The Two Noble Kinsmen

Monday, August 10, 2015


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.”

7 comments:

o said...

I've just read The Knight's Tale by Chaucer, which is where Shakespeare got the idea for this, and I loved *that* and so I've been wanting to read Two Noble Kinsmen ever since. I'd never heard of it before so it's nice to see someone blogging about it! And I must get round to reading it soon - I want to see whose version is best, Chaucer or Shakespeare :)

Julie @ Smiling Shelves said...

I took a Shakespeare class in college, yet I've never even heard of this play of his before! I feel like my professor gypped me... :) Hopefully I'll get a chance to make up for that and read it someday!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

o - I heard that about The Knight's Tale and it made me want to reread that section of Chaucer!

Julie - I love discovering some of Shakespeare's plays that I know nothing about. That has been my favorite part of this project so far.

bibliophilica said...

Hi Melissa,
I did my own "Project: Shakespeare" back in 2008 and didn't quite finish, though I read 28 of his plays. I liked this one and the other "unknown" ones I encountered as well ("Timon of Athens" e.g.) I used Isaac Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare (highly recommended) as my companion for the project, reading what it had to say about each play before reading the play itself so I had a little background or context which, if Im being honest, was often needed by me. :-) After reading the play, I'd then read a little literary criticism about it. It was a real learning experience but also oexhausting" :-)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

bibliophilica - 28 of his plays is a lot! I was excited to see there will be a performance of Timon of Athens during the Oct. Carmel Bard Fest this year. I love the way you approached each play. I've had that Asimov book on my wish list for so long. I need to just get it!

bibliophilica said...

Thanks for the heads up about theCarmel Bard Fest. Might have to check that out. :-) Timon was an answer once in a "live" trivia night I participated in - something along the lines of "which Shakespearean play has never been made into a movie"...

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

bibliophilica - That's hilarious. It makes my Shakespeare project tricky though because I'm trying to read each play, see it live, and see the film version!