Scene by Scene Synopsis
Scene: Ancient Athens
Prologue: A Prologue declares that the play has a noble predecessor, in a work by Chaucer, that it cannot hope to live up to.
Act I, Scene 1: As Theseus, Duke of Athens, prepares to marry Hippolyta of the Amazons, the ceremony is interrupted by a Queen who falls on her knees before Theseus followed by two more who address Hippolyta and her sister, Emilia. The Queens tell of their husbands' deaths fighting King Creon of Thebes, who has refused to bury the kings' bodies thereby exposing their souls to torment. They ask Theseus to conquer Creon, insisting that any delay is dishonorable. The wedding is then postponed as Theseus prepares for war.
Act I, Scene 2: Two noblemen of Thebes, the cousins Arcite and Palamon, decide to leave the court of the villainous King Creon. Valerius brings word that Duke Theseus has declared war. The cousins realize that their honor requires them to stay and fight for Thebes.
Act I, Scene 3: Hippolyta and Emilia bid farewell to Pirithous who is about to join Theseus in Thebes. Hippolyta remarks on the long-standing friendship of Pirithous and Theseus recalls her own' similar affection for a childhood girlfriend and declares that she will never love a man so well.
Act I, Scene 4: The Queens thank Theseus for his victory over Creon and he sends them to bury their husbands. A Herald informs Theseus that Palamon and Arcite, both badly wounded, are among his prisoners of war.
Act I, Scene 5: The Queens lead funeral processions for their husbands.
Act II, Scene 1: The Jailer negotiates a marriage settlement with the WOOER of his Daughter. The Daughter appears on her way to see the new prisoners, Palamon and Arcite, whom she admires for the spirit with which they bear their imprisonment. The three commoners leave as the two prisoners appear, reflecting on the comfort they can take in each other's company they believe that their honorable friendship will sustain them throughout their lives. Below their windows in a courtyard, they see Emilia conversing with a Woman. First Palamon and then Arcite fall in love with Emilia on sight. After she leaves, they quarrel over who has the right to claim her as his beloved. Each feels that his honor is offended by the other, and they vow to fight a duel if they ever have the opportunity. the Jailer appears and takes Arcite to the duke Palamon muses on his love for Emilia until the Jailer returns to report that Arcite has been freed but banished from Theseus' realm, on pain of death.
Act II, Scene 2: Arcite, free, decides to stay in Theseus' realm and attempt to meet and woo Emilia. He encounters a group of Countrymen, who tell him of the wrestling and running competitions to be witnessed by Theseus and his court at a nearby country fair. Arcite decides to enter the competitions in order to come to the attention of the court and thus meet Emilia.
Act II, Scene 3: The Jailer's Daughter reflects on her hopeless love for Palamon. She realizes that he will never love a commoner, but she decides to help him escape from prison.
Act II, Scene 4: The disguised Arcite, having won the competitions, is interviewed by Theseus, who accepts him as a courtier. He is assigned to serve as an attendant to Emilia.
Act II, Scene 5: The Daughter reveals in a soliloquy that she has freed Palamon, who waits in a nearby wood until she can bring him food and a file to remove his shackles. She hopes he will come to love her.
Act III, Scene 1: Alone in the wood, Arcite reflects on his good fortune in having become Emilio's attendant. Overhearing this, the fugitive Palamon emerges from the trees, and they resume their argument. Though their affection for each other still stands, they agree that they must duel to uphold their respective honors. Arcite declares he will bring Palamon food and a file to remove his shackles, and then they will fight.
Act III, Scene 2: The Daughter cannot find Palamon and concludes that he has been eaten by wild animals. Hysterical, she reflects that her father will be hanged for her treachery in letting Palamon escape, and she will be reduced to beggary if she does not commit suicide. She wishes she were already dead.
Act III, Scene 3: Arcite returns to Palamon with food and a file. They agree not to mention Emilia but cannot refrain and fall to quarrelling again. Arcite leaves, saying he will re turn when Palamon has removed his shackles, and they will fight.
Act III, Scene 4: Raving wildly about Palamon, her father, and other things, the Daughter sings scraps of a song.
Act III, Scene 5: A Schoolmaster instructs a group of peasants, one of them costumed as a Avian, or baboon, on the dance they are to perform before the duke. One of the women of their group is missing, however, so they despair about being able to perform. The Daughter appears, and although they see that she is mad, the dancers recruit her for their performance. Theseus and his court appear and, after a lengthy Prologue from the Schoolmaster, the dance is presented.
Act III, Scene 6: Palamon and Arcite meet to duel. As they put on their amour, they reminisce fondly, but they continually renew their quarrel. They begin to fight, but Theseus and his court arrive. The cousins identify themselves, and Theseus condemns them to death: Arcite for having violated his banishment and Palamon as an escaped prisoner of war. They plead to be permitted to finish their duel, with the survivor then being executed, and Theseus agrees. However, when Hippolyta and Emilia beg for mercy for them, Theseus compromises. He decrees that the cousins shall return to Thebes and recruit seconds, come back within a month, and then duel for Emilio's hand. The duel shall not be to the death, but rather consist of a contest to force the opponent to touch a pillar erected for the purpose. The winner will marry Emilia; only the loser and his seconds will be executed. The cousins agree and depart.
Act IV, Scene 1: The Jailer hears of the duel from a Friend and worries that he will be blamed for Palimony's escape. A Second Friend arrives and assures him that the duke, encouraged by Palamon, has pardoned the Jailer and his Daughter. The Wooer then arrives with the news that the Daughter is mad. She appears, ranting about marrying Palamon and taking a sea voyage to meet him.
Act IV, Scene 2: Regretting the upcoming duel, Emilia reviews the virtues of each cousin in turn and admits that she loves them both. She is joined by Theseus and the court. Pirithous and a Messenger have witnessed the arrival of the cousins and their seconds, and they describe the gallantly arrayed Knights in detail.
Act IV, Scene 3: The Doctor witnesses the Daughter's ravings and prescribes that the Wooer should dress as Palamon and court her, in the hope that the apparent fulfillment of her fantasy will shock her out of it.
Act V, Scene 1: In a temple Arcite and Palamon prepare to duel. They bid each other an affectionate farewell. When Arcite and his seconds make a sacrifice to Mars, the altar resounds with thunder. Palamon and his followers make one to Venus, and the altar gives forth doves. After the knights leave for the duel, Emilia appears and makes a sacrifice to Diana. A rose tree bearing a single rose emerges, but the rose falls from it. Emilia is confused by this omen.
Act V, Scene 2: The Wooer, in the guise of Palamon, reports that he has kissed the Daughter. The Doctor directs that he go on to sleep with her, and he readily agrees. The Daughter emerges from the Jailer's house and talks of a dancing horse Palamon has given her and how another horse loves it in vain. Still pretending to be Palamon, the Wooer proposes to her, and she accepts, adding that they should go to the end of the world for the wedding. She returns indoors, and the men go to witness the duel.
Act V, Scene 3: Emilia, resisting all arguments, refuses to witness the duel, so a Servant is left with her to report. Going to and fro, he periodically recounts the action: first one cousin seems to be winning, then the other. Finally, he reports Arcite the victor. The court returns, and Arcite and Emilia are formally declared engaged. Emilia declares that only her duty to comfort Arcite, who has lost his noble kinsman, keeps her from killing herself with grief.
Act 5, Scene 4: Palamon and his seconds prepare to be executed. Palamon asks the Jailer about his Daughter; he reports that she has recovered and is to be married. As Palamon is about to be beheaded by the Executioner, Pirithous arrives with a pardon, reporting that Arcite is dying after being crushed by a runaway horse. Theseus, Hippolyta, and Emilia appear, with Arcite in a litter. Arcite accepts Palimony's grieving farewell, bequeaths Emilia to him, receives a final kiss from her, and dies. Theseus declares a period of mourning, to be followed by the marriage of Emilia and Palamon.
Epilogue: An anonymous actor, pretending to have stage fright, jests about the audience's hisses and laughter. He asks for their pardon, promises a better play some other night, and bids farewell.
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