The Two Noble Kinsmen | Study Guide

William Shakespeare & John Fletcher

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The Two Noble Kinsmen | Act 3, Scene 5 | Summary

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Summary

In the forest the Schoolmaster scolds the group of countryfolk for not understanding their roles in the upcoming performance. He reviews again what will happen. The players will hide in the trees. When Theseus appears, the Schoolmaster will greet him with impressive language and win his approval. On the Schoolmaster's signal, the players will burst forth in a group and perform their dance to please the Duke.

They take a head count to see who is present: Timothy the taborer, five ladies (Fritz, Maudlin, Luce, Barbary, and Nell), and a fool dressed as a bavian (baboon). The women are ready to dance, and the music is prepared. The men and women pair up, and the Schoolmaster instructs the bavian how to behave, how to perform his acrobatics, and so forth. They then discover they're one woman short, for Cicely has not shown up as promised. Everyone is angry about her absence because they can't perform the dance without the right number of women.

Just then the jailer's daughter appears, singing of a warship sailing, three fools, and an owlet. The countrymen hope to recruit the madwoman, for "if we can get her dance, we are made again; / I warrant her, she'll do the rarest gambols." The Schoolmaster approaches her, and she tells him his fortune, a nonsensical babbling, then calls him a tinker or a sorcerer. She bids him to raise a devil that will play music on bones. He has the others take her away to calm her and prepare her for the dance.

As the Duke's horns sound nearby, the players conceal themselves in the woods, while the Schoolmaster awaits Theseus's entourage. They arrive, searching for a deer they've been hunting, and the Schoolmaster invites them to stay for entertainment. The Schoolmaster launches into a grand and verbose introduction of their "country pastime," in which they will perform a "Morris" for the audience. He hopes the Duke will receive it well, for the players have worked hard on it. He names the cast of characters, who will proceed at once if the Duke agrees—and he does. The players emerge and dance as music is played. The Schoolmaster then beseeches the Duke and his companions to reward the performers if it has pleased the audience. Everyone has enjoyed the performance, and Theseus and Pirithous give money to the players for their efforts. They then continue to hunt for the stag, and the Schoolmaster congratulates the group on their success and new fortune.

Analysis

The countryfolk subplot seems intended mainly for entertainment as an audience-pleaser. It's certainly a convenient opportunity to show a dance onstage and lighten the serious mood of the play. The Morris dance is a traditional group folk dance of rural England, often performed during seasonal festivals, and a tabor is a small drum played with one hand. The fool of the troupe is dressed as a baboon, thought to be a cross of an ape and a dog, an animal theatergoers of the time associated with bawdy and highly amusing jokes. The Schoolmaster notes its "long tool" (penis) and instructs the fool not to offend the ladies with his tail (a phallic appendage). Although the country folk do have proper names, mentioned in passing, their speaking roles are designated in the script by general titles: first countryman, schoolmaster, and so on. These designations imply they are characters of lesser importance or "realness" than noble characters such as Theseus or Emilia. Rather, they are more stock characters—like the jailer, the wooer, and the jailer's daughter—in that their individuality is insignificant. It is their function that counts, which in this case is to entertain the noble characters as well as the audience.

Although the players seem enthusiastic, their hopes for a little income seem dashed when Cicely is a no-show. Thus, the appearance of the jailer's daughter is convenient both for them and for the story line as she loosely ties the otherwise unrelated cast of characters together through her association with Palamon. Although it may appear the players take advantage of her madness, she seems oblivious, and their actions do her no harm. The dance may, in fact, provide a welcome distraction from sorrow and thoughts of death. Moreover, performing in the May dance, a rite of spring, may also suggest that a rebirth or renewal awaits her. By including her in the dance, the players also show that even though she seems mad, she does not seem dangerous and is rational enough to follow instructions.

Theseus and Pirithous reflect the theme of nobility in their generosity to the players, whom they had not asked to perform and who, in fact, were delaying them from their hunt. Indeed, their willingness to indulge the countryfolk seems appropriate on the festive occasion. Earlier that day Theseus participated in formal rites for May Day, and the impromptu country entertainment can be viewed as an extension of the day's festivities. Thus, it is proper and respectful for the nobles to watch and reward the entertainment. The gift of money is a sign of the abundance and prosperity often associated with the revival of spring vegetation. In this play, money is also associated with love, sex, and commerce in a changing world, as in the very first lines of the Prologue.

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