The Two Noble Kinsmen | Study Guide

William Shakespeare & John Fletcher

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The Two Noble Kinsmen | Symbols

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Flowers

In the hymn sung in the opening scene of the play, flowers symbolize new beginnings—both springtime and marriage—and the virtues of an admirable bride. "Maiden pinks" refer to the virginity of the bride, and sweet thyme is "true," or faithful. "All dear Nature's children sweet, / Lie 'fore bride and bridegroom's feet, / Blessing their sense," sings the boy while strewing flowers before the couple. In doing so he is blessing the union symbolically so it may bloom and give pleasure just as the flowers do.

In Act 2, Scene 2 Emilia upholds the rose as "the very emblem of a maid" as it blooms and blushes modestly when treated gently by the west wind. When the rose is threatened by the "rude and impatient" north wind, "then, like chastity, / She locks her beauties in her bud again." By Emilia's analogy, a maiden must be treated gently if one is to enjoy her bloom (virginity), whereas harsh treatment will make her close up, or withhold her favors.

Garlands

Garlands represent fertility and victory. In Act 1, Scene 1 Hippolyta wears to her wedding a "wheaten garland," a symbol of marriage and abundance. Emilia also refers to a wheaten garland in her prayers to Diana (Act 5, Scene 2), a reference to her impending marriage to either Arcite or Palamon. In addition, the countryfolk who perform the Morris dance carry a garland that represents the burgeoning spring, for it is May Day, a time of new growth and verdure (Act 2, Scene 3). Arcite, too, is crowned with a garland of victory after he wins the athletic competition in Act 2, Scene 5 and again after he defeats Palamon in Act 5, Scene 4.

The garland also has a symbolic twining quality to it that shows the closeness of emotions associated with love as in natural entities braided together. It might also in its complex entanglement of parts show the inescapable knots of fate and providence. The characters are joined and bound together in a story that seems to move toward an ordained end like the parts of the garland that cannot be separated one from the other.

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