen finishes strewing the petals and addresses the audience.
Hymen: I am Hymen, god of marriage–also including gay marriage and common-law marriage. Today is the wedding of Theseus, Duke of Athens (Trumpet flourish)–and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons! (Slightly different trumpet flourish.)–With honoured guests–Emilia, sister of the bride (Sound of harp strings)–Pirithous, general of the army (Sound of drums)–and Artesius, captain of the army! (Sound of drums.)–All Athens rejoices!
(Coming in suddenly are three Queens, dressed in black. The First Queen falls at the feet of Theseus, the Second Queen falls at the feet of Hippolyta, and the Third Queen falls at the feet of Emilia.)
1st Queen: My lord Duke, in the name of pity and nobility, hear my plea!
2nd Queen: Renowned Queen of the Amazons, for the sake of all the children you will bear, hear my plea!
3rd Queen: Honourable lady and most virtuous virgin, for the love of the husband you will someday marry, hear my plea!
(Theseus looks bewildered.)
Theseus: All right, stand up. (The Three Queens rise. To the First Queen) Is there a problem?
1st Queen: My lord, we are the queens whose kings died in battle against Creon, the tyrant of Thebes. Their bodies lie rotting on the battlefield, and he will not allow them to be given a decent burial. Crows have pecked out their eyes, and worms have eaten their flesh. Pity us, my lord! Take up your sword and go to Thebes and bring back the remains of our kings so that we can bury them in the chapel.
Other Queens: Yes! –Yes!–Please!
Theseus: Oh.–That’s very sad. I knew your husbands.–Tsk!–Well.–I must consider.
(Theseus turns away and moves a few steps apart. The Second Queen kneels before Hippolyta.)
2nd Queen: Great and fearsome Hippolyta, you have slain wild boars, you have slain bears and lions, and you almost captured Theseus and made him your slave. And you would have if he hadn’t defeated you first and decided to marry you. Let your kindness and pity match your prowess as a warrior queen and plead our cause to Duke Theseus.
Hippolyta: Good lady, I am deeply touched by your distress, and so is the Duke. He is considering. I’ll speak to him.
3rd Queen (Kneeling to Emilia): Gracious madam, I so grieve for my king. I must have his remains to bury. And I want revenge against Creon!
Emilia: I can see the pain on your face, madam.
3rd Queen: What you see on my face is nothing compared to what you can’t see–the pain in my heart!
(Emilia gently lifts the Third Queen up by the hands.)
Emilia: It will be all right, madam. I will make the Duke understand.
(Theseus now rejoins them.)
Theseus: Yes. Well.–Em, first things first. We must go to the temple and get this marriage done.
1st Queen: My lord, what will the world think if you let our husbands lie like dead animals, consumed by maggots and forgotten?
2nd Queen: How can we sleep in our beds knowing they don’t even have proper graves?
3rd Queen: Even criminals get proper graves.
Theseus: But I’m getting married today? Can’t this wait?
1st Queen: If you get married and spend the night with your bride you’ll never be able to tear yourself away from her.
Hippolyta: That’s for sure!
1st Queen: Please, my lord. You must go now. Creon won’t be expecting you.
2nd Queen: He’ll be celebrating his victory. He’s probably already drunk at this moment.
3rd Queen: And his soldiers have been paid and released from duty.
Theseus: Mm.–Yes.–I see your point.–Artesius, gather our forces–as many as you think we’ll need. We’ll get going right after the wedding ceremony and the banquet.
1st Queen: My lord, our hope decreases with every minute’s delay!
2nd Queen: We know we’ve come at an inopportune time, but how could we wait?
Theseus: But I’m getting married. This is the biggest day of my life.
1st Queen: Mars, the god of war, is beating his drum. But if you let Venus charm you, she’ll keep you under her spell and you’ll never go.
Hippolyta: She’s right, my lord. And as much as I look forward to our wedding night, I still think like a warrior. You must pick up your shield and cover your heart.
Emilia: If you love my sister, do what she asks–or I’ll never marry.
(Theseus lets out a long breath of resignation.)
Theseus: All right. I can see I’m not going to win this argument.–Pirithous, you take the bride to the temple and stand in for me. It’ll have to be a proxy wedding. And pray to the gods for my safe return, and all that.–Artesius, you round up the men here in the city, and I’ll round up some more at Aulis. You meet me there.
Artesius: Yes, my lord!
(Artesius salutes and leaves.)
Theseus (To Hippolyta): Give me a kiss for good luck.
Pirithous: I really should come with you, my lord.
Theseus: No, no. You stay here in Athens. Keep the party going till I get back. Hopefully, this won’t take too long.–Go ahead, everyone. Have a good time!
(The procession leaves to go to the temple. Theseus and the three Queens are left onstage.)
1st Queen: Thank you, my lord. The world honours you.
2nd Queen: You stand beside Mars himself.
3rd Queen: If not above him.
Theseus: Well, I’m just doing the right thing. Duty before pleasure, as they say.–Come along.
(They go out.)
Act 1, Scene 2. Thebes. Arcite and Palamon come in, looking unhappy.
Arcite: Cousin Palamon, my number one cousin.
Palamon: Cousin Arcite, my number one cousin.
Arcite: I gotta say, I’m totally sick of Thebes. This city sucks. We’ve got no future here.
Palamon: I think you’re right. This place is one slow spiral into hell. Look at the soldiers, for instance. What have they got to show for themselves? They thought they’d get rich fighting for Thebes, and they have nothing to show for it. And now that we have peace, they’ll become slackers and lose their edge. It’s like they have no other purpose in life.
Arcite: That’s not what’s wrong with Thebes. It’s not just about the soldiers.
Palamon: I know. It’s a general condition.
Arcite: People are getting decadent. Thebes has become a decadent city. It’s just evil everywhere. I don’t want to live with these people any more.
Palamon: Neither go I. Everyone’s so phony. I don’t want to be like that. I don’t want to conform to a lot of phoniness and bullshit. I don’t want to be like one horse tied behind a bunch of other horses. I don’t want to be led. I want to be free to go where I want to go. I don’t want to be told “Go this way. Go that way. Do this. Do that.”
Arcite (Smiling): Great speech.
Palamon: Really, we both know what the root cause of it is.
Arcite: Uncle Creon–our glorious King.
Plamon: The glorious tyrant. I can’t believe we’re blood to him. That guy is so bad. He takes credit for what everybody else does. Like the soldiers, for instance. They do the fighting, but he keeps the booty and hogs all the glory.
Arcite: I say we leave. Get away from him. Get out of Thebes.
Palamon: I’m with you, cousin.
(Valerius comes in.)
Palamon: Valerius! Wassup?
Valerius: The King wants to see both of you.
Palamon: Oh, hell.
Valerius: It’s all right, you can take your time. He’s just blowing a head valve, that’s all. Let him calm down.
Palamon: What happened? Did he see a mouse?
Valerius: No, it’s because of Theseus.
Palamon: The Duke of Athens?
Valerius: Yeah. He’s declared war. He’s coming.
Arcite: He doesn’t scare me. Of course, if the gods are behind him, then I’m scared. Otherwise, I’m not.
Palamon: Well, we can’t stand here debating theology. If there’s going to be war, we have to fight for Thebes–even if we hate the King. It’s our obligation.
Arcite (To Valerius): So this is a definite thing, or just a possibility?
Valerius: It’s definite. We’re at war.
Palamon: We’d better go see the King. Like it or not, we’re soldiers again, cousin. Whatever happens, happens.
Arcite: It’s in the hands of the gods. Okay, let’s go.
(They all leave.)
Act 1, Scene 3. Athens. Pirithous, Hippolyta, and Emilia come in. Pirithous appears to be in a hurry.
Pirithous: Ladies, I’ll say my goodbye here.
Hippolyta: Tell Theseus I’ll be praying for his success–although I have no doubt he’ll win.
Pirithous: I will. Forgive me for rushing off like this. He probably doesn’t need me, but if I hang around here worrying about him, I’ll go nuts.
Emilia: We understand.
Pirithous: Hopefully, the war will be over by the time I get there and we’ll all be back soon.
Hippolyta: I’m sure it will. Goodbye, Pirithous.
Emilia: Goodbye, Pirithous.
Pirithous: Great wedding, by the way. Okay, see you later.
(Pirithous leaves hurriedly.)
Emilia: I could tell his mind was with Theseus. There was no way he was going to stay here in Athens.
Hippolyta: That’s devotion for you.
Emilia: They’re as close to each other as if they were married–in a manner of speaking.
Hippolyta: That’s the mentality of a general. And I should know. But you were never a warrior or married, so you don’t really know.
Emilia: But I did love another girl when I was little. In my own innocent way it was like a marriage.
Hippolyta: Someday you’ll love a man the way you loved her.
Emilia: I don’t think so. I was meant to be a life-long virgin.
Hippolyta: Only until the right man comes along.
Emilia: Only if the gods will it.
Hippolyta: Come. Let’s go in and say a prayer for a quick victory.
Act 1, Scene 4. With lights dim and curtain down, sounds of battle are heard. Then trumpets of victory. The stage brightens and the curtain goes up. Theseus, in battle dress, comes in triumphantly with Soldiers.
Theseus: Well done, men! Victory is ours! (The Soldiers cheer.)–And sooner than I expected.–Where’s the captain? (Calling) Artesius! [Author’s note: In the original, it’s just an unnamed captain. But Artesius is a captain, so why didn’t Shakespeare put him in here?]
(Artesius comes in and salutes.)
Artesius: My lord!
Theseus: Go retrieve the remains of those three kings. We have to transport them back to Athens for burial.
Artesius: Yes, my lord!
(Artesius salutes and leaves. Then a Herald comes in.)
Herald: My lord, we’ve captured two of Creon’s nephews–Palamon and Arcite.
Theseus: Where are they?
Herald: The surgeon’s got them. They’re wounded rather badly. What do you want done with them?
(Theseus considers briefly.)
Theseus: I want them alive. Tell the surgeon to do his best to save them. We’ll take them back to Athens, and I’ll decide what to do with them later.
Herald: Very good, sir.
(The Herald leaves.)
Theseus: The queens will be happy now. They can bury their husbands. And I get to be with my new wife!–Let’s go.
(They all leave.)
Act 1, Scene 5. This scene is deleted.
Act 2, Scene 1. (Author’s note: The next two scenes have been simplified for the sake of staging. The Signet edition combines them as one scene, which only works if you have a big stage with full action visible on two levels. The Folger edition has Scene 2 follow Scene 1 as a segue, presumably without a curtain down. But this is not any better. My solution works for a smaller theatre where action can only be presented on one level.) Athens. A garden outside the prison. The Jailer comes in with the Suitor.
Jailer: As long as I’m alive, you should only expect a modest dowry for my daughter. Some people think I must be loaded because I run this prison and it’s supposed to be for a higher class of prisoners. But I don’t really get that many. When I die, my daughter gets everything, of course.
Suitor: I understand, sir. It’s perfectly all right. I’m not poor. I have a little estate of my own. Your daughter will be just fine.
Jailer: But has she told you that she wants to marry you?
Suitor: Oh, yes.
Jailer: Well, then, it’s all right with me.
Suitor: Ah–here she comes.
(The Jailer’s Daughter comes in.)
Jailer: We were just talking about you.
Daughter: Ah, that’s nice.
Jailer: After all the wedding celebrations are over for the Duke, we can deal with, uh–your own business.
Daughter: Ah. Yes.
Jailer: In the meantime, you have to look after the new prisoners. They’re nobles, so they should get very nice treatment.
Daughter: I know. It’s a pity they’re in prison. They’re such nice gentlemen.
Jailer: They’re nephews of Creon.
Daughter: I could tell right away they were high-class.
Jailer: They’re prisoners of war. I heard they were the only two who really fought well for Thebes.
Daughter: I’m sure they’re very brave. They don’t seem to mind at all being in prison.
Suitor: I haven’t seen them. When did they arrive?
Jailer: The Duke brought them in himself last night. I don’t know what he intends to do with them, though.
Daughter: I hope he’s lenient with them.
Suitor: What are their names?
Jailer: Arcite and Palamon.
Daughter (Somewhat excitedly): Palamon’s the taller one. He’s–quite handsome!
(The Jailer and Suitor exchange looks.)
Jailer: Yes. Well. You just look after them properly. That’s your job.
Daughter: Oh, I will!
Jailer (Dubiously): Hmm.
(They all go out. The Suitor links arms with the Daughter, who appears not to notice.)
Act 2, Scene 2. In the prison cell. Curtain up finds Palamon and Arcite sitting.
Palamon: I wonder if we’ll be stuck here forever.
Arcite: I don’t care. I can take it.
Palamon: You know, if we’d won, we’d be heroes now. We’d be wearing medals. We’d be the biggest men in Thebes.
Arcite: That’s almost funny, considering we both hate the place.–Ah, well.–We can forget about medals. And we can forget about getting married and raising children. The world will just go by without us.
Palamon: I guess.
Arcite: But at least we have each other, eh? If I have to spend the rest of my life here, it’s not so bad being with my number one cousin and best bud.
Palamon: Same here. And as the years pass and we get old, we can tell each other we don’t look a day older. We’ll be immortal–ha!
Arcite: For sure. And we can pretend this is our castle and we don’t have to put up with idiots or nagging wives.
Palamon: Right. And whatever bad shit is happening out in the world, it doesn’t affect us one bit. And no more Uncle Creon to deal with.
(Arcite blows a Bronx cheer while closing his elbow around his fist.)
Arcite: Fuck him!
Palamon: In a way we’re lucky. We’re the tightest two guys who ever lived (He gestures with two fingers pressed together)–straight guys, I mean. So this is really a pretty good situation.
Arcite: Absolutely. And nothing will ever come between us as long as we live.
Palamon: Nothing. No quarrels. No competition.
Arcite: That’s right. Two cousins united by blood. And we think alike.
Palamon: We sure do.–Hold on.
(Palamon hears something and goes to the window. [The outside conversation is not heard by the audience.])
Palamon: Somebody’s down in the garden.
Palamon: Two women.–Looks like a noble lady and her servant.–The lady’s a real hottie.
Arcite: Let me look.
(Arcite goes to the window.)
Arcite: Wow! She’s dynamite!
Palamon: She’s a goddess.
Arcite: Who is she?
Palamon: Shh!–Let me listen.
(They listen quietly for a moment.)
Palamon: It’s the Duke’s sister-in-law.
Arcite: Hippolyta’s sister?
Palamon: Yeah.–Oh, there they go.–Wow! She’s amazing! I’d marry her in two seconds.
Arcite: So would I. And if I ever get out of here, I will.
Palamon: Oh, no. I saw her first.
Arcite: I don’t care if you saw her first. I’m marrying her.
Palamon: Forget it, dude. No way.
Arcite: What do you mean, no way? You’re telling me I can’t marry her?
Palamon: That’s right.
Arcite: What are you, the boss of me?
Palamon: No, I’m your cousin. Are you going to steal a woman from your own cousin?
Arcite: Are you?
Palamon: It’s not stealing if I saw her first.
Arcite: Saw her first!–Ha!–What a crock! If we were outside right now, would you be willing to duel for her?
Palamon: Hell, yes! You expect me to back down to make you happy? Just because you’re my cousin?
Arcite: What a fucking traitor you are! This is how you treat me?
Palamon: Traitor? You’re the traitor!
(A jangling of keys is heard.)
Palamon: Quiet! It’s the jailer.
(The Jailer comes in.)
Jailer: And how are you gentlemen today?
Jailer: Lord Arcite, the Duke wants to see you.
Arcite: He wants to see me? What for?
Jailer: I don’t know. You’ll find out when you see him.
Arcite: Maybe it’s–(He and Palamon exchange an ominous look.)–Okay, whatever.
(The Jailer and Arcite go out. Palamon goes to the window. The following speech is delivered with pauses.)
Palamon: If I could just see her again.–I’d be the happiest man in the world.–Maybe Arcite isn’t going to be executed. Maybe he’s getting his freedom.–Maybe he’ll ask the Duke if he can marry his sister-in-law.–It’s possible. He’s got the charm for it.–Damn!–I’ve got to have her–somehow.
(The Jailer returns.)
Jailer: My lord Palamon.
Jailer: Your cousin has been–
Jailer: Prince Pirithous put in a good word for him, and the Duke agreed to let him go. However, he can never set foot in Athens again.
Palamon: Lucky guy. He’ll get a warm welcome back in Thebes. Probably get a lot of honours for his fighting. (Aside) Then he just might get to marry the Duke’s sister-in-law after all. If I could just get out of here–
Jailer: And the Duke also gave instructions concerning you.
Palamon: Oh.–Am I to be executed?
Jailer: No, no. But you’re to be moved to another cell–one without a window.
Palamon: No, no, no! I want to be able to see the garden!
Jailer: Too bad. I have to move you.
Palamon: You’ll have to kill me first and carry my dead body!
Jailer: If you’re going to be difficult, we’ll just clap the chains on you.
(Palamon moves to the window.)
Palamon: I’m not leaving this window! I swear I won’t!
Jailer: Don’t make a fool of yourself, sir. I’ll just call my guards.
Palamon: Chains will never hold me!
Jailer: Have it your way.–(Calling) Guards! Bring the chains!
(Two Guards come in with chains, and as the curtain comes down, Palamon is being dragged out.)
Act 2, Scene 3. A country road on the outskirts of Athens. Arcite comes in.
Arcite: Banished.–Okay, I’m alive. But how will I ever see Emilia again? Palamon, on the other hand, gets to stay in Athens. And one way or another, he’ll find a way to speak to her. All he needs is that one chance, and he could win her over. So I can’t leave. I’ve got to figure out a way to get back there.
(Four Countrymen come in, talking happily. Arcite moves to the wing, suggesting concealment.)
1st Countryman: It’ll be great! May Day! Fun and games!
2nd Countryman: I want to see the knights in the tournament. I love that sort of thing.
3rd Countryman: And there’ll be girls we can chat up.
4th Countryman: Don’t tell your wife!
3rd Countryman: No, you don’t tell my wife, and I won’t tell your wife!
2nd Countryman (Laughing): Listen to them!
1st Countryman: Yeah, as if any girls would be interested in a couple of broken-down hillbillies like them!
3rd Countryman: Aw, go on! We’re just going to be friendly.
4th Countryman: Sure. It’s May Day. Everyone’s supposed to have a good time.
2nd Countryman: I like to see the knights in action! All that manly competition!
3rd Countryman: That’s what brings out the girls. They love that sort of thing.
(Arcite steps forward.)
Arcite: Hello, there!
1st Countryman: Hello!
Arcite: I couldn’t help overhearing. You say there’s going to be games on May Day?
1st Countryman: Yes. People come from all over. It’s a holiday. It’s fun.
2nd Countryman: Are you not from around here, sir?
Arcite: Em, no. I’m from–not too far. So tell me, what sort of games do they have?
1st Countryman: Oh, the usual tournament stuff. Games of skill. Wrestling, running, riding, archery–that sort of thing.
Arcite: Is that where you’re going now?
1st Countryman: Yes. You want to come along with us?
Arcite: Em, no, thanks. I’ll probably go later.
1st Countryman: All right. Perhaps we’ll see you there.–Come on, fellows.
(The four Countrymen leave.)
Arcite: I’ve got an idea. I’ll disguise myself and compete in those games. Hell, I can do all that stuff as well as anyone. And if I win, Emilia will be impressed. Then I’ll have a chance with her.
Act 2, Scene 4. The Jailer’s Daughter comes in alone.
Daughter: Oh, Palamon!–I love him!–But how can I have him? He’s a noble. He’s quite above me.–But he’s always nice to me. He’s so polite. Once he even gave me a little kiss!–Oh! When I hear him sing, I love him so! And when he’s sad, I feel sad, too.–What can I do to make him love me? (Pause) If I were to set him free!–My father would be furious. I’d be in a lot of trouble.–But I don’t care. I love Palamon! I must do it! He’ll have to love me then! I know he will!
(She goes out.)
Act 2, Scene 5. Outdoors. The games are just ending. Sounds of cheering and flourishes of horns. Coming in are Theseus, Hippolyta, Pirithous, Emilia, and Arcite, disguised. Arcite is wearing a garland of victory, but he is dressed rather poorly.
Theseus: The winner! Well done, sir! Hercules himself would consider you his equal.
Arcite: Thank you, my lord. I’m happy that I performed well for you.
Theseus: What’s your name, by the way?
Theseus: That’s an unusual name. It’s not Greek.
Arcite: Em, no, my lord. My mother was, em–a Viking.
Theseus: Ah. That’s interesting. And where do you come from?
Arcite: From this country, sir–but it’s a place so small it’s not even on the map.
Theseus: Are you a gentleman or a commoner?
Arcite: My father always said I was a gentleman. At least, he brought me up that way.
Theseus: Well, your father would be proud. Tell me, what are your best talents?
Arcite: Oh, I can do just about anything. And I consider myself a good soldier.
Theseus: You are a talented fellow. Anyone can see that.
Pirithous: He is. He’s exceptional.
Pirithous (To Hippolyta): What do you think, madam?
Hippolyta: He’s a remarkable man. Very accomplished for his age.
Emilia: I’d say he had a beautiful mother.
Hippolyta: I’d say he got his strength and courage from his father.
Pirithous (To Hippolyta): Even with his simple clothes, you can tell he has a noble character.
Hippolyta: I agree.
Theseus: Why did you come here, Bruce?
Arcite: My lord, I came to make a good impression in the most important court in the world. Your court. The court of Athens.
Theseus: I’m glad you did.–Pirithous, you can take charge of Bruce. Give him a good position. A man like this should live in Athens.
Pirithous: I will, my lord. (To Arcite) How would you like to serve this noble lady? (Indicating Emilia)
Arcite: It would be the greatest reward I could hope for.
Pirithous: Good.–Emilia, will you have him?
Emilia: Most happily.
(Arcite kisses her hand.)
Arcite: Madam, I am scarcely worthy of you. And if I ever offend you, you need only command me to die, and I shall. On the spot.
Emilia (Laughing): I’d never do that. I can tell you’re worthy. And I’ll treat you well, I promise.
Pirithous: You’ll need some clothes and other things. I’ll get you properly fitted out.
Theseus: Tomorrow we’ll do the usual observance for May Day in Dian’s Wood. (To Arcite) You’ll join us, of course.–Emilia, he’ll need a horse.
Emilia: I have horses. (To Arcite) You can take your pick. And if there’s anything else you need, I’ll see that you have it.
Arcite: Madam, your beauty is matched by your kindness.
Theseus: Sister, I think this man will make some lady a fine husband someday–eh?
Emilia (Laughing): Don’t go there!
Hippolyta (To Arcite): Private joke.
Theseus (To Arcite): Come, my friend. Walk with me a bit. We must celebrate your victory and let the people see us together.
Arcite: I am honoured, my lord.
(They all leave.)
Act 2, Scene 6. In the prison. The Jailer’s Daughter rushes in excitedly and addresses the audience directly.
Daughter: I’ve done it! I set him free! I took him about a mile out of town and hid him in the woods. He still has those stupid chains on him, so I have to bring him some files–and also food.–Oh! I love him! I’m crazy for him!–And I told him I’d run away with him wherever he wants to go. I’ll be his, to do whatever he wants with. If I’m caught and punished, I don’t care. Honest women will bury me like a martyr to love.–It’s strange, though. When I offered to set him free, he didn’t want to leave. He said it was the wrong thing to do. And he didn’t even thank me.–But he will. When he thinks it over, he’ll understand how much I love him. And he’ll love me. And then we’ll run away and be happy together.–Oh! Soon I’ll be in his arms! My gorgeous Palamon!
(She goes out quickly.)
Act 3, Scene 1. In the woods. Background sound of cornets and people laughing and talking. Arcite comes in alone and addresses the audience.
Arcite: Wow! How luck changes! A few days ago I was a prisoner, and now I’m the hero of the games, I’m out here celebrating with the royalty–and I’m serving the lady that I love–Emilia! I know she likes me. She always smiles at me. She’s always complimenting me. And she gave me two outstanding horses that any king would love to own. My cousin thinks I’m back in Thebes. He thinks he’s the one who’s going to win Emilia.–Palamon, if you only knew!–It’s a perfect set-up for me. It’s just a matter of time before I get to marry her. She thinks she was meant to be a virgin all her life, but she’ll change her mind. The Duke even dropped a hint, remember?
(Palamon stumbles out of the bushes, still wearing chains.)
Palamon: You traitor!
Arcite: Hey, cousin! What did you do, break out of prison?
Palamon: A friend helped me escape. If I didn’t have these chains on, I’d give you what you deserve!
Arcite: Hey, calm down. I’m your cousin, remember?
Palamon: Cousins don’t do what you did to me!
Arcite: I didn’t do anything. It’s all in your mind.
Palamon: There’s nothing wrong with my mind. And there’s nothing wrong with my arms if I ever get hold of a sword.
Arcite: Stop carrying on like a loony. If you want to vent your anger, look in the mirror. You can argue with your reflection.
Palamon: You can’t pretend to be a good cousin six days of the week and then be a villain on the seventh. That makes you a villain, period.
Arcite: You know, among gentlemen this sort of talk often leads to a duel. Is that what you want?
Palamon: Yes. Just get me a file so I can get rid of these chains, and give me a sword and one last meal, and then we’ll settle this. If you beat me, fine, you’re the better man and Emilia is yours.
Arcite: If you want it that way, fine with me. You go to your hiding place and I’ll fetch you some gear and some food. Then if you still want to duel me, we’ll duel. But I’ll win.
Arcite: I’m showing you every consideration. Even though you want to hate me, I refuse to hate you.
Palamon: Never mind that. You go ahead and hate me. When we have it out, I won’t show you any consideration.
(Sound of horns.)
Arcite: Ah! I have to go.–To join my beloved mistress, Lady Emilia. I’m her man now.
Palamon: Enjoy the moment. That’s all it is. When this is all over, she’ll be mine.
Arcite: Dream on.
Palamon: Just bring me that stuff. Now you can go back to your party.
(Palamon leaves first, then Arcite leaves.)
Act 3, Scene 2. The Jailer’s Daughter comes in alone. She looks depressed and speaks slowly.
Daughter: He’s gone. I told him where to hide, but he’s not there. I don’t know what happened to him. He must still have his chains on, so he couldn’t have gone far. Maybe he was killed by wild animals. I don’t understand this. Why didn’t he wait for me? My father’s being blamed for letting him escape. He might even be sentenced to death. Then I’ll just have to confess. Let them hang me instead. I don’t see any life without Palamon. There’s no future. There’s nothing out there in the world for me. I see only–death.
(She goes out.)
Act 3, Scene 3. In the woods. Arcite comes in with files and a couple of bundles.
Arcite (Calling): Hey, Palamon! Where are are you?
(Palamon comes in.)
Palamon: It’s about time. I’m starved.
Arcite: I brought you food and wine and some clothes. And I have files for your chains.
Palamon: How do I know you’re not going to poison me?
Arcite: Don’t be stupid. If I wanted to get rid of you, I simply would’ve left you here to be captured.–Here.
(He gives Palamon the bundles.)
Arcite: Pour me some wine, and I’ll drink your health.
Palamon: All right.
(Palamon pours Arcite some wine.)
Arcite: Let’s agree not to mention whatsername for the time being.
Arcite: To your health, cousin.
(They clink cups.)
Arcite: Eat some food. There’s venison.
Palamon: I love venison.
Palamon: Man, that’s good. I’m starting to feel human again.
Arcite: Let’s drink to all the women we’ve ever loved–in a proper way, of course.
(They drink together.)
Palamon: I know who you’re thinking of.
Arcite: I didn’t mention her name.
Palamon: I can read your mind.
Arcite: I brought you some clothes, and some perfume, so you don’t stink so much.
Palamon: What about the sword and the armour?
Arcite: I couldn’t carry everything in one trip. I’ll come back in two hours with it, don’t worry.
Palamon: I’m not worried. You should worry.
Arcite: Yeah, yeah. I’ll see you later. Don’t run away.
(Curtain goes down as Palamon starts filing off his chains.)
Act 3, Scene 4. (This scene represents the Jailer’s Daughter’s madness, so the Director has a free hand to use special effects to make the scene surreal. The setting can be outdoors with a background of twisted trees, or indoors with a background of dark doorways. Sounds of howling, wind, ghostly moans, lightning, thunder, stage smoke, strange lighting, etc.) The Jailer’s Daughter crosses the stage slowly as if in a trance. She calls out repeatedly, “Palamon!–Palamon!” and continues across the stage and goes out.
Act 3, Scene 5. This scene is deleted.
Act 3, Scene 6. In the woods. Palamon comes in, looking very energetic.
Palamon: Okey-dokey, boys and girls. Lord Palamon, the noblest warrior of Thebes, is totally recharged.–Thank you, Arcite. Now I’m ready to kill you–ha!
(Arcite comes in with swords and armour.)
Arcite: Well, you’re looking better.
Palamon: I feel better.
Arcite: I brought fighting gear, like I promised.
Palamon: Good. I’m glad to see you’re a man of your word.
Arcite: I always was.
Palamon: If not always honourable.
Arcite: I’m not going to get into an argument. I brought all this stuff, and we can settle our differences the way you want to–if you’re quite ready.
Palamon: Never readier. Go ahead, pick out your gear.
Arcite: No, no. You pick first. I’m going to be polite.
Palamon: You can be polite, but I’m still going to try to kill you.
Arcite: Whatever. A fair fight is a fair fight. Go ahead.
(Palamon chooses his sword and armour. Then Arcite picks up what’s left.)
Arcite: I’ll help you put your gear on.
(Arcite helps him put on his armour.)
Palamon: Where’d you get this stuff?
Arcite: I, uh, borrowed it from the Duke’s armoury.–Is that too tight?
Palamon: No, it’s fine.
(Arcite finishes with Palamon’s armour.)
Arcite: That looks all right to me.
Palamon: Okay, now I’ll help you with yours.
(Palamon begins helping Arcite with his armour.)
Palamon: This reminds me of when we fought against the three kings.
Arcite: Yeah. I think that’s the only time you ever upstaged me in a battle.
Palamon: I had a better horse.
Arcite: I managed to stay close to you, though. You sure scared the shit out of the enemy.
Palamon: I felt very confident because you were right behind me.–There. How’s that?
Arcite: Perfect. Do you want that sword, or do you want to switch?
Palamon: No, no. I’m good with it.
Arcite: Okay, then. Everything’s fair and square. Anything you care to say?
Palamon: Only that my blood is in you, and yours is in me. If you kill me, I die with honour, and may the gods forgive you. And if I kill you, you die with honour, and may the gods forgive me.
Arcite: Then let’s shake hands for the last time.
(The two men shake hands. Then they stand back to back, take two paces, turn, bow, and touch swords. They are about to duel when horns are heard.)
Arcite: Oh, hell! That’s the Duke!
Palamon: So what? Come on! Duel!
Arcite: No, you idiot! If he catches us, we’re both dead! I was banished and you escaped!
Palamon: I only care about Emilia! Come on, fight!
(Palamon begins the duel and Arcite defends himself.)
Arcite: You idiot! We’re going to get caught!
Palamon: We started it and we have to finish it!
Arcite: You’re going to get us both executed!
(The horns get louder. Then Theseus comes in, followed by Hippolyta, Emilia, Pirithous, and Attendants.)
Theseus: Stop! Drop those swords!
(They stop fighting and drop their swords.)
Theseus: You guys!–You, Arcite! Or should I call you Bruce? I banished you!–And you, Palamon! You broke out of prison! I won’t stand for this! I won’t be made a fool of! I sentence both of you to death!
Arcite (To Palamon): I told you.
Palamon: My lord, you have every right to be angry with us. But we have a dispute here. My cousin has designs on your sister-in-law. He thinks he’s going to marry her. But I saw her first, and I said I intended to marry her. The only way we could settle the argument was to duel it out. At least let us finish what we started. After that, if you still want to kill me, I’ll take my death like a man.
Arcite: So will I!
Pirithous (Smacking his forehead in astonishment): Good God!
Theseus: I’ve already spoken. There’s not going to be any duel.
Arcite: My lord Theseus, I’m ready to put my life on the line for Emilia. That’s how much I love her. If that makes me a traitor, then consider me a bigger traitor than Palamon. Ask Emilia if I should die, and if she says yes, I will–gladly!
Palamon: My lord, if you put us both to death, let him go first, so I can have the satisfaction of saying with my last breath “You will not have her!”
Theseus: I’ll grant your wish.
Hippolyta: Wait, my lord!–Emilia, say something! Are you going to let them both die? They’re doing this for you!
Emilia (Upset): I have no wish for either of them to die. And I’ve done nothing to cause this. I refuse to be involved.
Hippolyta: Sister, have you no pity?
Emilia (Very distressed): Yes, I have pity. I don’t want anyone to die because of me. Do you want either of these men to die?
Emilia: Then kneel with me.
(Emilia pulls Hippolyta beside her and both kneel to Theseus.)
Emilia: My royal brother–
Hippolyta: Husband! If you love me, take the smallest part of that love and bestow it on these men. Show them mercy.
Emilia: Mercy is the noblest virtue, my lord. It is given to us by the gods.
Hippolyta: Do this one act of kindness if you love me.
(Theseus is conflicted. He looks to Pirithous for guidance. Pirithous kneels beside the ladies, but just a bit closer to Theseus and on one knee only.)
Pirithous: My lord, you would be showing your greatness and your most splendid virtue by showing mercy to these men.
(A pause while Theseus considers.)
Theseus (To Emilia): What would you have me do?
(The two ladies and Pirithous rise.)
Emilia: Just banish them, my lord.
Theseus: What good would that do? You can see they’re ready to kill each other over you. It’s no credit to you or to me. It’s better for them to die by the law than by each other’s hands. Besides, I’ve spoken. I can’t go back on my word.
Emilia: My lord, words spoken impulsively out of anger can be disregarded. But words spoken out of love have authority.
Theseus: What words?
Emilia: You once promised me that you would never deny me anything that was in your power to grant. I hold you to that promise. I ask you to banish these men.
Theseus: Without any conditions? If they don’t duel here, they’ll duel somewhere else.
Emilia: Then banish them with the conditions that they must never attempt to see me again or have any contact with each other.
Palamon (To Theseus): I won’t agree to that. I’ll never stop loving Emilia till the day I die.
Arcite: Neither will I. I’ll die for her.
(Pirithous turns away in astonishment.)
Theseus: Pirithous, what am I supposed to do with these two? I don’t want to kill them.
Pirithous: Then don’t.
Theseus: Emilia, if one of them were dead, would you take the other?
Emilia: How can you ask me such a question?
Theseus (To Arcite and Palamon): Would you be willing to let Emilia choose one of you to marry–and the other one dies?
Arcite and Palamon: Yes!
Emilia: I can’t choose! They’re both noble! They’re both good! I can’t send one of them to his death!
(Longer pause. Theseus ponders.)
Theseus: Then this is how we’ll settle it. Both of you will go back to Thebes and select three knights to assist you. You will return here to this exact spot in one month. You will find a pillar planted in the ground. You will compete in a contest of strength with the help of your knights. You must force your cousin to touch the pillar. The one who touches the pillar first loses, and he will be executed–along with his knights. The one who wins gets to marry Emilia. Does this satisfy you?
Arcite and Palamon: Yes!
Emilia (Unhappily): I will do as you wish.
Theseus: Good.–Then you gentlemen will agree to a truce for one month, and you agree to the terms I’ve set out.
Palamon: We agree, my lord. Thank you.
Arcite: It’s fair, my lord. Thank you.
(They all leave.)
Act 4, Scene 1. In the jail. The Jailer comes in with his (First) Friend.
Jailer: What did they say about me? Are they still blaming me for Palamon’s escape?
Friend: I didn’t hear them say anything about you. All I know is that the ladies and Pirithous begged the Duke not to execute the two cousins.
Jailer: Oh, God. I could be in big trouble.
(The Second Friend comes in.)
2nd Friend: Hey, I have some good news for you.
Jailer: I was hoping.
2nd Friend: You’re in the clear. Palamon explained everything to the Duke, so you’re not being held responsible. And your daughter is forgiven as well.
Jailer: That’s a relief!
2nd Friend: And Palamon also pledged a chunk of money for her dowry when she gets married.
Jailer: That’s mighty nice of him. God bless him.
1st Friend: But what about the cousins?
2nd Friend: Their dispute is going to be settled a month from now. Some sort of contest of strength.
(The Suitor comes in, looking worried.)
Suitor (To the Jailer): Sir, have you seen your daughter today?
Jailer: Not since this morning. Why?
Suitor: How did she look? Did she seem all right?
Jailer: Mmm–not really, now that you ask. She hasn’t been herself lately. Do you know something about her?
Suitor: I hate to tell you this, but I think she’s lost her mind.
Jailer: Why? What’s happened?
Suitor: I was fishing by the river, and I thought I heard her voice. She was sort of singing–or more like rambling–and it was about Palamon. So I went to look for her, and as soon as she saw me, she jumped in the river.
Jailer: Good God!
Suitor: So I jumped in after her and dragged her out, but then she ran off toward the city, and she was yelling a lot of gibberish. Then your brother and two other gentlemen just happened to show up, and they grabbed her because she was obviously out of control. And I came straight away to tell you.
Jailer: I’m glad you did. I have to do something about this.
(The Jailer’s Brother and two other Gentlemen come in with the Daughter, who looks mentally distracted. Her clothes are wet. [When she sings in this scene, she sings tunelessly and haltingly.])
Daughter (Singing): Pretty little bluebirds–singing in the tree–(To the Brother) Do you know that one?
Brother: Oh, yes. That’s a nice song.
Daughter: It’s about me and Palamon.–My wedding dress–where is it?
Brother: I’ll bring it tomorrow.
Daughter: I’ll be up early to try it on. Has it got blue trimming? I asked for blue trimming.
Brother: Yes, yes, my dear. It’s just the way you want it. (Aside to the Jailer) You’d better just humour her. She’s out of her mind.
Daughter (To the Gentlemen): You’ve heard of Palamon, haven’t you?
Gentlemen: Yes, yes.
Daughter: I’m going to marry him.
Gentlemen: Yes, yes.
Daughter: Many ladies have come from everywhere to marry him, but he’s going to marry me.
Gentlemen: Yes.–He will.
Happy little bluebirds singing in the tree,
They are singing for my Palamon and me,
He is coming on a fine white horse,
I’ll be wearing my white wedding dress,
And our marriage bed is covered with red roses–
Jailer (Taking her gently by the hand): Come, girl. You should rest.
Daughter: Are you the captain of this ship?
Jailer: Yes, I’m the captain.
Daughter: And these men are your crew?
Others: Yes.–Yes.–We’re the crew.
Daughter: After the wedding, Palamon and I would like to sail away.
Jailer: Yes, yes, you will.
Daughter: Some place where there are all kinds of flowers and bluebirds and–
Jailer: Yes, yes, my dear. You shall have everything your heart desires. You’ll be happy forever.–Come.
(The Jailers leads his Daughter out, followed by the others.)
Act 4, Scene 2. In the palace of Theseus. Emilia comes in alone, holding two pictures (of Arcite and Palamon). She is very troubled.
Emilia: Why must one of these good men die for me? (Looking at Arcite’s picture) Arcite is so noble, so handsome. When he was my servant Bruce, I would’ve been happy to keep him forever. (Looking at Palamon’s picture) Palamon is the more serious one. He looks so sad. Yet he is just as noble, just as handsome.–What maiden ever had two such fine men ready to die for her? And what maiden ever had to be the cause that would send one of them to his grave?
(She is on the verge of tears when a Gentleman comes in.)
Gentleman: Madam, the cousins from Thebes have arrived with their knights.
Emilia: For the contest?
Gentleman: Yes, madam.
Emilia: My chastity is a curse, isn’t it? It has become an altar for the worst sacrifice ever imagined.
Gentleman: Madam, it is they who have so willed it. There is no other way to settle the matter.
(Theseus, Hippolyta, and Pirithous come in.)
Theseus: Sister, your two suitors have returned, along with their friends. Whoever wins will be your husband.
Emilia: I shall weep, whatever the outcome.
[Author’s note: The Messenger is deleted from this scene, and his lines are given to the Gentleman.]
Theseus (To Pirithous): I didn’t get a good look at the knights. Have you seen them?
Gentleman: So have I, my lord.
Theseus: What do you think of them?
Gentleman: They’re pretty awesome. Arcite’s men, in particular. They’re tough, but also very noble.
Pirithous: Palamon’s men are splendid beyond words. You look in their eyes and you see courage.
Theseus: Then this should be quite a contest. (To Hippolyta) Are you looking forward to this as much as I am?
Hippolyta: I look forward to tomorrow.
Theseus: Pirithous, I’m putting you in charge. You take care of all the details.
Pirithous: I will, my lord.
Theseus: All right, then. We can all go.
(They all leave, with Emilia lagging. Hippolyta takes her by the hand for encouragement and they follow the men.)
Act 4, Scene 3. Curtain up finds the Jailer, the Suitor, and the Doctor sitting in conference in the prison.
Doctor: Is she worse during the full moon, have you noticed?
Jailer: No, I don’t think it makes any difference. She hardly sleeps or eats. She just babbles a lot of gibberish about Palamon. She’s in some kind of fantasy world. I can’t get through to her.
Doctor: Has she ever been in love with anyone else besides Palamon?
Jailer: No.–Well, just our friend here.–Although it’s not quite the same, I don’t think.
Suitor: I still want to marry her if she regains her sanity.
Jailer: Oh–here she comes.
(The Daughter comes in looking spaced-out.)
Daughter: I’m on a pretty planet with Palamon.–We’re picking flowers all day.–There’s music coming from the clouds, and the birds are flying all over the sky.–The angels are dressed in white and they bring me sweets in a basket.–I can float if I want to.–Palamon and I shall float about–high in the sky–and see all the lands–and look for a mountain of green and gold.–And we’ll go live there forever.–Palamon–Palamon–
(She goes out, wafting her arms gently as if flying.)
Doctor: Her nerves are shot, that’s for sure. No food. No sleep. She’s lost touch with reality.
Jailer: Can you cure her, doctor?
Doctor: I think so. But our friend here has to help.
Suitor: I’ll do anything to help.
Doctor (To the Jailer): Here’s my idea. You must put her in a darkened room–(To the Suitor) And you have to pretend to be Palamon.
Doctor: Just play the role. Talk like a noble with a Theban accent. Wear some kind of perfume. Sit with her. Talk nicely to her. Get her to eat and sleep. She needs that.
Jailer: Do you think she can be fooled like that?
Doctor: Oh, for sure. It’s the power of suggestion. She wants to be with Palamon, so in her own mind she will be. You just reinforce that idea. The most important thing is to calm her nerves and get her to eat and sleep. I’ll check on her frequently. And I have a special treatment I’d like to try on her. (He takes a little cloth bag from his pocket.) I’ve got this herb here. Actually, it’s a weed. It’s oriental.
Jailer: Does she eat it or drink it like tea?
Doctor: Neither. You light it like incense and inhale the smoke. It make you feel great. I’ve used it before–on my patients, I mean. It’s wonderful, believe me.
Jailer: That sounds all right.
Suitor: There’s something new every day, isn’t there?
Doctor: Yes, indeed.
Suitor: I love science.
Doctor: So do I.
Jailer (Getting up): I just want to check on her.
Doctor: Good idea.
(They all go out.)
Act 5, Scene 1. Before the altars of Mars, Venus, and Diana. Trumpet flourish. Theseus, Pirithous, and Hippolyta come in.
Theseus: Before the contest begins, we’ll let the opponents pray to the gods. It’s the right thing to do.
(A different flourish is heard.)
Pirithous: That’ll be them.
(Palamon and Arcite come in, accompanied by their parties of three Knights each.)
Theseus: Ah, here you are. Before you tear each other apart, I’ll give you a few minutes to pray to the gods. We want this to be an honourable contest. You will, of course, conduct yourselves properly while you’re here. As for me, I’m impartial.–So. I leave you to your prayers.
Pirithous: May the worthiest win.
Theseus: We trust in the gods.
(The eight combatants bow to Theseus and thank him. Theseus, Pirithous, and Hippolyta leave.)
Palamon: Well, cousin, the day has come.
Palamon: Let us embrace for the last time.
(The cousins embrace.)
Palamon: I’ll let you pray first. I’ll give you some privacy.
(Palamon and his Knights go out.)
Arcite: My friends, you are true worshippers of Mars, as I am. So let us ask him to give us courage and strength.
(Arcite lights incense at the altar of Mars, and the four of them kneel in prayer.)
Arcite: Invincible Mars, god of war, whose power turns lands and oceans red with blood–smasher of cities, destroyer of empires–thou mightiest god, who strikes terror in the hearts of great armies, who turns the tide of battle according to thy will. Now show favour to this young follower of thy drum. Give us sinews of iron, give us inexhaustible breath, and let our hearts be full of hot blood. We worship you from the depths of our souls. Give us your blessing. And give us a sign of your favour.
(Sound of thunder. Arcite rises with his Knights. They are thrilled.)
Arcite: Thank you, great god of war! In your name we go to do battle!
(Arcite and his Knights hug each other enthusiastically, then leave. Then Palamon and his Knights come in. They are very serious and solemn.)
Palamon: Men, today we must blaze like the sun–or go cold into oblivion. We fight for love, so let us pray to the goddess Venus.
(Palamon lights incense at the altar of Venus. Then he and his Knights kneel in prayer.)
Palamon: Hail, goddess, who rules the hearts of all men, who has the power to make fools of the wise and make the old young again. No shield can withstand you. There is no distance or obstacle that you cannot overcome with a mere thought. Look now upon your pure-hearted follower. Never did I praise a rogue, dishonour a wife, or seduce a maiden. Never did I betray a secret. Never did I speak foully of natural affections or associate with men of low morals. No man was ever truer in his love than I am. Show me your grace. Look kindly upon me. Give me a sign that you are with me today.
(Ethereal music is heard–a chorus of female voices singing without words. Palamon rises with his Knights.)
Palamon: Venus, I give thee thanks! (To his Knights) Come. The goddess is with us.
(Palamon and his Knights go out. After a somewhat longer interval, Emilia comes in slowly. She is dressed in a white wedding dress and is attended by two young Girls, who hold her train. She goes to the altar of Diana and lights incense. Then she kneels. The two Girls kneel also but remain apart. Emilia speaks slowly.)
Emilia: Diana, goddess to all virgins. You know me. You know what is in my heart. I have been pure. I have been devoted to you. And now I am dressed for marriage. To whom, I do not know. I would no sooner choose a husband than I would choose a man to be condemned. However the gods dispose the coming contest, know that I have been your faithful servant. Therefore, show your kind blessing to me, a little sister on earth. Keep me forever in your service–or release me to the one who is worthiest. Give me a sign. Shall I remain pure like the white rose–or shall I be the red rose to a husband?
(A shower of red rose petals falls. Emilia rises, as do the Girls.)
Emilia: Most gracious goddess, you have released me for marriage.
(Emilia smiles bravely, with an evident trace of sadness. She goes out, with the Girls following, holding her train.)
Act 5, Scene 2. The Doctor, Jailer, and Suitor (dressed like Palamon) come in.
Doctor: Well, how’s it working out?
Suitor: She’s buying it. She thinks I’m Palamon. She asked me to kiss her, so I did.
Doctor: That’s the idea. Don’t be shy with her. Remember we want to cure her.
Suitor: She said she would stay up with me tonight.
Doctor: Ah! You know what that means!
Suitor: She wants to have–you know–sex–with me.
Doctor: So do it.
Jailer: Hey, wait a minute. My daughter’s an honest girl. He mustn’t take advantage of her like that.
Doctor: Never mind honest. She’s got to be cured. That’s the first priority. And besides, he’s going to marry her anyway, right? Assuming she gets cured.
Jailer (Grumbling): Well–I suppose.
Doctor: Bring her in. I want to observe her behaviour.
Jailer: All right.
(The Jailer goes out.)
Suitor: He’s not happy about–you know.
Doctor: Don’t worry. I’m a doctor. I understand young women better than he does. She’s sexually normal. That’s important if we want to cure her. You just play your role. Humour her. Go along with her. Next chance I get, I’ll have her inhale the smoke from that nice aromatic weed.
Suitor: Is it safe for me to inhale it, or do I have to leave the room?
Doctor: You can inhale it, no problem. It’s good medicine. Completely harmless. In fact, I have an idea for an invention. You take a small strip of very fine paper, you put some shredded weed on it, and then roll it up like a tube and lick it all over so it holds together. Then you put it in your mouth and light the end and–Oops. Wait.
(The Doctor hears the Jailer returning, so he blows out a candle, which reduces the stage lighting. The Jailer comes in with his Daughter.)
Jailer: Come, daughter. Palamon is here to visit you.
Daughter: He’s so kind, father. Did you see the horse he gave me?
Jailer: Eh?–Oh, uh–yes. Wonderful horse. White, was it?
Daughter: No. Pink.
Jailer: Ah. Pink. Splendid.
Daughter: And he dances beautifully.
Jailer: Who? The horse?
Daughter: No. Palamon.–And here he is. (To the Suitor) Would you like to walk with me to the end of the world, Palamon?
Suitor: Em–sure. What will we do there?
Daughter: We’ll play at lawn bowling.
Suitor: Ah. Good. I like lawn bowling. And will we get married there?
Daughter: Yes. We’ll find a blind priest to marry us.
(The Doctor makes a ‘crazy’ gesture with his finger around his ear as an aside to the Jailer.)
Daughter: So he doesn’t know who we are. That way, he can’t object.
Suitor: Ah. Excellent. I’m all for it.
Daughter: Unfortunately, I don’t have my wedding dress yet.
Suitor: That’s all right. I’ll marry you just as you are.
Suitor: Of course. Absolutely.
Daughter: Then let’s go to bed.
(The Jailer signals his disapproval to the Suitor, while the Doctor signals his approval.)
Suitor: Em–to bed?–Sure. Why not.
Daughter: And we’ll have many children.
Suitor: Ha, ha–yes. But not all at once.
(A Messenger comes in and speaks to the Jailer.)
Messenger: You’re needed outside, sir. They’re–
(He takes the Messenger aside for privacy and they speak softly.)
Jailer: Are they in the field?
Messenger: Yes. You’re supposed to be there.–You know.–For afterwards.
Jaileer: Yes, yes. (Normal voice, to the doctor) I have to go. (He points away.)
Doctor: Yes. Right.
(The Jailer pulls the Doctor aside for a moment. They speak softly.)
Jailer: Well? What do you think? Can you cure her?
Doctor: No problem. Leave it to me.
(The Jailer nods and leaves with the Messenger.)
Doctor (Aside to the Suitor): Stick to her like glue.
Doctor (Aside to the Suitor): And really stick it to her, eh?–Heh, heh! Know what I mean?
Doctor (Aside to the Suitor): When I come back, I’ll bring that herb. In the meantime, try to get her to eat.
(The Doctor leaves.)
Suitor: So, em, shall we have dinner?
Daughter: All right, if you wish.
Suitor: And later we can play cards.
Daughter: It’s too dark to play cards. I’d rather go to bed.
Suitor: Bed?–Heh, heh.–Yes. All right.
Daughter: But you must be gentle.–You know. (She giggles.)
Suitor: Ha, ha! Yes, of course!
(The Daughter takes his hand and is leading him out.)
Suitor: Yes. Excellent idea. Dinner–and then bed.
(They go out.)
Act 5, Scene 3. Near the field of combat. Theseus, Hippolyta, Emilia, and Pirithous come in with two Attendants. (Emilia is holding her own train.)
Emilia (Stopping): This is as far as I go.
Pirithous: You can’t see the fight from here, madam.
Emilia: I have no intention of seeing it. Just hearing it will be torture enough.
Theseus: But they’re fighting for you.
Emilia: The whole idea of it makes me sick.
Hippolyta: Sister, you must watch. You don’t want to dishonour your future husband.
Theseus: Besides, you’ll be giving them courage. It just won’t be the same without you there.
Emilia: It’s their feud. They started it without me, and they can finish it without me.
Theseus: All right, suit yourself. The attendants will stay with you.
Hippolyta: I’ll know who your husband is before you do.
Emilia: Fine. I’m staying here.
(Theseus gestures for the others to follow. They go out, leaving Emilia with the two Attendants. She turns her back to the field of combat and walks a few paces away. The Attendants, impelled by curiosity, creep closer toward the field. They are at one side of the stage. They talk to each other excitedly in hushed voices and stand on their toes, trying to see the contest. A cornet is heard.)
1st Attendant: They’re getting ready to start.
(A trumpet is heard, then crowd noise. The two Attendants are straining to see. Distant shouts of “Arcite! Arcite!”)
1st Attendant: I think Arcite is winning!
2nd Attendant: Is he? I can’t see.
(Distant shouts of “Palamon! Palamon!”)
2nd Attendant: They’re shouting for Palamon! He must be winning!
(There is prolonged crowd noise, and both names are shouted.)
1st Attendant: Who’s winning?
2nd Attendant: I can’t tell.
(A trumpet sounds with much cheering. A Servant comes from the field. He is immediately intercepted by the Attendants.)
Servant: Arcite won.
Attendants: Arcite has won, madam!
Emilia: Poor Palamon.
(Theseus, Hippolyta, Pirithous, and Arcite come in, with others.)
Theseus: Sister, the gods have given you a husband–Arcite!
Arcite: Madam, I’ve paid the highest price for your hand. No other woman would’ve been worth it.
Emilia (Very restrained): Congratulations.
Theseus: What a brave fighter! You should’ve seen him! Palamon had him within an inch of the pillar, and the six knights were straining against each other so hard I thought their eyes would pop out of their heads! And then, like magic, Arcite made this terrific move and turned Palamon around and made him touch the pillar! It was heroic!–Sister, aren’t you happy?
Emilia: This was never about my happiness.
Hippolyta: In any case, the matter is settled. It was a fair contest–and well-fought.
(Theseus claps Arcite on the shoulder.)
Theseus: Well, I’m happy. Arcite has proven himself.
Hippolyta: Sister, try to be happy. This man loves you.
Emilia (Not smiling): Yes. I know.
(She turns and walks out by herself. Arcite looks hurt, but Hippolyta gives him a smile and a pat of encouragement, and they all walk out, following Emilia.)
Act 5, Scene 4. As the curtain rises, we find Palamon, tied, kneeling before the chopping block. His three Knights are also tied and kneeling. The Jailer and Guards stand behind them. The Executioner is holding his axe. Theseus is also present. (Author’s note: In the original, Theseus comes in with Hippolyta and Emilia.)
Palamon (To his Knights): I’m sorry.
1st Knight: You needn’t apologize. We knew the risk.
Other Knights: Aye.
Palamon: We’ll be loved and respected by plenty of people, long after our deaths. We have just as much honour as the winners. The gods will welcome us.–That’s not much consolation, but it’s all I can give you.
1st Knight: I would ask no more.
2nd Knight: I go with a clear conscience and no ill will toward anyone.
3rd Knight: A noble death, Palamon–for all of us.
Jailer (To Palamon): Will you be first, sir?
Palamon: Of course.–By the way, how’s your daughter? I heard she was ill.
Jailer: She’s fully recovered. She’s going to marry that nice fellow she was engaged to.
Palamon: I’m glad. Give her my purse as a wedding present. It’s got plenty of gold.
Jailer: I will, sir. Thank you.
Palamon (To the Knights): His daughter was in love with me. She helped me escape from prison.
1st Knight: In that case, she can have my purse, too.
Other Knights: And mine!
Jailer: The gods bless you for your kindness, gentlemen.–Executioner.
(The Executioner positions Palamon’s head on the block.)
Palamon (To the Knights): We’ll be together very soon, my friends–in a better place.
(The Executioner raises his axe. Suddenly a Messenger rushes in.)
Messenger: Stop! Stop! There’s been an accident!
(Pirithous rushes in.)
Pirithous: Wait! Stop the execution!
(He helps Palamon to his feet.)
Jailer: What’s the matter?
Pirithous: Arcite fell off his horse.
Palamon: What! Is it bad?
Pirithous: Very bad. I don’t think he’ll live.
Theseus: How did it happen?
Pirithous: It was a freak accident. He was on his horse, and the horse’s iron shoes made a spark on the cobblestones, and the spark went up and burned the horse, and he panicked and threw Arcite. They’re bringing him now.
Theseus: Good God! (To the Guards) Untie them all.
(The Guards help the Knights to their feet and untie all four of the condemned. Overlapping this action, Arcite is carried in on a stretcher by several Servants. He is escorted by Hippolyta and Emilia.)
(Palamon goes to his cousin and takes his hand.)
Arcite (Weakly): Cousin–
(The Servants set the stretcher down.)
Palamon: You’ll be all right.
Arcite (Weakly): No, cousin–I have but few words left.–I was wrong.–Forgive me.–Emilia was rightfully yours.–I give her up to you.–Emilia–be happy with Palamon.
(She embraces Arcite. He dies in her arms.)
Emilia (Tearfully): He’s dead.
(Palamon embraces Arcite’s body, weeping.)
Palamon: My noble–noble–cousin.
(Theseus gently lifts Palamon and Emilia and pulls them close to him.)
Theseus: The gods in their wisdom have decided this. And they have been true. Mars gave the contest to Arcite. Venus blessed Palamon for his love. And Diana–(To Emilia)–Diana gave you the worthiest husband. And we mortals should not dispute with the gods.–Palamon, you shall marry Emilia. And your brave knights shall be our friends. Arcite shall be buried with honour, and his knights shall be our friends, too.–Hippolyta–Pirithous–(Hippolyta and Pirithous join closely with Theseus)–Let us mourn–and celebrate–properly–as the gods would wish.
(They all leave slowly. No curtain down. Quick segue to the Epilogue.)
Epilogue. The Narrator comes in.
Narrator: Now, was that a great story, or what? Surprise ending. You’ll remember The Two Noble Kinsmen as long as you live. And you didn’t think you’d like Shakespeare. Now you love him!–Say “Thank you, Shakespeare.–And thank you, Whatsisname, who did the rewrite so we could understand it.”–And so, good night.
(Narrator leaves and curtain down.)
Copyright@ 2013 by Crad Kilodney. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org