The Two Noble Kinsmen | Study Guide

William Shakespeare & John Fletcher

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The Two Noble Kinsmen | Act 4, Scene 3 | Summary



When the doctor asks about the daughter's symptoms, the jailer says she is always in a state of "harmless distemper," doesn't sleep or eat much, drinks a lot, and squeezes Palamon's name into every bit of conversation. As she enters, they observe her behavior. She has forgotten the words to a song written by Emilia's schoolmaster, a man full of crazy notions. She imagines Palamon in the afterlife, paying his silver for the ferry and arriving "where the blessed spirits are." There shall lovelorn maidens pick flowers with Proserpine, and the jailer's daughter will make a nosegay for Palamon, who will at last take notice of her. She then imagines what life in hell must be like, with burning and wailing. "If one be mad, or hang or drown themselves, thither they go—Jupiter bless us!" she says. There the lost souls boil in cauldrons of lead and melted fat. Noblemen who have impregnated maidens are there, their offending lower bodies burning in fire while their hearts are encased in ice. Also present are the adulterous noble ladies and city wives, howling and regretting their indiscretions. As she exits, the daughter begins to sing of staying true and of her fate.

The doctor pities her but also is fascinated by her vivid imagination. He concludes her mental illness is "not an engraffed madness, but a most thick and profound melancholy." Yet her case is beyond his help. He then asks if she loved anyone before Palamon, and her father mentions the wooer, who stands nearby. Both the jailer and the wooer hoped the daughter would marry him, and the wooer swears he believed her to be sincere. The doctor then suggests her confused senses may return if they keep her confined to a dark place. The wooer should visit her there, pretending to be Palamon. He should speak of love, bring flowers, wear scents to entice her, sing to her, and make other loving gestures to win her favor. The doctor advises them to recruit her female friends as well to take part in the charade because "it is a falsehood she is in, which is with falsehoods to be combated." All of this acting may help her eat, sleep, and return to her former self. The doctor claims to have seen it happen and is hopeful it can work now.


The jailer's daughter's thoughts still revolve around Palamon and death. No longer imagining to find him in the present world, she predicts they will meet in the afterlife. Noble Palamon will, of course, go to Elysium, the ancient Greek version of heaven, "where the blessed spirits are." When speaking of Palamon's paying silver for the ferry, she is referring to mythological Charon, the ferryman of the underworld who, for a price, takes arriving souls across the underworld rivers. The daughter imagines herself in Elysium, too, considering herself among "the blessed." She and other virtuous, lovelorn maidens pick flowers with Proserpine, the queen of the underworld. Back to her fantasies that Palamon is dead, she still hopes to win his love in the afterlife.

In describing the tortures of hell, a place where those who are insane or commit suicide will go, the daughter seems cognizant of her own mental state and perhaps fears she will kill herself yet. "Jupiter bless us!" she says of those mad and suicidal souls, counting herself among them. Notably, most of the people she mentions in hell have committed sexual offenses, such as impregnating maidens or cheating on their husbands. She determines to stay true—an unblemished maiden—to avoid a torturous fate of fire and pain.

Although the doctor can't cure her himself, he suggests the wooer may get through to her by playing along with her madness. On the surface the suggestion may sound ineffectual or inhumane—keep the young woman locked in a dark room and lie to her. However, the wooer does love her and believes she has loved him, too. His sincere wish is to see her cured, and because he loves her, he is likely to be as kind as possible to her. As for keeping her under guard, the daughter has proved she is mentally unstable and suicidal—she is a danger to herself. Given these circumstances, the doctor's advice may seem more palatable.

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