The Two Noble Kinsmen
by William Shakespeare
As I work my way through the complete list ofShakespeare's plays, I'm stumbling upon many of his lesser-known works with little to no knowledge going into them. It's an interesting way to approach Shakespeare, because so many of the plays we read of his are ones we already familiar with before we ever reach the actual text. Shows like Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet are woven into the tapestry of pop culture in so many different ways that we learn the story even if we haven't read the book.
Unlike those shows, I had no previous knowledge of The Two Noble Kinsmen before I started it. In my head I kept confusing it with The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and there's good reason for that. Both plays take a pair of best friends and then pit them against each other for the love of a woman. I can't help but wonder if this ever happened to Shakespeare, because he seems to bring it up a lot. Did he have some friend who was kind of a jerk and kept going after whoever his buddy Bill had a crush on?
In The Two Noble Kinsmen we meet Palamon and Arcite. They are devoted friends… until they see Emilia. After that it’s every man for himself. Unfortunately another woman, the daughter of a jailer, falls for one of the two men, Palamon. So now she’s trapped in this horrible cycle too. In the end, one kinsman ends up with the girl and everyone is “happy”. It’s all tied up a bit too neatly to be believable.
It’s also one of Shakespeare’s more frustrating plays when it comes to the women. No one seems to care what Emilia or the jailer’s daughter actually wants. I felt like the women in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, particularly Silvia, are much stronger characters.
BOTTOM LINE: It’s Shakespeare’s final play, but not his strongest. A tidy ending and weak female characters don’t leave a great lasting impression, but it still holds some beautiful language from Shakespeare.
“This world's a city full of straying streets, and death's the market-place where each one meets.”