David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s “The Two Noble Kinsmen”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scenes 4-5

— 2.4 —

Alone, the jailor’s daughter said, “Why should I love this gentleman? The odds are that he never will love me. I am lowly born, my father is the lowly keeper of his prison, and the man I love is a Prince. To marry him is hopeless; to be his whore is witless and foolish. Damn it! What extremes are we lasses driven to when our fifteenth year has once found us!

“First, I saw him. I, seeing him, thought that he was a handsome man. He has as much to please a woman in him, if he ever chooses to bestow it, as ever these eyes yet looked on.

“Next, I pitied him, and so would any young girl, on my conscience, who ever dreamed, or vowed to give her virginity to a young handsome man.

“Then, I loved him, extremely loved him, infinitely loved him!

“And yet he had a first cousin, as fair as himself, too.

“But Palamon was in my heart, and there, Lord, what a turmoil he causes! To hear him sing in an evening, what a Heaven it is! And yet his songs are sad ones. Fairer spoken was never any other gentleman. When I would come in to bring him water in the morning, first he would bow his noble body, and then he would greet me like this: ‘Fair, gentle maiden, good morning. May thy goodness get you a happy husband.’ Once he kissed me; I loved my lips all the better for ten days afterward. I wish that he would kiss me every day! He grieves much — and I grieve as much when I see his misery.

“What should I do to make him know I love him? I would like to sexually enjoy him. Let’s say I ventured to set him free? What does the law say then?”

Her father the jailer would get in serious trouble if Palamon were to escape from jail.

Snapping her fingers, she said, “Thus much for law or my kindred! I will do it, and this night, or tomorrow, he shall love me.”

— 2.5 —

Theseus, Hippolyta, Pirithous, Emilia, and Arcite talked together. Arcite was in disguise, and he was wearing the garland of a victor. Some attendants and other people were present.

Theseus said to Arcite, “You have done worthily. I have not seen, since Hercules, any man of tougher muscles than you. Whoever you are, you run the best and wrestle the best that these times can boast of.”

Arcite replied, “I am proud to please you.”

“In what country were you raised?” Theseus asked.

“This country, but far away, Prince Theseus,” Arcite answered.

“Are you a gentleman?” Theseus asked.

“My father said so, and he raised me to pursue gentlemanly activities.”

“Are you his heir?” Theseus asked.

“I am his youngest son, sir,” Arcite replied.

The oldest son was the father’s heir.

“Your father, surely, is a happy sire, then,” Theseus said, politely assuming that the older son or sons would be as excellent as Arcite.

He then asked, “What accomplishments do you profess to have?”

Arcite replied, “I have a little of all the noble qualities. I knew how to keep a hawk, and I have hallooed well to a deep cry of dogs while hunting. I dare not praise my feats in horsemanship, yet those who knew me would say it was my best accomplishment. Last, and greatest, I would be thought to be a soldier.”

“You are perfect,” Theseus said. “You have all the accomplishments of a gentleman.”

“Upon my soul, he is a handsome man,” Pirithous said.

“He is, indeed,” Emilia said.

Pirithous said to Hippolyta, “How do you like him, lady?”

Hippolyta replied, “I admire him. I have not seen so young a man be so noble a gentleman, if he has said the truth about his accomplishments.”

“Believe him,” Emilia said. “His mother was a wondrously beautiful woman. His face, I think, shows that.”

“But his body and fiery mind show that he has a brave father,” Hippolyta said.

“Notice how his virtue, like a hidden Sun, breaks through his baser garments,” Pirithous said.

“He’s well begotten, certainly,” Hippolyta said. “His father is definitely noble.”

Theseus asked Arcite, “What made you seek this place, sir?”

“Noble Theseus,” Arcite replied, “I came here to earn fame and do my ablest service to such a well-approved, commendable wonder as your worth, for only in your court, of all the world, dwells fair-eyed Honor.”

“All his words are worthy,” Pirithous said.

Theseus said to Arcite, “Sir, we are much indebted to you and your travel to and your travail in the games. Nor shall you lose your wish to be in my court.”

He then said, “Pirithous, find a place at court for this fair gentleman.”

“Thanks, Theseus,” Pirithous said.

He then said to Arcite, “Whoever you are, you’re my servant, and I shall give you to a most noble service: You will serve this lady, this bright young virgin.”

He brought Arcite over to Emilia.

Pirithous then said, “Please treat her goodness with all due respect. You have honored her fair birthday with your virtues, and, as your due, you’re hers. Kiss her fair hand, sir.”

Arcite replied, “Sir, you’re a noble giver.”

He then said to Emilia, “Dearest beauty, thus let me seal my vowed faith.”

He kissed her hand and added, “When your servant, your most unworthy creature, merely offends you, command him to die, and he shall.”

“That would be too cruel,” Emilia replied. “If you deserve well, sir, I shall soon see it. You’re my attendant, and I’ll treat you somewhat better than your rank.”

Pirithous said to Arcite, “I’ll see you equipped with what you need, and because you say you are a horseman, I must ask you this afternoon to ride — but it is a rough ride.”

“I like my horse better that way, Prince,” Arcite said. “I shall not then freeze, be motionless, and feel no emotions in my saddle.”

Theseus said, “Hippolyta, sweet, you must be ready — and you, Emilia — and you, friend — and all, tomorrow by the sunrise, to celebrate flowery May Day in Diana’s wood.”

Diana was the Roman goddess of the hunt; she was a virgin goddess.

Theseus said to Arcite, “Serve well, sir, your mistress.”

Then he said, “Emily, I hope he shall not go afoot.”

Emily said, “That would be a shame, sir, while I have horses.”

She then said to Arcite, “Take your choice, and whatever you lack at any time, let me but know it. If you serve me faithfully, I dare assure you that you’ll find a loving mistress.”

In this culture, the words “servant” and “mistress” had more than one meaning. A mistress could be 1) a female boss or 2) a woman whom a man loved and served. A servant could be 1) an attendant or 2) a lover who served his mistress.

Arcite replied, “If I do not, let me find that which my father always hated: disgrace and blows.”

“Go, and lead the way; you have deserved it.”

Arcite made a gesture of demurral, but Theseus said, “It shall be so; you shall receive all dues that are fit for the honor you have won. Otherwise, it would be wrong.”

He said to Emilia, “Sister-in-law, curse my heart, you have a servant here, who if I were a woman would be my master.”

In this culture, “master” sometimes meant “husband.”

He added, “But you are wise.”

Emilia replied, “I hope that I am too wise for that, sir.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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