The Two Noble Kinsmen | Study Guide

William Shakespeare & John Fletcher

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The Two Noble Kinsmen | Act 2, Scene 5 | Summary



A disguised Arcite has won the wrestling and running contests, and Theseus congratulates him on a worthy performance. Theseus peppers him with questions: Where are you from? Are you noble-born? Will you inherit? Arcite answers truthfully while still concealing his real identity: he is a gentleman from a distant part of Greece and his father's youngest son. When Theseus wants to know of his accomplishments, Arcite tells of his skills with hawks, hunting, horses, and fighting. Theseus, Pirithous, and Emilia agree he is a fine, handsome man. Hippolyta, too, admires him but wonders whether he is what he claims to be. She and Emilia ponder whether he takes after his mother, who must be beautiful, or his father, who must be noble. Pirithous notes how his fine qualities shine through despite his poor clothes, and Hippolyta agrees he must be well born.

To Theseus's question about why Arcite has come to Athens, Arcite responds he seeks to broaden his reputation and to serve a worthy man like Theseus. "For only in thy court, of all the world, / Dwells fair-eyed honor," he tells the Duke. Theseus then asks Pirithous to find a position for him. Pirithous appoints him to serve Emilia, whose birthday he has honored with his victory, and bids him to kiss her hand. Arcite does so and vows to serve faithfully. Should he ever offend her, he says, he would die at her command. Emilia says she will treat him well, and Pirithous promises to find him some decent clothing and equipment for horse riding.

He invites Arcite to go riding that day, and Arcite agrees. Theseus then reminds his party tomorrow they will go into the woods to observe May Day. He bids Arcite to serve Emilia well, and she says he will find her a "loving mistress" if he does so. Theseus invites Arcite to lead the party, for he has won the day and deserves the honor. Theseus then tells Emilia, "You have a servant / That, if I were a woman, would be master; / But you are wise," to which Emilia replies, "too wise for that, sir."


Arcite has gained, although duplicitously, what he wished for: a place near Emilia. While he doesn't lie outright about his identity, he evades the truth with lies of omission. Arcite's skills are real, however, and they, combined with his noble manner, are what ingratiate him to Theseus and the others. Everyone seems to accept his story easily, except Hippolyta who questions how much of what he has said is true. Arcite is a skilled flatterer, praising Theseus's honorable court and humbly presenting himself as a man who simply wants to serve and better himself. While he may indeed serve and do well, it is not his real motivation, which is to win Emilia for himself. Clever Arcite now finds himself living the high life again at a noble court, provided with clothes, riding gear, and presumably, whatever else he needs.

Emilia is receptive to her new servant and willing to become his "loving mistress." Most likely an innocent statement on her part regarding her position as the woman Arcite must serve, it may also foreshadow her relationship with Arcite if he wins her hand. She seems to think herself "too wise for that." Aware how Arcite's good looks, charm, and physical prowess might attract her, she seems prepared to avoid such a circumstance. However, she doesn't have the whole story—Arcite is not who he claims to be—and this lack of information will affect her fate later in the story.

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