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

— 5.2 —

The doctor, jailer, and wooer talked together. The wooer was dressed like Palamon, whom he impersonated when around the jailer’s daughter.

The doctor asked, “Has this advice I gave you done her any good?”

“Oh, it has helped very much,” the wooer replied. “The maidens who have kept her company have half-persuaded her that I am Palamon; within this past half-hour, she came smiling to me, and asked me what I would eat, and when I would kiss her. I told her, ‘Immediately,’ and I kissed her twice.”

“That was well done,” the doctor said, “but twenty times would have been far better, for there the cure totally lies.”

“Then she told me that she would stay up with me tonight, for well she knew at what hour my fit would take me,” the wooer said.

A fit is a fever or a seizure.

“Let her do so,” the doctor said, “and when your fit comes, fit her home, and immediately.”

“Fit her home” meant “thoroughly satisfy her.” In this case, it meant, “thoroughly satisfy her sexually.”

“She wanted me to sing,” the wooer said.

“You did, didn’t you?” the doctor asked.


“That was very badly done, then,” the doctor said. “You should indulge her in every way. Do whatever she wants you to do.”

“Unfortunately, I have no voice, sir, to strengthen and help her that way.”

“That doesn’t matter,” the doctor said, “as long as you make a noise. If she asks you again, do anything. Lie with her and have sex with her, if she asks you to.”

“Hold on there, doctor!” the jailer said. This was his daughter they were talking about.

“Yes, he should lie with her and have sex with her at her request because it will help to cure her,” the doctor said.

“But first, by your leave, they must be married before they can lie together and have sex honestly and virtuously.”

“That’s but a matter of excessive delicacy,” the doctor said. “Don’t cast your child away and lose her to madness because you are concerned about a lack of chastity. Other things, such as a cure, are more important. Cure her first in this way; then if she will be an honest wife, she has the path before her. She can get married after the cure.”

“Thank you, doctor,” the jailer said.

“Please bring her in, and let’s see how she is,” the doctor said.

“I will, and I will tell her that her Palamon is waiting for her,” the jailer said. “But, doctor, I still think that you are in the wrong.”

The jailer exited to get his daughter.

The doctor said, “Go, go. You fathers are fine fools. Her honesty and chastity? If we had to only give her medicine and refrain from doing other things that will cure her until we find out whether she is chaste, then we would be losing a fine opportunity to cure her!”

If the jailer’s daughter were known to not be a chaste virgin, perhaps the jailer would not object to this particular cure.

“Why, do you think she is not honest and chaste, sir?” the wooer asked.

“How old is she?”

“She’s eighteen.”

“She may be honest and chaste,” the doctor said, “but that doesn’t matter. Our purpose is to cure her madness, and whether she is chaste or not doesn’t matter. Whatever her father says, if you perceive her mood inclining that way that I spoke of, videlicet, the way of flesh — do you understand me? If she wants you to sleep with her, then sleep with her.”

Videlicit” is Latin for “namely” or “that is to say.”

“I understand you very well, sir,” the wooer said.

“Please her appetite, and do it thoroughly,” the doctor said. “It will cure her, ipso facto. It will cure the melancholy illness that infects her.”

Ipso facto” is Latin for “by that very fact.”

The jailer’s daughter was suffering from unrequited love; if she believed that her love was requited, the doctor thought, that would cure her.

“I am of your mind, doctor,” the wooer said. “I agree with you.”

“You’ll find that what I said is true,” the doctor said.

The jailer returned with his daughter and one of her friends, whose job was to look after her.

“She is coming,” the doctor said. “Please humor her.”

The wooer and the doctor stood to the side.

The jailer said to his daughter, “Come, your love Palamon is waiting for you, child, and has been waiting a long time to visit you.”

“I thank him for his courteous patience,” the jailer’s daughter said. “He’s a kind gentleman, and I am much bound to him.

“Did you ever see the horse he gave me?”

“Yes,” the jailer replied.

“How do you like him?”

“He’s a very good-looking horse.”

“Have you ever seen him dance?”


“I have, often,” the jailer’s daughter said. “He dances very finely, very prettily, and for a jig, come cut and long tail to him, he turns you like a top.”

“Come cut and long tail” means “come what may.” Horses and dogs can have either a cut (docked) tail or a long tail, and so “cut and long tail” means “all kinds of horses and dogs” or, metaphorically, “everything.”

“That’s fine indeed,” the jailer said.

“He’ll dance the morris dance at twenty miles an hour, and that will make lame the best hobbyhorse in all the parish, if I have any true judgment, and he gallops to the tune of ‘Light of Love.’”

A hobbyhorse is a morris dancer whose costume includes the figure of a horse. In costume, the morris dancer looked like a rider on a horse.

The jailor’s daughter asked, “What do you think of this horse?”

“Since the horse has these virtues, I think he might be able to be trained to play at tennis.”

“Alas, that’s nothing,” the jailer’s daughter said. “For this horse, that’s not a challenge.”

“Can he write and read, too?”

“He has very good handwriting, and he himself keeps the accounts of all his hay and provender. Any hostler who wants to cheat him must rise very early.

“You know the chestnut mare that Duke Theseus has?”

“Very well.”

“She, poor beast, is horribly in love with that horse that Palamon gave me, but that horse is like his master — Palamon — he is disdainful and scornful.”

“What dowry has she?”

“Some two hundred bundles of hay, and twenty measures of oats, but he’ll never have her. He lisps in his neighing, and he is able to entice a miller’s mare, which is supposed to be a model of sobriety. He’ll be the death of the chestnut mare.”

“What stuff and nonsense she utters!” the doctor said quietly.

The wooer and the doctor came forward.

“Make a curtsy,” the jailer said to his daughter. “Here comes your love.”

“Pretty soul, how are you?” the wooer asked.

The jailer’s daughter curtsied.

The wooer said, “That’s a fine maiden; there’s a curtsy!”

“I am yours to command in the way of honesty,” the jailer’s daughter said to him. “I will do what you want me to do as long as it is chaste.”

She then asked everyone, “How far is it now to the end of the world, my masters?”

Lovers will follow their loved one to the end of the world. Earlier, the jailer’s mad daughter had talked about seeking Palamon throughout the wide world.

“Why, a day’s journey, girl,” the doctor said.

The jailer’s daughter asked the wooer, “Will you go with me?”

“What shall we do there, girl?” the wooer asked.

“Why, play the game of stool-ball. What else is there to do?”

Stool-ball was a game played by young women, who would catch a ball in their lap. This fact led to sexual joking, such as a young woman being said to have caught two balls in her lap.

“I am happy to play stool-ball,” the wooer said, “if we shall celebrate our wedding there.”

“It is true that we will celebrate our wedding there,” the jailer’s daughter said, “For there, I will assure you, we shall find some blind priest for the purpose, a blind priest who will venture to marry us because here they are too scrupulous and foolish to marry us.”

Palamon was a high-ranking Knight; only a blind priest would marry him to a low-ranking jailer’s daughter because only a blind priest would be unaware of their difference in social rank.

The jailer’s daughter continued, “Besides, my father must be hanged tomorrow, and that would be a blot in the business. It would make us unhappy.”

She then asked, “Aren’t you Palamon?”

“Don’t you know me?” the wooer asked.

“Yes, but you don’t care for me,” the jailer’s daughter said. “I have nothing but this poor long skirt and two coarse smocks.”

A smock is a woman’s undergarment.

“That doesn’t matter,” the wooer said. “I will have you. I will marry you.”

“Will you surely?”

The wooer took her hand and said, “Yes. By this fair hand, I will.”

“We’ll go to bed then, after we are married,” the jailer’s daughter said.

“Whenever you wish,” the wooer said.

He kissed her.

The jailer’s daughter wiped her mouth and said, “Oh, sir, you are eager to be nibbling.”

“Why do you rub my kiss off?”

“It is a sweet one, and it will perfume me finely in preparation for the wedding,” the jailer’s daughter replied.

She then pointed to the doctor and asked, “Isn’t this your cousin Arcite?”

The doctor said, “Yes, sweetheart, and I am glad my cousin Palamon has made so fair a choice.”

“Do you think he’ll have me?” the jailer’s daughter asked.

“Yes, without a doubt,” the doctor replied.

The jailer’s daughter asked her father, “Do you think so, too?”


“We shall have many children,” the jailer’s daughter said.

She then said to the doctor, whom she thought to be Arcite, “Lord, how you’re grown! My Palamon, I hope, will grow too, finely, now he’s at liberty. Alas, poor child, he was kept down with hard meat and ill lodging, but I’ll kiss him up again.”

Her words had a sexual meaning. She wanted her Palamon to grow — to have an erection. Previously, he had been kept down — he had suffered a lack of sexual excitement in prison and so had not had an erection.

A messenger arrived and said, “What are you doing here? You’ll miss seeing the noblest sight that ever was seen.”

“Are they on the field of battle?” the jailer asked.

“They are,” the messenger said. “You have official duties there, too.”

“I’ll go there right away,” the jailer told the messenger.

He then said to the others, “I must now leave you here.”

“No, we’ll go with you,” the doctor replied. “I will not miss seeing the battle.”

The jailer whispered to the doctor, “What do you think about my daughter?”

The doctor replied, “I promise you that within these next three or four days I’ll make her mentally all right again.”

The jailer and the messenger exited.

The doctor whispered to the wooer, “You must not leave her, but instead constantly look after her in this way.”

“I will,” the wooer said.

“Let’s get her inside,” the doctor said.

The wooer said to the jailer’s daughter, “Come, sweet, we’ll go to dinner and then we’ll play at cards.”

“And shall we kiss, too?”

“A hundred times.”

“And twenty.”

“Yes, and twenty.”

“And then we’ll sleep together,” the jailer’s daughter said.

The doctor whispered to the wooer, “Accept her offer.”

The wooer said to her, “Yes, indeed, we will.”

“But you shall not hurt me.”

“I will not hurt you, sweet.”

“If you do, love, I’ll cry.”

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