Monday, January 4, 2021

Shakespeare Apocrypha - The Two Noble Kinsmen

I finished reading The Two Noble Kinsmen yesterday. It's considered an apocrypha play as it didn't appear in the First Folio, however modern contention generally does ascribe it Shakespeare now (along with its co-author John Fletcher).

"This world's a Citty full of straying Streetes,
And Death's the market place, where each one meetes."

I must say this wasn't one of my favourite ones so far. It starts off quite slow, and it took me a while to get into it. Saying that though, once the general scene is set and the story is in full motion it does pick up quite a bit. Some of the scenes featuring Arcite and Palamon - the two noble kinsmen - were quite enjoyable to read, and the comic scenes featuring the Jailor and his lovesick daughter were amusing. (I really do like the silly, lighter stuff in these plays).

Aside from that there isn't really too much to mention. There was a fair bit of sauce and innuendo, as is usual. At one point the Doctor character states that a man should sleep with the Jailer's Daughter if necessary to cure her of the madness brought on by her lovesickness.
Wooer. Alas, I have no voice Sir, to confirme her that way.

Doctor. That's all one, if yee make a noyse,
If she intreate againe, doe any thing,
Lye with her if she aske you.

Iaylor. Hoa there Doctor.

Doctor. Yes in the waie of cure.

Iaylor. But first by your leave
I'th way of honestie.

Doctor. That's but a nicenesse,
Nev'r cast your child away for honestie;
Cure her first this way, then if shee will be honest,
She has the path before her.

In fact, at one point whilst reading I was dragged off on a little detour. There's a scene where the character Emilia describes a mildly sexual relationship she once had with a female companion called Flavina. From the little jokes in the passage it's clearly implied that it was not simply platonic.
Emilia. [...] That the true love tweene Mayde, and mayde, may be
More then in sex individuall.

Hippolyta. Y'are ont of breath
And this high speeded-pace, is but to say
That you shall never (like the Maide Flavina)
Love any that's calld Man.
So there's clearly a, let's say, lesbian vibe to it, though whether the implied meaning back then was identical to how we would understand things now is difficult to know for sure.

When I searched for more information online however I came across all manner of articles framing the entire play as one big ode to homosexuality. With some of the analysis even seeing some of the other relationships in the play as having homosexual undertones. In particular the relationship between Theseus and his general Pirithous, and also the relationship between the two noble kinsmen themselves.

I found this quite funny, as I didn't pick this sense up at all when reading. The relationship between Theseus and Pirithous just seems to be one of true friendship, and that of Arcite and Palamon likewise.

One scene in particular some of these articles refer to is a scene where Arcite and Palamon are in jail and Arcite describes Palamon as his wife - "We are one anothers wife". However, it comes in a passage where Arcite is idealising life in prison as a life without danger and temptation. Basically saying; in here we can't be tempted by women, or killed in battle, or lost on the high seas, or ruined in business. And that neither can such things come between friendship.

This declared friendship then builds to crescendo of hyperbole and rhetoric, which then gets shattered as the beautiful Emilia appears and both men instantly turn on each other to compete for her hand. So the whole scene is built up for that slightly comic moment. Where a beautiful woman comes between two friends - in spite of all their declarations that such a thing could never happen.

Anyway, I'm rattling on a bit. It's just interesting to watch people project their own politics and wishes onto something. Though I guess that's also what I may be doing as well here. So perhaps my interpretation is wrong too. Which reminds me actually of when I was reading some of my older posts a few weeks back. The topic of religion came up and I stated that I couldn't possible imagine how anyone as bright as Shakespeare could be Catholic!
I find it hard to believe that any intelligent man of learning, living in England at that time, could have chosen to be Catholic. Protestant possibly, atheist maybe, agnostic more likely, but a practising Catholic - a bit of a stretch.
Back then I was much more dogmatically opposed to organised religion. So I was obviously just projecting my own views onto all this. Without a great deal of evidence. I'm not quite as judgemental now (at least I don't think), so it's a little embarrassing reading some of these earlier statements back. That post was ten long years ago now. How time flies.

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