Character Directory


Theseus is the Duke of Athens and presides over the events of the main plot. He sets an example of noble action when he aids the royal widows who petition him in 1.1; in doing so, he undertakes a war against Creon of Thebes, in the course of which he captures the title characters, Arcite and Palamon, creating the basic situation of the plot. In 3.6 he intervenes in the quarrel between them, overseeing their duel for Emilia; and at the play's close, he sounds the note of dignified acceptance of fate that is the play's central lesson. Recognizing that the fortunes of humanity are incomprehensible, and that we have no choice but to live with them, he rhetorically addresses the gods: '0 you heavenly charmers, / What things you make of us! ... Let us be thankful / For that which is, and with you leave dispute[s] / That are above our question' (5.4.131-136). He adds, in the play's final words, 'Let's go off, / And bear us like the time' (5.4.136-137)—that is, accept our circumstances. 

Theseus is particularly dominant in Acts 1 and 5, written by Shakespeare, while in Acts 2 to 4, written by John Fletcher, he is a less significant figure and his speeches are far less powerful as poetry. Theseus' importance as a model of nobility is particularly notable in Act 1, where he establishes a tone of magnanimity that would perhaps have dominated the play, had Shakespeare written it in its entirety. Throughout Shakespeare's portions of the play, Theseus' actions are quintessentially chivalrous: he aids the widowed Queens at their request; having triumphed in their cause, he offers to cover the expenses of their husbands' funerals; he demands the finest treatment for his noble prisoners of war; he orders the most opulent temple preparations for the 'noble work in hand' (5.1.6), the duel; he 'adopts' (5.4.124) Palamon's seconds at the play's close; and his concluding remarks offer an example of serene courage. On the other hand, the somewhat ignoble provision that the loser be executed was devised by Fletcher's Theseus. 

With respect to aristocratic birth—a necessary component of nobility in chivalric romance—Theseus is literally of supernatural stature and can casually refer to 'Hercules our kinsman' (1.1.66). He is pointedly contrasted with the vicious Creon, to his considerable advantage, and the Second Queen says that he was 'Born to uphold creation in that honour / First Nature styled it in' (1.1.82-83). As the highest-ranking figure in the play's world, and especially since he is presented as a strikingly noble leader, Theseus carries great moral weight; his closing remarks are thereby clearly signaled as the play's essential position.


Hippolyta is the Queen of the Amazons, fiancé and later wife of Theseus, Duke of Athens. Hippolyta helps establish the tone of magnanimous nobility and pity that dominates Act 1, but she is unimportant thereafter. In 1.1, when her wedding to Theseus is interrupted by the pleas of the royal widows who seek the duke's aid, Hippolyta speaks in their support, insisting that her anticipated marital joy must be postponed in their cause. In 1.3 she describes the friendship between Theseus and Pirithous, which offers a parallel to the relationship between the title characters, Palamon and Arcite, and which also signifies nobility of spirit. She herself displays a serene spirit in observing without jealousy, in fact approvingly, that Theseus might be unable to choose between Pirithous and herself. In Acts 2-4, where her part is written by John Fletcher, she is an ordinary aristocratic figure, graciously attending the duke at court. She is presumably married to Theseus by this time, although the rescheduled wedding is never mentioned. In Act 5 Hippolyta hardly speaks, but she makes a significant point after the duel fought by Palamon and Arcite for Emilia, when she offers a tender acknowledgement that the play's developments provoke 'Infinite pity' (5.3.144-145).


Emilia is the sister of Hippolyta and the beloved of both Palamon and Arcite, the title characters. The subject of the obsession that destroys the friendship of the kinsmen, Emilia is to some extent a pawn of the plot. At first unconscious of the situation, she is inconsequential; later, as the cousins prepare to duel for the right to marry her, she is emotionally distressed, but the focus remains on the men. However, as a virtuous and noble figure, she is a potent symbol, and she is finally, in her helplessness, an important illustration of the play's central theme, that human beings are unable to control their destiny but must strive to maintain dignity as they confront their fate. 

Shakespeare introduces Emilia as an attractive, serious young woman. In 1.1 her pity and magnanimity as she responds to the pleas of the three widows establish her as a noble person. In 1.3 she tenderly recalls a close childhood friendship with a girl who has died, and she is quietly confident that she will never love a man as much; later, we realize that her expectation was all too appropriate, for her part in the play's love story is tragically involuntary. 

However, as a character, Emilia suffers from the defects of the play, which was written collaboratively by Shakespeare and John Fletcher. Shakespeare's Emilia is a promising figure, but Fletcher, who wrote all other scenes in Acts 2-4, did not develop her; at first she is simply another young woman of the court, interested in flowers in 2.1, when the two kinsmen fall in love with her beauty, and politely agreeable to the disguised Arcite in 3.5. Then Fletcher alters her radically, but the change is entirely artificial. She agonizes over her choice of lovers in a highly rhetorical passage (4.2.1-54) that introduces the arrival of the duelists in a melodramatic manner, but reduces her to a mere illustration of hysteria. Nevertheless, the speech furthers the course of the play, for it demonstrates that she, like the kinsmen, is trapped by destiny. As she puts it, 'my reason is lost in me, /1 have no choice' and 'I am sotted, / Utterly lost' (4.2.34-35, 45-46). Emilia embodies humanity's helplessness, both here and in Act 5, where she is again Shakespeare's creation and a more dignified and credible character. 

In 5.1, before the duel, Emilia addresses the goddess Diana, seeking assistance in her quandary. She asks the goddess to make sure the winner is the cousin who genuinely loves her the most, adding that she would prefer to remain unmarried. In response, a rose tree with a single rose appears on the altar; supposing that its singleness means she will not have to marry either cousin, Emilia is delighted, but then the rose falls. Chagrined, Emilia remains hopeful, closing touchingly with the plea, 'Unclasp thy mystery.— I hope she's pleased; / Her signs were gracious' (5.1. 172-173). In 5.3 she is too distracted to watch the duel, which is reported to her by a Servant, and we cannot help but sympathize. When she is awarded to Arcite and Palamon is sent to be executed, according to the rules for the duel, Emilia cries out, 'Is this winning? / 0 all you heavenly powers, where is your mercy?' (5.3.138-139). This despairing cry is the nadir of the play; however, Emilia immediately accepts her fate, rejecting suicide in the next line, because the gods' 'wills have said it must be so' (5.3.140). By the play's end Emilia can accept the final twist of fate—Arcite dies accidentally and Palamon wins her by default—with equanimity. She has learned the lesson that Theseus declaims in the final line: we must 'bear us as the time' (5.4.137).


Pirithous is a friend of Theseus, Duke of Athens. Pirithous attends Theseus in every scene in which the duke appears; he also provides commentary on Arcite in 2.4 and, as a messenger, dramatically halts the execution of Palamon in 5.4. However, he is significant only as the subject of a conversation in his absence. In 1.3 Hippolyta reflects on the long friendship of Theseus and Pirithous, saying 'Their knot of love, / Tied, weaved, entangled ... May be outworn, never undone' (1.3.41-44). This striking parallel to the tie between Palamon and Arcite helps establish the theme of male friendship that is woven through the play. Hippolyta's remarks also spark a variant on the theme, the account by Emilia of her similar childhood friendship with a girl.


Palamon is one of the title characters and cousin of Arcite. As introduced in 1.2, Palamon and Arcite are young noblemen whose chief concern is with their knightly honor and whose lives revolve around their friendship with each other. However, while prisoners of war in Athens, they both fall in love with Emilia, the beautiful sister-in-law of Duke Theseus, and they argue over who saw her first. Eventually they fight a duel for Emilia, in which, following Theseus' rules, the loser is not to be killed but rather executed afterwards. Palamon loses, but just before he is to be beheaded, Arcite is killed by a--"runaway horse, and Palamon prepares to marry Emilia at the play's close. As stylized knightly protagonists, Palamon and Arcite resemble each other fairly closely, but Palamon can be distinguished as the generally more belligerent of the two. On the other hand, he also seems somewhat disillusioned at the close of their story, making him the more interesting character finally. 

In 1.2 Palamon is a shallow fellow whom Arcite criticizes for his narrow military outlook. In 2.1 he insists that their enthusiasm for the same, seemingly unapproachable woman is grounds for unsparing enmity, despite Arcite's efforts to find some other approach.  Palamon escapes from prison with the help of the warden's Daughter—whom he immediately abandons—and in Act 3 he persistently pushes Arcite to duel, until Theseus intervenes and establishes the rules under which they finally fight. 

Palamon's long prayer to Venus in 5.1 marks a turning point, for instead of the enraptured plea for Emilia's heart that we might expect, he vents a satirical recital of the ridiculous behavior love inspires. He mocks the tyrant who weeps to a girl and the old man who is confident his young wife is faithful, and he recites all the ugly betrayals and offences a lover might commit, though he disclaims them. The pleasant aspects of love are not mentioned. He closes his prayer by apostrophizing the goddess as one 'whose chase is this world / And we in herds thy game' (5.1.131-132).  Such cynicism reflects the weight that the conflict has had—he wears Venus' 'yoke, . . . [that is] heavier /Than lead itself [and] stings more than nettles' (5.1.95-97), for in the end he loses his friend. At the close, engaged to Emilia, he addresses his dead cousin with a plaint that typifies the confusion and helplessness of humanity in the hands of unpredictable fate, the play's most important theme: '0 cousin, / That we should things desire which do cost us / the loss of our desire! that naught could buy / Dear love but loss of dear love!' (5.4.109-112).


Arcite is one of the title characters and the cousin of Palamon. In 1.2 Arcite and Palamon are affectionate friends, both nobly concerned with maintaining their honor as chivalrous knights.  However, while prisoners of war in Athens in 2.1, both fall in love with the beauty of Emilia, sister-m-law of Duke Theseus, and their friendship crumbles as they dispute who may claim her as their loved one.  They eventually fight a duel over Emilia, with the stipulation by Theseus that the loser not be killed in the fight but instead executed. Arcite wins the duel but he then dies, crushed by a runaway horse, and Palamon gets Emilia.  

As the protagonists of a stylized chivalrous romance, the two cousins are very similar, and their characterizations tend to blur even more given the unevenness of the play, a collaboration between Shakespeare and John Fletcher. Nevertheless, some distinctions can be drawn. In 1.1 Arcite is the leader of the two introducing the idea of fleeing the corrupt court of Thebes and attempting to broaden Palamon s military orientation. When they are obliged to fight for Thebes Arcite draws the deepest conclusion from their situation. Declaring that they will have to trust 'th'event, / That never-erring arbitrator (1.1.114-114) he presents an important theme of the play, humanity's helplessness to direct destiny. When their quarrel over Emilia arises, he is the more reasonable of the two, attempting to smooth things over in 2.1, when they meet again in 3.1, and as they prepare to duel in 3,3 He is also more sensible about the approach of Theseus, proposing that Palamon hide and they fight later. Nevertheless, he is perfectly willing to fight it out when Palamon insists, and when the combatants offer petitions to the gods in 5.1, Arcite speaks to Mars, the god of war. At his death. Arcite is simply a pawn of the plot, asking forgiveness with his lasting personality is still further obscured by the fact that in Acts 2 to 4, Shakespeare probably wrote only one scene (3.1), and Fletcher's Arcite is a somewhat different character from Shakespeare’s. A sentimentalist, he laments in 2.1 the fact that imprisonment means the cousins will not find 'The sweet embraces of a loving wife' (2.1.84) or produce children, and he thinks achingly that 'fair-eyed maids shall weep our banishments' (2.1.91). When in 2.2 he decides to enter the wrestling and running competition to gain the attention of the duke's court, he is nothing more than a stereotypical hero-in-disguise. Perhaps in light of this, Shakespeare gives him a beautiful meditation on Emilia at the opening of 3.1. However Arcite’s inconsistencies merely reflect the failings of the play as a whole.

HYMEN Hymen is the Roman god of marriage, as portrayed by a celebrant in the interrupted wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta.  Hymen does not speak, he is described in the opening stage direction as entering 'with a torch burning' (1.1.1).  He provides a not of formal dignity to the occasion.

Boy is a singer at the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. In 1.1.1-24 the Boy sings the Song ‘Roses’, their sharp spines being gone' and strews flowers. He provides a note of decorous festivity before the ceremony is interrupted by the arrival of the three Queens.

ARTESIUS Artesius is an officer under Theseus. When Theseus' wedding is interrupted by the demands of the Three Queens for vengeance against King Creon of Thebes, the Duke instructs Artesius to prepare the army for war in 1.1.159-165. He then disappears from the play. His only function is to lend a military air to the preparations.

Queens are any of three characters in The Two Noble Kinsmen, deposed monarchs who seek the aid of Theseus, Duke of Athens. The Queens interrupt Theseus' wedding to tell him that their husbands have been defeated and killed by King Creon of Thebes, who has refused to bury the kings' bodies, thereby exposing their souls to torment. They ask Theseus to avenge this deed by conquering Creon. The First Queen, as she is designated, implores Theseus; the Second Queen addresses his intended bride, the Amazon Hippolyta, and the Third speaks to Hippolyta's sister, Emilia. All three respond favorably, but the Queens are not satisfied with anything but , instant action, and their petitions are restated. Finally, the wedding is postponed and Theseus sets out. In 1.4, the conquest completed, the Queens thank Theseus, and in 1.5 they proceed with their husbands' funerals. 

The Queens are part of the ritualistic aspect of the play that links it to other Shakespeare Romances. They are highly significant figures in 1.1, Shakespeare's spectacular opening scene. Their sudden appearance, all in black at a festive ceremony, is a coup de theatre, with a grand effect on stage. Their repeated approaches, first to one character and then another, form a dancelike, stylised sequence, a kind of liturgy that reinforces the high seriousness of their purpose.  In 1.5 they again offer an impressive tableau, as Act 1 closes in tragic triumph.


Valerius is a gentleman of Thebes and friend of Arcite and Palamon. In 1.2 Valerius informs his friends of the challenge to King Creon of Thebes issued by Duke Theseus of Athens, who intends to conquer Thebes and avenge the king's evil behavior in refusing burial to his defeated foes. Valerius thereby provides the link between the two title characters and Athens, where, as prisoners of war, they will enact the main plot of the drama. Having fulfilled this function, Valerius disappears from the play.

Herald The herald is an attendant to Duke Theseus.  In 1.4, following the defeat of King Creon of Thebes, the Herald informs Theseus of the identity of two of his noble prisoners of war, Arcite and Palamon, the title characters of the play.  The main plot is thereby begun. 

Woman is an attendant of Emilia. In 2.1 the Woman converses with her mistress, who speaks of the maidenly virtues. They are overheard by Palamon and Arcite, who fall in love with Emilia. The Woman's decorous conversation simply offers openings for Emilia in an incident that furthers the plot. Since most scholars believe that 2.1 was not written by Shakespeare and most likely a creation of Fletcher's.

Messengers Messengers are any of three minor characters that are bearers of news. In 4.2 a Messenger reports on the arrival of Arcite and Palamon for their duel, describing the combatants and their supporters in elaborately courtly terms. In 5.2 another Messenger (probably played by the same actor, however) tells the Gaoler, the Doctor, and the Wooer about the duel in a few brief lines. Scholars generally agree that Shakespeare's collaborator John Fletcher wrote both 4.2 and 5.2, but that Shakespeare created the Messenger in 5.4, who dramatically races on-stage to halt the execution of Palamon, crying 'Hold, hold, 0 hold, hold, hold!' (5.4.40), as Pirithous arrives with a pardon. This bold coup de theatre advances the play to its final episode.
Knights Gentleman is a messenger from Duke Theseus of Athens to Emilia. In 4.2 the Gentleman informs the sorrowing Emilia that Arcite and Palamon are prepared to duel for her love. He serves merely to translate the scene from Emilia's soliloquy to the preparations for the duel. Most scholars agree that 4.1 and the Gentleman were the work of Shakespeare's collaborator, John Fletcher.
Servant Servant is a member of the household of Emilia. In 5 3 the Servant reports to his mistress on the progress of the duel between Arcite and Palamon, who are fighting over her. In this way the audience is able to experience the duel while the actual combat is kept off-stage.

Gaoler is the prison-warden whose Daughter goes mad with unrequited love for Palamon, a prisoner of war and one of the title characters. The Daughter helps Palamon escape, but when he returns to the aristocratic world, she loses her mind. The Gaoler first appears in 2 1 where he agrees to the Wooer’s suit for the Daughter's hand, and where he is a conventional warden to his prisoners. He is unaware of his daughter s state when he reappears in 4.1, worrying that he will be blamed for Palamon's escape. Once informed of the Daughter's madness, he is helpless to ease her plight In 5.2 he objects mildly to the prescription-that the Wooer disguise himself as Palamon and sleep with her-but he goes along and reports her cure in 5.4. A simple pawn of the plot. he is believed to have been the creation of Shakespeare's collaborator, John Fletcher.


Daughter is the deranged lover of Palamon and child of the Gaoler. Although she has already agreed to marry the Wooer in 2.1 the Daughter falls in love with Palamon, a prisoner of war in her father's prison. After remarking to her father on the nobility of Palamon and his fellow prisoner, Arcite, in 2.1, the Daughter appears alone for her next four scenes, all soliloquies. In 2.3 she declares that she will help Palamon escape, and in 2 5 she reports that she has done so. In 3.2 she is alone in the woods, unable to find Palamon and clearly going mad. She decides that Palamon has been eaten by wild animals and contemplates suicide. Her fourth soliloquy in 3.4 is frankly insane, as she gabbles of shipwrecks and a magic frog and sings scraps of Song.  In 3.5, wandering insanely through the countryside she is recruited for the rustic entertainment directed by the Schoolmaster. Finally, in Act 4 she returns home, where the Doctor prescribes that the Wooer, disguised as Palamon, take her to bed. The treatment apparently works, for her father later reports that she is is 'well restored, / And to be married shortly' (5.4.27-28). 

Though she resembles Shakespeare's Ophelia—both are unlucky in love, both gather flowers by a lakeside (see 4.1.54, 78), and both sing bits of song (in 4.1.108 the Daughter names a song Ophelia sings in Hamlet 4.5.184)—the Daughter is a very un-Shakespearean character. Her chief function is clearly as an object of humor, for in Shakespeare's day insanity was regarded as highly amusing. Her diatribes are conventional indications of madness, artificial and unconvincing, and her cure is laughable, as it was doubtless intended to be. She was almost certainly not created by Shakespeare but by his collaborator John Fletcher, who probably wrote all the scenes she appears in (though some scholars attribute 2.1 and the best of her soliloquies, 3.2, to Shakespeare).

Gaoler's Brother In 4.1, the brother of Gaoler's accompanies the Gaoler deranged Daughter who is returning home.  He is a mere pawn and was probably created by Fletcher, who wrote this scene in the opinion of most scholars.

Wooer is the suitor of the Daughter of the Gaoler. In 2.1 the Wooer agrees with the Gaoler on a marriage contract, saying that he has the Daughter's consent to marry him. He is not seen again until Act 4, after the Daughter has gone mad with unrequited love for the nobleman Palamon. Though unafflicted with jealousy and sympathetic to her plight, the Wooer is helpless to ease it, until in 4.3 the Doctor prescribes that he disguise himself as Palamon and woo her, adding in 5.2 the instruction that he sleep with her, to which he readily assents. He proposes to her and is accepted, but she suggests bed before he can. The Doctor's ploy works, for the Daughter is later reported to be 'well restored, / And to be married shortly' (5.4.27-28). Slightly buffoonish, the Wooer is a gentle but undistinguished fellow, merely a necessary part of the subplot. He is probably the creation of Shakespeare's collaborator John Fletcher, to whom the scenes he appears in are ascribed.


Friends are either one of two characters that are acquaintances of the Gaoler. In 4.1 the Friends assure the Gaoler that Theseus, Duke of Athens, has forgiven him for the fact that Palamon has escaped from his gaol with the assistance of his Daughter, and they sympathize with him when the Wooer brings evidence that the Daughter is deranged.  The Friends, mere pawns of the plot, were probably not Shakespeare's creations, for most scholars agree that 4.1 was written by his collaborator, John Fletcher.

Doctor The physician who treats the Daughter when she is obsessed with the nobleman Palamon, whom she helps escape from jail but does not see again.  in 4.3 the Doctor prescribes that her Wooer humor her by pretending to be Palamon.  In 5.2 he adds that the disguised Wooer should sleep with her, to which the young man readily agrees .  In 5.4 the Gaoler reports that the Daughter is 'well restored,/And to be married shortly' (5.4 27-28).  The comic Doctor was probably created by Fletcher to whom scholars usually assign both 4.3 and 5.2.

Countrymen are peasants. In 2.2 four Countrymen tell Arcite of wrestling and running competitions at a country fair. The outcast nobleman subsequently distinguishes himself at the fair, coming to the attention of the court of Duke Theseus, and thus meeting his beloved, Emilia. Six Countrymen appear in 3.5, one of them dressed as a Bavian, or baboon, as part of the duke's entertainment; five of them, with Nell and her friends, perform a dance under the direction of the Schoolmaster. Most scholars agree that neither 2.1 nor 3.5 was written by Shakespeare; thus, the Countrymen are probably the creation of John Fletcher.

Schoolmaster The schoolmaster is the director of a country dance performance.  In 3.5 the Schoolmaster directs a group of Countrymen and women, including Nell, in an entertainment presented to the court of Duke Theseus.  He is comically pedantic, both in instructing his charges and in his prologue to the performance.  Since most scholars believe that Shakespeare did not write 3.5, the Schoolmaster is probably a creation of Fletcher.
Nell Nell is a country lass who performs in a dance before Duke Theseus. In 3.5 the five young women assemble for the dance; Nell is the only one who speaks, assuring her director, the Schoolmaster, that they will do well. Her half-line—a scoffing 'Let us alone, sir' (3.5.31)—contributes to the scene's sense of rustic festivity. However, most scholars agree that Shakespeare did not write 3.5, so Nell is probably the creation of John Fletcher.
Taborer The Taborer accompanies the Countrymen and the lasses led by Nell in their dance performed before Theseus in 3.5.  Most scholars agree that neither 2.1 nor 3.5 was written by Shakespeare; thus, the Countrymen are probably the creation of John Fletcher.

Bavian is a performer dressed as a baboon, or bavian. The Bavian is part of an entertainment performed before Theseus in 3.5. He speaks only two words, 'Yes, sir' (3.5.37), in response to his director, the Schoolmaster, who tells him, 'My friend, carry your tail without offence / Or scandal to the ladies; and be sure / You tumble with audacity and manhood, / And when you bark do it with judgement' (3.5.34-37). This directive casts an amusing light on English rustic entertainments of the 17th century. However, most scholars agree that Shakespeare did not write this scene; the Bavian and his instructions are probably the work of John Fletcher.


Executioner is the ax man prepared to behead Palamon.   The executioner does not speak as he stands ready in 5.4; his presence merely serves to heighten the tension with a visible reminder of Palamon's apparent end, before a pardon arrives.


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