Notes and Queries, June 1993 v40 n2 p232(3)

The persistent 'Kinsmen' of Shakespeare and Fletcher. Richmond, Hugh M.

Abstract: William Shakespeare and John Fletcher's 'The Two Noble Kinsmen' was revived in 1926 under a billing that proclaimed it had not been performed since the 1600s. However, this billing was incorrect because revisions of the play were being performed during the 1700-1900 period. One revision that was given a full scale performance at The London Stage was performed in 1795 under the title 'Love and Madness.' 'Palamon and Arcite,' possibly by Richard Cumberland, contains condensed versions of the speeches in 'The Two Noble Kinsmen' and was written in the late 1800s.

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1993 Oxford University Press

WHEN The Two Noble Kinsmen was revived at the Old Vic in 1926 the Programme Note proudly claimed that this was the first time that the play had been performed 'since the Seventeenth Century', when, rewritten as The Rivals, it figured among Davenant's series of successfull Shakespearian revivals after the Restoration.(1) The Old Vic's firm claim of recovering for the stage a script which it had abandoned for 250 years has been accepted by all scholars since that time (including myself), as confirmed in the recent Oxford edition edited by Eugene Waith(2) - with the possible implication that this hiatus confirms the play's unsuitability for regular performance. However, the play's consequent status as an antiquarian curiosity has been belied over the last twenty years by its frequent successful performance in Britain, the USA, and France.(3) Its claims may be strengthened by demonstration that the script was not indeed quite as neglected during the period 1700-1900 as at first seemed likely.

For example, in The London Stage (V.iii.1793) we find the following substantial entry:

Monday, 21 September, 1795, Haymarket Theatre Love and Madness [catalogued as a Tragicomedy in five acts] Theseus - Davis; Palamon - Lacy Jun.; Arcite - Palmer Jun.; Governor - Wilkinson; Brother - Longdale; Officer - Waldron Jun.; Peasants - Holmes, Adcock, Willoughby, Aberdeen; Female Peasants - Mr. Gawdry, Miss Gawdry, Mrs. Hale, Mrs. Butler, Mrs. Jones, etc.; Emilia - a Young Lady [not named]; Attendant - Mrs. Haskey; Hermia (with a song) - Mrs. Harlowe. Also |Tis A Wise Child Knows Its Father [or The Maid of Kent].(4)

On the following page, the exact origins of this script are specified: |Founded on Shakespeare and Fletcher's Two Noble Kinsmen, by the Continuator of Ben Jonson's Sad Shepherd. With new Music composed by Dr. Arnold. Copies of the Songs will be delivered gratis at the Theatre.' The 'Continuator of Ben Jonson's Sad Shepherd' is identified as Francis Godolphin Waldron (1744-1818), who published an edition of the Jonson text in London in 1795. Professionally he was the prompter at the Haymarket, who is also often listed as an actor in The London Stage (V.iii), and was the author of an afterpiece for 21 September 1795, |Tis A Wise Child, and of another entertainment in four parts in 1802 called Shakespearean Miscellany. The sources of this information in The London Stage are listed as Biographia Dramatica and Doran's Annals of the Stage.

Looking at the cast list it is clear that we are dealing with the full-scale production of a script substantially corresponding to the Shakespearian one for The Two Noble Kinsmen. All that play's principals are listed: Theseus, Palamon, Arcite, Emilia with her female Attendant, and the numerous Peasants required for the May Day celebrations. Though renamed, the Governor, Hermia, Brother, and Officer seem to match the Goaler and his family and their associates. The advertisement's stress on the new music of Arnold and on Hermia's song recalls the singing of the Goaler's mad daughter which earned Moll Davis such a success in Davenant's production that she later became the mistress of King Charles II. The fact that the 1795 production does not seem to have earned any repetition reflected in further records may indicate its lack of success; but we must now concede that a version of The Two Noble Kinsmen does seem to have been accorded a full-scale and highly visible metropolitan production in the eighteenth century, even if only after a hundred years of neglect.

Nor is the following century as barren of interest in the script as has previously been asserted by Fred W. Kilbourne in Alterations and Adaptations of Shakespeare (Boston, 1906) which incorrectly says that |No alterations of this play appear ever to have been made' (112). For, in addition to Davenant's hit with his version of it, The Rivals, I have also noted another relevant reference at this point in The London Stage (V.iii. 1793). This notes a manuscript called Palamon and Arcite, possibly written by Richard Cumberland, according to a pencilled note on its title page initialled by |P.G.P.' The neatly bound volume is described as the script of a play called Palamon and Arcite, originally given to Mrs Coventry Patmore in 1864, and currently found in the British Library catalogue (Add. MS 25990). Upon examination this text proves to be yet another version of The Two Noble Kinsmen, seemingly drafted by the dramatist himself. It appears to be a clean copy of an author's final draft as there are only two significant corrections, both made after the general transcription. These involve stage directions, suggesting direct consideration for performance: one indicates that when Arcite supplies the escaped Palamon in the forest, arms alone are needed, not food and drink as in the Jacobean original: 'small alteration intended here (no wine and viands needed)'. This is a streamlining and simplification of the original text typical of the adaptation, which involves suppression of the momentary recovery of the kinsmen's friendship during their bout of eating and drinking. The second editorial adjustment is made to explain the interruption of the Kinsmen's subsequent fight in the forest, stopped briefly by the sound of Theseus's approach, but then resumed without further explanation: |A short scene if necessary may be introduced here between two lords, who having lost Theseus make inquiries of each other and hasten in pursuit of him.' Obviously someone has perceived the awkwardness of the Kinsmen's abrupt exit and immediate return without any intervening stage business.

The script preserves all the principal characters of the Jacobean tragicomedy: Palamon, Arcite, Theseus, Perithous, Provost (i.e. Goaler), Lycas ('suitor to the Provost's Daughter'), Valenius, Ambassadors, Guards, Countrymen, Hippolyta (Queen to Theseus), Emilia, and Caelia ('the Provost's Daughter') - this final proper name being derived from Davenant's version. However, what was initially a tragi-comedy has now been severely edited to turn it into a compact tragedy of about 2000 lines, most of which derive from the original script, though much business has been dropped. The losses include the initial powerfully compelling entrance of the three mourning queens (who are replaced by their ambassadors); the spectacular morris-dance (only the wrestling survives, though the May Day celebrations are often mentioned); the full-scale final battle between two troops led by the Kinsmen (which diminishes to a repetition of the interrupted duel); and the final reconciliation between the Jailer's Daughter and her persistent suitor, which provides a wry parallel to the muted marriage ceremonies of Emilia and Palamon after Arcite's death. In the new version, instead of deluding herself that her original suitor is Palamon, the Daughter simply dies of disappointment at Palamon's lack of interest, thus providing a female tragic victim of love parallel to the dead Arcite.

The longer individual speeches in the original script are consistently trimmed along these lines: reducing complexity of character and any business it requires - thereby losing much of the play's picturesque prolixity of metaphor and the delicate irony of its unexpected reversals of feeling and situation. However, the script retains the basic essentials of the characters and many of their most memorable lines, such as the Daughter's: |Lord, the difference of men.' One or two interesting additions occur: as when Emilia is not only seen by the Kinsmen in her garden, but also sees them herself and converses briefly and sympathetically with both, thus strengthening her serious emotional involvement in both their fates, and making the later forced marriage less arbitrary and unmotivated. The core of most of the original scenes survive and the text moves with great clarity, briskness, and economy: it would be an extremely easy script to stage.

The overall relationship of the revision to the original may be briefly demonstrated by the compressed version of the long concluding speech of Theseus, which is reduced from twenty-seven to sixteen lines, and partly reassigned:

Theseus: Never did Fortune play a subtler game

         The conquer'd triumph and the victor loses
         Yet are the gods most equal and my Justice
         Take from my hand, while they themselves
         become
         The Executioners. Lead Emilia off.
         A day or two
         Let us look sadly and give grace unto
         The funeral of Arcite, in whose end
         The Visages of Bridegrooms we'll put on
         And smile with Palamon.

Palamon: Oh you heavenly powers

         What infinites of vows and holy prayer
         What ages only given up to honor
         Can pay my grateful thanks. Come let us
         hence.
         Thus through the doubtful streams of joy
         and grief
         True love doth wade and finds at last relief.

Such bland abbreviation allows us to perceive just what density of expression, thought, and feeling in the original has been lost in this economical and prosaic account. Cumberland's eminently tidy version merits note, if only to enhance our appreciation of the infinitely subtler humour and sardonic moralism of what seems lo be the last play associated with Shakespeare. For such reasons, The Two Noble Kinsmen has caught theatrical attention more often than its modern editors and critics have yet registered.

(1) See Mary Edmond, Rare Sir William Davenant (Manchester, 1987), 188-90, 202. (2) William Shakespeare, The Two Noble Kinsmen, ed. Eugene Waith (Oxford, 1988). (3) Hugh M. Richmond, 'Performance as Criticism: The Two Noble Kinsmen', in Charles Frey (ed.), Shakespeare and Fletcher: |The Two Noble Kinsmen' (Columbia, 1989), 163-85. (4) Charles B. Hogan, The London Stage, 1660-1800, vol. ii, 1776-1800 (Carbondale, 1967), V.iii.1793.


1