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Posted October 4, 2001
The Arkangel Shakespeare series being issued by Penguin Audio is now halfway through the plays and the surprise is that 'The Two Noble Kinsmen' was given preference to the remaining more familiar works. Co-authored by Shakespeare and Fletcher, this play remains an odd man out for several reasons. Based fairly closely on the 'Knight's Tale' from Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales,' it tells of two cousins, who just after swearing eternal friendship in one of Duke Theseus' prisons immediately fall in love with the same woman, Emilia, and become bitter rivals for her affections. One of them, Arcite, is exiled but returns in disguise; the other, Palamon, escapes with the help of the Jailer's Daughter, who goes mad for love of him; and¿well, see for yourself. Of the play's 23 scenes, 7 and part of an 8th are attributed to Shakespeare, a 9th doubtfully so, and the rest to John Fletcher, who was probably handed over to Shakespeare to learn the ropes as it were. The Shakespeare parts are easy to spot: they are nearly impossible to understand without a heavily annotated copy of the text open before you! Even more so than in his late plays like 'Cymberline' and 'Winter's Tale,' the syntax is so complex, the thoughts so condensed, that one might (and has) compared his writing with the late Beethoven String Quartets. As one of the scholars quoted in the excellent Signet Classic paperback edition of this play comments, the play is most unShakespearean in that none of the characters change over the course of the play. And I should add the subplot of the Daughter's madness is never integrated into the main plot. One scene, in fact, is devoted entirely to the description of some minor characters and might have been influenced by a similar and much longer sequence in 'Seven Against Thebes.' In short, do not play this for a casual listen; but be prepared to be challenged. Look especially for echoes of the earlier all-Shakespearean plays. The nuptials of Theseus and Hippolyta recall the opening scenes of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,' the main plot that of 'Two Gentlemen of Verona,' the Daughter's madness of Ophelia, and so on. As for the actual recording, it would be difficult to better it! The voices of the two kinsmen (Johnathan Firth and Nigel Cooke) are easily distinguishable, Theseus (Geoffrey Whitehead) sounds advanced in years and noble, Emila (Helen Schlesinger) mature and alert, Hippolyta (Adjoa Andoh) vocally of African origins as perhaps befits the character, and all the rest as understandable as the text allows and 'into' their roles. Thank you, Penguin, for this noble entry in a series that is getting better and better.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.