David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s “The Two Noble Kinsmen”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scene 3

— 3.3 —

Arcite, carrying food, wine, and files, arrived in the thicket where he had earlier met Palamon.

He said, “I should be near the place,” and then he shouted, “Ho! Cousin Palamon!”

From his hiding place, Palamon asked, “Arcite?”

“The same,” Arcite said. “I have brought you food and files. Come forth and fear not; here is no Theseus.”

Stepping out of his hiding place, Palamon said, “And here is none as honest as Theseus, Arcite.”

“That doesn’t matter,” Arcite replied. “We’ll argue about that later. Come, take courage. You shall not die like a beast. Here, sir, drink — I know you are faint — and then I’ll talk further with you.”

Palamon said, “Arcite, thou might now poison me.”

“I might,” Arcite said, “but I must fear you first. Sit down and please, let’s have no more of these vain parleys. Let us not, having our ancient reputation for friendship with us, make gossip for fools and cowards.”

He raised a bottle of wine and said, “I drink to your health.”

“Do!” Palamon said. He needed his health if he were to fight and defeat and kill Arcite.

Arcite drank to show that the wine was not poisoned and then said, “Please sit down, then, and let me entreat you, by all the honesty and honor in you, not to mention this woman we are quarreling over. It will disturb us. We shall have time enough to talk about her.”

“Well, sir,” Palamon replied. “I’ll drink to you.”

He drank.

“Drink a good hearty amount; it breeds good blood, man,” Arcite said.

A proverb stated, “Good wine makes good blood.”

Palamon drank some more, and Arcite asked, “Don’t you feel the wine thawing you?”

“Wait,” Palamon said. “I’ll tell you after a drink or two more.”

“Don’t drink sparingly,” Arcite said. “Duke Theseus has more, cousin. Eat now.”

“Yes,” Palamon said.

He ate greedily.

“I am glad you have so good an appetite,” Arcite said.

“I am gladder that I have so good food for it.”

“Is it not mad, strange, bizarre lodging here in the wild woods, cousin?” Arcite asked.

“Yes, for them who have wild consciences,” Palamon replied.

“How does your food taste? Your hunger needs no sauce, I see.”

A proverb stated, “Hunger is the best sauce.”

“Not much,” Palamon replied. “But if it did, your sauce is too tart, sweet cousin.”

According to Palamon, Arcite was saucy — impudent and flippant.

Palamon held some meat up and asked, “What is this?”


“That’s a meat that promotes strength. Give me more wine. Here, Arcite, to the wenches we have known in our days!”

He raised his cup in a toast and said, “The Lord Steward’s daughter! Do you remember her?”

“After you, cousin,” Arcite replied.

He may have meant that he knew her after Palamon had known her, or he may have meant that Palamon should speak first.

“She loved a black-haired man,” Palamon said.

“She did indeed; well, what of it, sir?”

“And I have heard some call him Arcite, and —”

He hesitated.

“Out with it,” Arcite said. “Say what you have to say.”

Palamon was going to bring up one of Arcite’s youthful infatuations, or possibly an early affair, as a way of saying that Arcite was not worthy of loving Emilia.

“She met him in an arbor,” Palamon said. “What did she do there, cousin? Play on the virginals?”

Virginals were an early keyboard instrument. The name was often used to make puns on virginity.

“Something she did, sir,” Arcite answered.

“What she did made her groan a month for it — or two, or three, or ten.”

Possibly, what she did there made her pregnant for nine months and groan in childbirth at the beginning of the tenth month.

Arcite replied — or perhaps counterattacked — by saying, “The Marshal’s sister had her share, too, as I remember, cousin, else there are false tales told abroad about her. Will you drink to her?”


Palamon lifted his cup and drank.

“She is a pretty brunette wench,” Arcite said.

He hesitated and then added, “There was a time when young men went a-hunting, and a wood, and a broad beech — and thereby hangs a tale.”

He sighed.

“For Emily, upon my life!” Palamon said.

Eavesdroppers, if there were any, ought to be forgiven for thinking that Palamon thought that Arcite meant “And thereby hangs a tail for Emily.” After all, Arcite had a kind of tail hanging from his crotch, and he and Emilia had been a-hunting. But note Palamon’s next words.

Palamon added, “Fool, let’s stop this strained mirth. I say again that sigh was breathed for Emily. Base cousin, do you dare break our agreement first — our agreement not to speak about Emilia?”

“You are wide of the mark,” Arcite said. “You have missed the target.”

“By Heaven and Earth, there’s nothing in thee that is honest.”

“Then I’ll leave you,” Arcite said. “You are a beast now.”

“I am what thou makes me, traitor,” Palamon replied.

Arcite pointed to a package and said, “There’s everything you need: files and shirts and perfumes. I’ll come again some two hours from now and bring that which shall quiet all.”

“A sword and armor,” Palamon said.

“Don’t fear that I won’t bring them,” Arcite replied. “You are now too foul. Farewell. Once you get your trinkets — your fetters — off of you, you shall lack for nothing.”

“Sirrah —” Palamon began.

The word “Sirrah” was used to address a man of lower social rank than the speaker. The use of the word by Palamon to refer to Arcite, a man of the same social rank, was insulting.

Arcite interrupted, “— I’ll hear no more.”

He exited.

Palamon said, “If he keeps his promise to return here with weapons and armor, he will die as a result of it.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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