The Two Noble Kinsmen | Study Guide

William Shakespeare & John Fletcher

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The Two Noble Kinsmen | Act 1, Scene 4 | Summary



Theseus has won the battle in Thebes, and the three queens fall prostrate before him in praise. Theseus awards the victory to the gods above who judge and punish humans impartially. He bids the queens find their dead husbands and honor them with ceremony. Meanwhile, he has business to attend to. Turning to the unconscious forms of Arcite and Palamon who have been brought before him, he asks who they are. A herald answers they are "men of great quality" and also Creon's nephews. Theseus recalls watching them closely during the battle, for they fought fiercely and skillfully. The two cousins lie nearly, but not quite, dead. Theseus orders they receive the best care available, for "their lives concern us / Much more than Thebes is worth." After finishing business in Thebes, Theseus will depart for Athens ahead of his army.


Theseus credits the gods with the battle win, a nod to the theme of providence, in which the unbiased gods reward those who are worthy and punish those who are not. Sometimes, though, worthy men such as Arcite and Palamon suffer defeat despite their good qualities, thus demonstrating the occasional fickleness of fate. Being prisoners will test their mettle and show whether they are truly noble when faced with hardship. As many of the characters claim throughout the play, because their fate is in the hands of the gods, they must accept whatever hardships befall them.

Even though Arcite and Palamon are his prisoners, Theseus recognizes their nobility and bravery in battle. Though they are close to death, he also recognizes they are worth more alive than dead, perhaps because he can imprison them as political pawns to ensure Creon's future compliance. Or it could simply be because he hates to see two such noble and skilled warriors put to death. Either way, his noble nature, as contrasted with Creon's, orders the best of care to help the cousins recover from their grave wounds.

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