Book Review: The Two Noble Kinsmen

The Two Noble Kinsmen
The Two Noble Kinsmen by William Shakespeare

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In Ancient Greece, three queens come to plea with King Theseus and Queen Hippolyta to avenge the deaths of their three kingly husbands, who died at the hand of the evil tyrant Creon. Theseus agrees to go to war against Creon.

In Creon’s army are two cousins, Palamon and Arcite, who are noble of heart, and do not agree with the tyrannous methods of Creon, but they are honor-bound to fight for Creon, and are taken as prisoners in the war.

While imprisoned they both fall in love with the beautiful Emilia, sister to Queen Hippolyta, and these two cousins who were once so close begin a fight to the death over Emilia’s hand. They escape prison, are caught fighting, and agree to a tournament for Emilia’s hand in marriage.

The Greek gods are prominent in this play, and the characters offer up various prayers for how they want the tournament to end. The brilliant thing is that although they all pray to different gods for different outcomes, ALL their prayers are answered in one way or another. It’s a genius little plot twist that makes the whole story come together.

I was astonished to see the difference in the cousins’ behavior towards each other from before they see Emilia to afterwards. They are not just friendly, but closely bonded with one another. It reminded me of the book of I Samuel where it says that “the soul of David was knit to the soul of Jonathan.” These two had grown up together, been through many battles together, laughed and cried together for years. Their kindness and selfless care for each other was so strong in the beginning.
Then the insta-love happened, and they are immediately at each other’s throats, calling each other names, and threatening all sorts of violence. But they do it in the name of honor, and still treat each other with a degree of respect due to their nobility of heart. They embrace one another for the last time before they fight, with expressions of regret at losing a close relative and friend.

I think I would have liked it better if they had struggled a little more with choosing between their friendship and their lady love, instead of immediately arguing about it. But still they are beautifully complex characters with wonderful dialogue!

I liked Emilia’s character a lot! She is upset that these two men are fighting over her, she regrets that her beauty has caused a rift between them, she pleads to King Theseus for mercy on their behalf. The best part though is that she has difficulty deciding which of the cousins she likes more, so she prays that the one who loves her best will win the fight and be her husband. Her character is womanly and gracious. I like how elegant and regal her personality is.

A wonderful play! I would love to see it performed.

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