The Two Noble Kinsmen | Study Guide

William Shakespeare & John Fletcher

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The Two Noble Kinsmen | Prologue | Summary

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Summary

The speaker of the Prologue, a character, compares new plays and virginity. Both are highly sought after "if they stand sound and well." A good play is also like a nervous bride who, even after her wedding night, remains modest to some extent. The Prologue hopes this play will be like that, for it originates with Chaucer, the most famous poet between the rivers Po and Trent, from Italy to England. However, if the players fail that noble writer and the audience hisses at the play, Chaucer will cry from the grave: "O fan / From me the witless chaff of such a writer / That blasts my bays and my famed work makes lighter / Than Robin Hood!" This is what the players fear, for who can hope to touch Chaucer's greatness? The Prologue asks the audience to help them in their endeavor and the players shall do their best. Though the play may not be as good as Chaucer, the audience may still enjoy it as a way to pass the time. If the play is not enjoyable, the players should give up the work of acting.

Analysis

The authors treat the speaker of the Prologue as a separate character rather than having one of the named characters deliver the monologue. The speaker could thus be considered a personification of the concept of prologue. Shakespeare also employs this method in Henry VIII and Troilus and Cressida. In other plays, named characters or chorus members usually deliver prologues.

The Prologue opens with a titillating idea sure to grab the audience's attention: new plays are like shy virgins. Hoping to gain the audience's sympathy and goodwill toward the play before it begins, the speaker is setting them up to cheer for rather than reject the play. The authors have the speaker use a humorous, imagined statement from Chaucer as a means of self-deprecation. He imagines Chaucer berating the writer(s) of this new play for making his work seem sillier than Robin Hood. In using this ploy the speaker pokes some fun at the play, perhaps hoping it will prevent others from doing so. Finally, the speaker makes a direct appeal to the audience to support the play and to be content with its entertainment value. Perhaps the odd nature of the work with its many questions raised about love, and few answers, made the author(s) a bit insecure.

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