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The Two Noble Kinsmen /

An Introduction to This Text: The Two Noble Kinsmen

By Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine
Editors of the Folger Shakespeare Library Editions

This play was first printed in 1634 in a quarto titled The Two Noble Kinsmen: Presented at the Blackfriers by the Kings Maiesties servants, with great applause: Written by the memorable Worthies of their time; Mr. John Fletcher and Mr. William Shakspeare. Gent. [i.e., Gentlemen]. (The play subsequently appeared in the 1679 collection titled Fifty comedies and tragedies written by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, Gentlemen; it thereby entered the Beaumont and Fletcher canon, rather than the Shakespeare canon, and remained there until late in the twentieth century, in spite of occasional scholarly claims that it had an equal right to a place in both canons. Now it generally appears in so-called complete works of Shakespeare.

Explore the 1634 quarto of The Two Noble Kinsmen in Miranda.

The present edition is based directly on the 1634 printing.1 For the convenience of the reader, we have modernized the punctuation and the spelling of the Quarto. Sometimes we go so far as to modernize certain old forms of words; for example, usually when a means he, we change it to he; we change mo to more, and ye to you. It is not our practice in editing any of the plays to modernize words that sound distinctly different from modern forms. For example, when the early printed texts read sith or apricocks or porpentine, we have not modernized to since, apricots, porcupine. When the forms an, and, or and if appear instead of the modern form if, we have reduced and to an but have not changed any of these forms to their modern equivalent, if. We also modernize and, where necessary, correct passages in foreign languages, unless an error in the early printed text can be reasonably explained as a joke.

Whenever we change the wording of the Quarto or add anything to its stage directions, we mark the change by enclosing it in superior half-brackets ( ). We want our readers to be immediately aware when we have intervened. (Only when we correct an obvious typographical error in the Quarto does the change not get marked.) Whenever we change either the Quarto’s wording or its punctuation so that meaning changes, we list the change in the textual notes, even if all we have done is fix an obvious error.

We regularize spellings of a number of the proper names in the dialogue and stage directions, as is the usual practice in editions of the play. For example, the Quarto uses the forms “Pyrithous,” “Pirothous,” and “Perithous,” as well as “Pirithous,” the only form used in our edition.

This edition differs from many earlier ones in its efforts to aid the reader in imagining the play as a performance. Thus stage directions are written with reference to the stage. For example, the 1634 Quarto’s opening stage direction to Act 1, scene 4, reads in part “Then Enter Theseus (victor) the three Queenes meete him, and fall on their faces before him.” In the fiction of the play Theseus is leaving the battlefield, from which the queens have kept their distance, watching the outcome and now seeking him. In production, this separation of the queens from Theseus would be indicated by their coming onstage from different directions or through different doors. In emending the Quarto’s stage direction, we indicate this feature of the staging: “Then enter, through one door, Theseus, victor, accompanied by Lords and Soldiers. Entering through another door, the three Queens meet him, and fall on their faces before him.” This emended stage direction is designed to aid our readers in imagining not just the fictive action but also the way that action would be realized in a production on stage. Through such directions, we hope to help our readers stage the play in their own imaginations in a way that more closely approximates an experience in the theater.

Whenever it is reasonably certain, in our view, that a speech is accompanied by a particular action, we provide a stage direction describing the action, setting the added direction in brackets to signal that it is not found in the Quarto. (Occasional exceptions to this rule occur when the action is so obvious that to add a stage direction would insult the reader). Stage directions for the entrance of a character in mid-scene are, with rare exceptions, placed so that they immediately precede the character’s participation in the scene, even though these entrances may appear somewhat earlier in the early printed texts. Whenever we move a stage direction, we record this change in the textual notes. Latin stage directions (e.g., Exeunt) are translated into English (e.g., They exit).

We expand the often severely abbreviated forms of names used as speech headings in early printed texts into the full names of the characters. We also regularize the speakers’ names in speech headings, using only a single designation for each character, even though the early printed texts sometimes use a variety of designations. For example, the Jailer is sometimes “Iailer.” or “Iailor.” or “Iai.” and sometimes “Keeper.” or “Keep.” in the Quarto’s speech prefixes. However, in this edition, he has a single speech prefix, “JAILER.” Variations in the speech headings of the early printed texts are recorded in the textual notes.

In the present edition, as well, we mark with a dash any change of address within a speech, unless a stage direction intervenes. When the –ed ending of a word is to be pronounced, we mark it with an accent. Like editors for the past two centuries, we display metrically linked lines in the following way:

 How do you, noble cousin?
ARCITE  How do you, sir?


However, when there are a number of short verse-lines that can be linked in more than one way, we do not, with rare exceptions, indent any of them.

  1. We have also consulted the computerized text of the Quarto provided by the Text Archive of the Oxford University Computing Centre, to which we are grateful.