The Two Noble Kinsmen | Study Guide

William Shakespeare & John Fletcher

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

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Summary

The doctor inquires whether the wooer, disguised as Palamon, has had success with the jailer's daughter. The ruse seems to be working, for the daughter has responded well to the wooer's advances—he has even kissed her twice. The doctor tells him 20 times would be better, for therein lies her cure. The wooer has not sung as Palamon would because he claims to have a poor singing voice. The doctor advises him to do so anyway and indeed to do whatever she asks, even so far as sleeping with her. "Ho there, doctor!" her father objects; such an act must be undertaken "honestly." The doctor dismisses the idea of propriety, believing it's better to cure her than to lose her. Once she is back to herself, she can marry if she likes, he explains. The jailer still disagrees but fetches his daughter anyway.

"Fathers are fine fools," the doctor says, questioning whether the girl is even a virgin. No matter what her father objects to, the doctor advises the wooer to sleep with the daughter if she invites him to do so and thus cure her melancholy. The wooer agrees, after which the jailer enters with his daughter. She speaks of a fantastic horse Palamon gave her—it can dance, read, write, do math, and perform other amazing feats. She claims the Duke's mare is in love with this horse and would bring to the match a great dowry of hay and oats. The horse, though, won't have the Duke's mare because he prefers the miller's mare. Because the horse rejects the mare, as Palamon rejects the daughter, she associates herself with that outcome.

The wooer approaches the jailer's daughter, who asks if he will go with her to the end of the world, where they will play ball together. They can be married there, he responds. She approves this suggestion because her father, who has been pardoned, would have been hanged in their current location. Such an event would cast a shadow on the wedding. She then asks if he is really Palamon and will really have her, although she has only the poor clothes on her back to offer. When he says he will, the daughter invites him to bed. He kisses her and agrees to do so whenever she likes. When she asks the doctor whether he is Arcite, he says he is, agreeing his "cousin" will have her as a wife. The jailer chimes in to support this ruse.

As the daughter daydreams of the many children they will have, a Messenger enters with news of the duel about to take place. The jailer is needed there to secure the loser, and the doctor wants to see the fight. Before they leave, the doctor reminds the wooer to stick close to the daughter and keep up the pretense of being Palamon. He believes she'll be cured within a few days if he does. The wooer takes her away to have dinner, play cards, and kiss as much as she likes. "And then we'll sleep together," she adds, which the doctor urges him to do. She doesn't want "Palamon" to hurt her, though, which the wooer says he will not. "If you do, love, I'll cry," she says.

Analysis

The doctor's suggestion that the wooer sleep with the unmarried daughter may seem shocking and would have gone against Christian doctrines prevalent in England at the time. However, audiences likely would have found the idea quite titillating—the kind of thrill they went to the theaters to experience. The jailer protests the plan, claiming sex take place "honestly," meaning within the bonds of marriage, and would prefer the wooer marry his daughter before sleeping with her. But his objections are not strong, for he is most likely persuaded by the doctor's logic of curing her with sex rather than losing her. The jailer also may be counting on their eventual marriage, which was planned before the onset of her madness.

In any case, the jailer's daughter seems determined to lose her virginity, despite fears of being hurt by her lover. Her insecurity surfaces as she questions "Palamon" about his identity and intent, trying to determine whether he will be true to her. Still thinking of escape to another part of the world, she wants to avoid witnessing her father's hanging, which, in her flight from reality, she seems to believe is inevitable. The daughter's addled talk of the imaginary horse Palamon has given her is curious. Extraordinarily talented and far superior to others, the horse prefers the miller's mare to the Duke's. In the young woman's subconscious, this preference could correlate to Palamon and herself. As a noble, far above her station as a mere commoner, he could marry a Duke's daughter but wants her instead.

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