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TNK: Now Playing at Canterbury (or Springfield)

Yes, I have been known to do requests: Rick Coencas, noting a trivial detail in a recent episode of The Simpsons, wrote (emphasis added):

Last night's The Simpsons featured a throwaway joke about Moe the bartender wiping up a spill with a lost Shakespeare play. It was The Two Noble Kinsmen. I have a peripheral connection to that play, but this blogger has a more than peripheral relationship. Perhaps he will expound.

And expound I shall.

The Two Noble Kinsmen is now generally accepted as a collaborative effort by Wm. Shakespeare and John Fletcher (better known for his collaborations with Francis Beaumont).

The play is an adaptation of The Knight's Tale from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. The plot in brief: In Athens, the wedding of Theseus to the Amazon queen Hippolyta is interrupted by the arrival of three mournful queens from Thebes, seeking revenge for their husbands' deaths at the hands of the tyrant Creon. Theseus drops everything, attacks Thebes and is impressed by the valor of Two Noble Theban cousins, Palamon and Arcite, who are captured in the course of his victory. Imprisoned and expecting to remain so, the cousins nobly declare their undying devotion to one another until, looking out their window to the garden below, they spot Hippolyta's sister Emilia. Hilarity ensues.

Pal.: What thinke you of this beauty?
Arc.: Tis a rare one.
Pal.: Is't but a rare one?
Arc.: Yes a matchles beauty.
Pal.: Might not a man well lose himselfe and love her?
Arc.: I cannot tell what you have done, I have,/Beshrew mine eyes for't, now I feele my Shackles.
Pal: You love her then?
Arc.: Who would not?
Pal: And desire her?
Arc.: Before my liberty.
Pal.: I saw her first.

Arcite is released and banished. Palamon escapes, with the aid of the Jailer's Daughter whose love for him causes her to run colorfully mad. (She is later cured by the strategem of having her fiance woo her in the guise of Palamon.) Eventually, the cousins fight a duel: the winner is to wed Emilia, the loser to be executed. Arcite prevails, Palamon is led to the block. As Palamon is about to be slain, word arrives that Arcite has been thrown by his horse in the bridal procession and is near death. With his dying breath, he hands Emilia over to his cousin.* Theseus is bemused by the workings of the gods, as the curtain falls.

I have the distinction, for what it may be worth, of having co-directed and played a leading part (the late Arcite) in what is, according to this comprehensive catalog, the only filmed (videotaped) version of the play, produced in 1978 at U.C. Berkeley as the culmination of a course taught by Professor Hugh Richmond. A copy is rumored to be maintained in the University's collection.

Resources to satisfy your Kinsmen needs:

The text is available here or, if you prefer a more elaborate editorial edifice (including a compilation of critics' views of who wrote what), you can also find it here. If you were to purchase a copy, a modest gratuity would be mine.

Michael Delahoyde, a senior instructor at Washington State, has prepared a somewhat jaded scene by scene synopsis.

The more visually inclined may prefer the cartoon version of Chaucer's original, available courtesy of the merry band at Punch.

The most eccentric Kinsmen-related item I've turned up is the work of Canadian artist Garry Newton, who produced a series of prints under the combined influence of The Two Noble Kinsmen and surrealist Max Ernst. (Newton's captions are lines from the play spoken by or about that unfortunate Jailer's Daughter.)

And to bring us full circle: if you prefer The Simpsons to Shakespeare, frequent commenter David Giacalone will be happy to fill you in on The Simpsons and the Law.

I daresay I have expounded quite sufficiently now. Thank you and goodnight.

*As Homer Simpson himself once said: "Stupid poetic justice . . ."


Rick Coencas

Thank you George. That is more than I could have every hoped for!

David Giacalone

Thank you for elucidating while "expounding" (does that mean verbally pounding the meaning out of a topic?). I presumed that none of your learned readers would be dastardly enough to buy the $5.56 used version of TNK that is available through Amazon.com, and thus deprive you of your well-earned gratutity.

I hope you will someday expound on just when literary critics started deducting points for authors utilizing mistaken identity as a major plotting technique. The overuse of deii ex machina would also be a good topic.

Until then, thank you for yet another plug to my humbler-all-the-time weblog.


"stupid poetic justice": now that's comedy!

Rick Coencas

"Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die."
  --  Mel Brooks

George Wallace

"Death is easy; comedy is hard."

-- Edmund Kean

Rick Coencas

He's still not all that funny, but...

Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot
--Charlie Chaplin

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