The Two Noble Kinsmen | Study Guide

William Shakespeare & John Fletcher

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The Two Noble Kinsmen | Act 1, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

Pirithous, eager to support his friend Theseus, sets off to join him with the good wishes of Hippolyta and Emilia. Emilia notes how distracted Pirithous has been since Theseus's departure. Hippolyta then remarks on the many dangerous adventures the close friends have braved together over the years, so entwined that they seem to share a brain, she says. To this statement Emilia responds that Hippolyta herself is still Theseus's better half. Emilia recounts a time when she, too, enjoyed such a close relationship with her dearest friend, Flavina, who died when they were just 11. Though their love had not matured like that of Pirithous and Theseus, it was an innocent love that arose naturally between them. Whatever Flavina liked, Emilia took up without question, and if Emilia plucked a flower for her breast, Flavina did likewise. If Emilia hummed a random tune, Flavina would sing it in her sleep. In short, says Emilia with passion, "the true love 'tween maid and maid may be / More than in sex individual."

Noticing how quickly and passionately Emilia speaks, Hippolyta comments it seems Emilia, like Flavina, will never love a man. Emilia agrees emphatically, but Hippolyta can't believe this will be true, though Emilia herself may believe it. She then adds, acknowledging Emilia's feelings, "if I were ripe for your persuasion," Emilia would have won her heart away from Theseus with her passionate speech. Be that as it may, Hippolyta will now pray for good luck for Theseus with the assurance that she, not Pirithous, rules his heart. Emilia replies, "I am not / Against your faith, yet I continue mine."

Analysis

The theme of loving friendship is elaborated in this scene through the relationship of Theseus and Pirithous and of Emilia and Flavina. Friendship was highly prized in ancient Greece. According to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, "Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies." The statement supports Hippolyta's observation about Theseus and Pirithous's seeming to share a brain. The close friends have bonded over shared dangers and adventures, and their friendship has grown ever stronger through the years. Nevertheless, Hippolyta believes romantic love is stronger than loving friendship, for she is certain she, not Pirithous, comes first in Theseus's heart.

On the other hand, while Emilia does not discount the men's deep bond, she notes friendship, or "true love 'tween maid and maid" is equally strong but of a different nature. Emilia and Flavina, the loving companion of her youth, were close in a more traditionally feminine way, from songs sung to flowers worn. Emilia speaks with great passion regarding her love for Flavina and the certainty that Emilia will never love a man, suggesting that her orientation may not be heterosexual. As an Amazon woman, Emilia is a warrior, despite her gentle nature, and unused to men. Hippolyta, however, seems to have left her past behind her and now brushes off the notion Emilia will never marry. Hippolyta, having recently married, most likely considers herself more experienced than her sister and believes Emilia's perspective will change over time. Or Hippolyta may have in mind the norms of society, in which women are expected to marry and produce children—life will likely be smoother, though perhaps not happier, for Emilia if she follows this path. Whatever the case, Hippolyta thinks Emilia will change her mind eventually. In response to Hippolyta's opinion, Emilia basically says, to each her own: "I am not / Against your faith, yet I continue mine." The sisters thus agree to disagree and go on about their business.

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