The Two Noble Kinsmen | Study Guide

William Shakespeare & John Fletcher

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

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Summary

The jailer inquires whether his friend has heard anything more of Palamon's escape. The friend has just witnessed Emilia, Hippolyta, and Pirithous pleading for the cousins but did not stay to hear how the incident was resolved. A second friend enters and relates that Palamon has cleared the jailer's name, and both the jailer and his daughter have been pardoned. Further, in a gesture of goodwill, Palamon has provided a gift of money for her marriage. The second friend adds that the women prevailed and gained the cousins' lives, with some conditions. The wooer then arrives and hurriedly asks after the jailer's daughter who, he then reveals, has gone mad. The jailer feared it was so, either from unrequited love for Palamon or fear of his own hanging. The wooer then relates how he found her out in the lake, singing nonsensically about her love Palamon, her father, and willows. Sitting in the water, she wove rings from flowers and spoke verses of love over each one like spells, weeping and sighing and kissing her own hand. As the wooer went to fetch her, she tried to go farther into the water, but he saved her and followed her back to the city. He has left her with the jailer's brother to come to relay the news.

At this point the jailer's daughter and her uncle enter. As she sings, he humors her by praising the songs. When she asks where her wedding gown is, he says he'll bring it tomorrow. Convinced she must lose her virginity the next day, she continues to sing. Everyone present humors her as she asks after Palamon. The brother advises the jailer not to contradict her, for she's far worse when that happens. The daughter then says all the girls in town are in love with Palamon, with a least 200 women who are pregnant by him. The children will all be boys, and all will be castrated at age 10 to become singers. The daughter insists women come to Palamon from across the kingdom every day to lie with him—even 20 the night before. The jailer laments "she's lost / Past all cure." Not recognizing him as her father, she asks if he is a shipmaster and directs him to set a course for the woods, where they will find Palamon. All present pretend to be on a ship as she calls out sailing orders and continues to sing crazily.

Analysis

In a happy turn of events, the jailer is cleared of the charge against him, thanks to Palamon's intervention. Palamon further shows his noble character in providing a generous dowry to the daughter for her aid to him, however misguided it may have been and however questionable his own resulting actions may have been. The jailer's short-lived relief, however, shifts to concern as the wooer confirms his fears of the daughter's madness. The wooer has acted compassionately in rescuing her from drowning and ensuring her safety with a responsible relative before coming to find her father. Through such actions the wooer shows loyalty and affection for the unfortunate young woman. Although other suitors might give up on someone who loves another man, the wooer remains loyal to her, without wavering during her trials.

The daughter, now completely out of touch with reality, has gone from thinking Palamon devoured by wolves (Act 3, Scene 2) to describing vivid fantasies about his sexual prowess. In her exaggerated state of mind, or madness, she talks of wedding dresses and wedding nights, interspersing these delusions with nonsense songs, weeping, sighing, delusions of being on a ship, and fails to recognize things and people she knows, such as her father. Worse yet, she has become a danger to herself, trying to swim out deeper in the lake when the wooer comes to rescue her. Indeed, even her father thinks she is past help. The best anyone can do for now is humor her until they come up with a better plan. They play along with her enthusiastically as she imagines they are aboard a ship—a notion that calls to mind the shipwreck she may or may not have witnessed in Act 3, Scene 4. The souls aboard that ship were lost, just as her mind is lost, and just as her obsession with and search for Palamon are lost causes.

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