David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s “The Two Noble Kinsmen”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scene 1

— 4.1 —

The jailer and a friend talked together.

The jailor said, “Have you heard anything more? Was anything said about me concerning the escape of Palamon? Good sir, remember!”

The friend replied, “I heard nothing because I came home before the business was fully ended. Yet I did perceive, before I departed, a great likelihood of both the two Princes being pardoned because Hippolyta and fair-eyed Emily, upon their knees, begged with such proper pity that the Duke, I thought, stood wavering whether he should follow his rash oath or the sweet compassion of those two ladies. And, to support them, that truly noble Prince, Pirithous — half of Theseus’ own heart — set in, too, so that I hope all shall be well. I never heard one question about your name or his escape.”

“I pray to Heaven that continues to be the case,” the jailor said.

Another of the jailor’s friends arrived.

The second friend said, “Be of good comfort, man; I bring you news — good news.”

Good news is welcome,” the jailer replied.

“Palamon has cleared you in his escape and has gotten a pardon for you, and he has revealed how and by whose means he escaped, which was your daughter’s, whose pardon has been procured, too, and the prisoner, Palamon, not to be held ungrateful to her goodness, has given a sum of money toward her marriage — a large one, I assure you.”

“You are a good man and always bring good news,” the jailer said.

The first friend asked, “How did everything end?”

“Why, as it should have ended,” the second friend said. “They who never begged without prevailing had their petitions fairly granted; the prisoners have their lives.”

“I knew it would be so,” the first friend said.

“But there are new conditions, which you’ll hear of at a better time,” the second friend said.

“I hope they are good,” the jailer said.

“They are honorable,” the second friend said. “How good they’ll prove to be I don’t know.”

“We will find out,” the first friend said.

The wooer of the jailer’s daughter arrived and asked the jailer, “Alas, sir, where’s your daughter?”

“Why do you ask?” the jailer asked.

“Oh, sir, when did you last see her?” the wooer asked.

The second friend whispered to the first friend, “Look at the expression on the wooer’s face!”

“This morning,” the jailer said.

“Was she well? Was she in health? Sir, when did she sleep?” the wooer asked.

The first friend whispered to the second friend, “These are strange questions.”

The jailer said, “I do not think she was very well, for now you make me remember her, and on this very day I asked her questions and she answered me much unlike her usual self. She answered me very childishly, very sillily, as if she were a fool, as innocent as a young child or a simpleton, and I was very angry. But what of her, sir?”

“She has nothing but my pity,” the wooer said. “But you must know why, and it is as good that you learn the reason from me as from another who loves her less.”

“Well, sir?” the jailer said.

“No, sir, not well,” the wooer said.

“Is she not right in the head?” the first friend asked.

“Is she not well?” the second friend asked.

“It is too true,” the wooer said. “She is mad.”

“It cannot be,” the first friend said.

“Believe that you’ll find it’s true,” the wooer said.

“I half suspected what you told me,” the jailer said. “May the gods comfort her! Either this is on account of her love for Palamon, or fear of my suffering bad consequences because of his escape, or both.”

“It is likely,” the wooer said.

“But why all this haste in coming to me, sir?” the jailer asked.

“I’ll tell you quickly,” the wooer said. “As I recently was fishing in the great lake that lies behind the palace, from the far shore — which is thickly set with reeds and sedges — as I was patiently attending to my fishing pole, I heard a voice, a shrill one, and I listened attentively. I clearly heard that someone was singing, and by the smallness of the voice I knew it had to be a boy or a woman. I then left my fishing pole unattended, came near to where the voice was coming from, but did not yet perceive who made the sound because the rushes and the reeds had so enclosed it. I lay down and listened to the words she sang, for then, through a small glade cut by the fishermen, I saw that the singer was your daughter.”

“Please go on, sir,” the jailer said.

The wooer continued, “She sang much, but the song had no sense. I only heard her repeat this often: ‘Palamon is gone, is gone to the wood to gather mulberries; I’ll find him tomorrow.’”

The first friend said, “Pretty soul!”

The wooer continued, “She also said, ‘His shackles will betray him; he’ll be captured, and what shall I do then? I’ll bring a bevy of girls, a hundred black-eyed maidens who love as I do, with garlands of daffodils on their heads, with cherry lips and cheeks of damask roses, and we’ll all dance an antic, aka grotesque dance, before the Duke, and beg his pardon.’

“Then she talked of you, sir. She said that you must lose your head tomorrow morning, and she must gather flowers to bury you, and see the house made tidy. Then she sang nothing but ‘Willow, willow, willow,’ and in between stanzas she said, ‘Palamon, fair Palamon,’ and ‘Palamon was a brave young man.’

“The place was knee-deep in rushes where she sat. A wreath of bulrushes crowned her careless locks of hair, and on her were fastened a thousand fresh water-flowers of several colors, so that I thought she looked like the fair nymph who feeds the lake with waters, or like the messenger goddess Iris, who is also the goddess of the rainbow, newly dropped down from Heaven.

“She made rings out of rushes that grew nearby, and to them spoke the prettiest posies: ‘Thus our true love’s tied,’ ‘This you may lose or loose [untie], not me,’ and many other ones.”

Poesies are brief romantic sayings engraved on the inside of gold and silver rings.

The wooer continued, “And then she wept, and sang again, and sighed, and with the same breath smiled and kissed her hand.”

The second friend said, “Alas, what a pity it is!”

“I made my way to her,” the wooer said, “She saw me, and immediately jumped into the water. I saved her and set her safely on land, and immediately she slipped away, and to the city went with such a cry and swiftness that, believe me, she left me far behind her. Three or four people I saw from far off encounter her — one of them I knew to be your brother — whereupon she stopped and fell, and with difficulty was taken away.”

She may have been exhausted or may not have wanted to accompany her uncle and his companions.

The wooer continued, “I left them with her and came here to tell you.”

The jailer’s brother, the jailer’s daughter, and others arrived.

The wooer said, “Here they are now.”

The jailor’s daughter sang, “May you never more enjoy the light.

She then asked, “Isn’t this a fine song?”

“Oh, a very fine one,” the jailor’s brother replied.

“I can sing twenty more,” the jailor’s daughter said.

“I think you can,” the jailor’s brother said.

“Yes, truly can I,” the jailor’s daughter said. “I can sing ‘The Broom’ and ‘Bonny Robin.’ Aren’t you a tailor?”

“Yes,” the jailor’s brother said.

“Where’s my wedding gown?” the jailor’s daughter asked.

“I’ll bring it tomorrow,” the jailor’s brother said.

“Do so very early,” the jailer’s daughter said. “Otherwise I must go out of my home to summon the maidens and pay the minstrels, for I must lose my maidenhead by cocklight — the time just before the cock crows to announce the dawn. It will never thrive otherwise.”

She sang, “Oh, fair. Oh, sweet.

The jailer’s brother said to the jailer, “You must indeed endure this patiently.”

“That is true,” the jailer said.

“Good evening, good men,” the jailer’s daughter said. “Please tell me, did you ever hear of one young Palamon?”

“Yes, girl, we know him,” the jailer replied.

“Isn’t he a fine young gentleman?”

“He is, love,” the jailer answered.

The jailer’s brother whispered to the others, “By no means contradict her; if you do, she will then be troubled far worse than she is now.”

The first friend said to the jailer’s daughter, “Yes, he’s a fine man.”

“Oh, is he so?” the jailer’s daughter said, suddenly suspicious. “You have a sister.”

“Yes, I do,” the first friend said.

“But she shall never have him — tell her that — because of a trick that I know,” the jailer’s daughter said. “You’d best look after her, for if she sees him once, she’s gone — she’s pregnant. She’s done and undone — seduced and ruined — in an hour. All the young maidens of our town are in love with him, but I laugh at them and let them all alone. Isn’t this a wise course of action?”

“Yes,” the first friend said.

“There are at least two hundred now with child by him — there must be four; yet I keep close for all this, close as a clam.”

“Close as a clam” is an idiom for “safe from harm.” When a clam’s shell is closed, it is safe from harm. She may have been referring to keeping her knees closed.

The jailer’s daughter continued, “And all these must be boys — he has the knack for having only boys — and at ten years old they must all be gelded so they can be musicians and sing about the wars of Theseus.”

“This is strange,” the second friend said.

“As strange as you ever heard, but say nothing,” the jailer’s daughter said.

“No,” the first friend said.

The jailer’s daughter said, “They come from all parts of the Dukedom to him. I’ll promise you, he had last night not so few as twenty to dispatch — to take care of and then send away. He’ll tickle it up in two hours, if his hand be in.”

“To tickle it” means “to bring to a happy ending” and “to tickle up” means “to arouse.” “If his hand be in” means “if he is in good form.”

The jailer said quietly, “She’s lost past all cure.”

The jailer’s brother said quietly, “Heaven forbid, man!”

The jailer’s daughter said to her father, “Come here. You are a wise man.”

The first friend asked quietly, “Does she recognize him?”

The second friend replied quietly, “No. I wish she did.”

The jailer’s daughter asked her father, “Are you the master of a ship?”

“Yes,” he said, humoring his daughter.

“Where’s your compass?”

“Here,” the jailer said, pretending he had a compass.

“Set it to the north,” the jailer’s daughter said. “And now direct your course to the wood, where Palamon lies longing for me. As for the tackling, you can rely on me.”

She said to the others, “Come, weigh anchor, my hearts, and do it cheerily.”

Everyone pretended to be raising an anchor and sailing a ship to humor her:

“Owgh, owgh, owgh!” These are grunting sounds made when doing hard work such as weighing an anchor — raising it when ready to depart.

“The anchor is up!”

“The wind’s fair!”

“Top the bowline!” This means to tighten the rope that steadies a sail’s edge.

“Out with the main sail! Where’s your whistle, master?”

The jailer’s brother said, “Let’s get her in!”

“Up to the top, boy!” the jailer said. This means to climb to the top of the mast.

“Where’s the pilot?” the jailer’s brother said.

“Here,” the first friend said.

“What can you see?” the jailer’s daughter asked.

“A fair wood,” the second friend said.

“Bear for it, master. Steer for it,” the jailer’s daughter said. “Tack about! Turn the ship’s head into the wind!”

She sang, “When Cynthia with her borrowed light.

Cynthia was the goddess of the Moon, whose light is borrowed because it reflects the light of the Sun.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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