John Fletcher and William Shakespeare's The Two Noble Kinsmen Santa Cruz Shakespeare
For the 2019 season, the Santa Cruz Shakespeare (SCS) Fringe Company performed William Shakespeare and John Fletcher’s The Two Noble Kinsmen. This is a timely play that dramatizes consent, toxic masculinity, homosocial relationships, female power, visuality, and social order. It is a tale that has been told and re-told across time and space. The play draws from Chaucer’s “Knight’s Tale” in The Canterbury Tales (1400), which itself draws from Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio’s Teseida delle nozze di Emilia (roughly 1341). It is difficult to tell what Boccaccio drew from, but the tale is clearly older and is told in the Thebaid, a Latin epic by Publius Papinius Statius (AD 45 – 96). Themes drawn from the Thebaid reflect earlier Greek works, especially Sophocles Theban plays of which Antigone (circa 441 BCE) should come to mind as one reads or views Act I.
A late play for Shakespeare and an early play for Fletcher, this tragicomic work centers on two Theban “knights,” best bro-cousins Palamon and Arcite, who fall in love with the same woman they both saw while in prison but never met . The lady of their affections is Queen Hipployta's sister, Emilia, an Amazon woman who is most happy in a woman-centered culture. Though Emilia is hardly aware of the two noble kinsmen, they fight over her informally and then formally in a battle-contest. They get to this point by various routes. Arcite is released from the prison and exiled, while Palamon escaped from the jail with the help of the a girl known only as the Jailer’s Daughter, who fell deeply in love with him. Though it is unclear whether Palamon is aware of her feelings, the Jailer’s Daughter goes on an emotional journey compelled by her illusory desire of Palamon. Despite being promised to another, the Jailer’s Daughter increasingly reveals her instability and vulnerability. Her attempts to reconnect with Palamon after freeing him never coalesce into the love she desires. The play ends with a surprising resolution resulting in two marriages.
Actress Madeline Wall performing her role as the "Jailer's Daughter." (Staff Photographer 2019)
Dramaturgy with the Santa Cruz Shakespeare Fringe Company & The Humanities Institute at University of California Santa Cruz
As a Public Fellow in the Summer of 2019, I joined the Santa Cruz Shakespeare Fringe company as a dramaturg, a role broadly described as the literary consultant and advisor for a theater company or, in this case, a particular production. In this capacity, I provided textual support and research assistance to the Fringe Company under the mentorship of UCSC Professor Emeritus Michael Warren. My work with the company was geared toward helping the Fringe Company make this challenging text legible and engaging to the public. As an early career academic in the humanities, I also saw my position as an opportunity to contribute to the present and future success of these early career actors.
The Fringe Company faced particular challenges performing this play. The lengthy script had to be winnowed down to a specific time frame, an hour and a half. Further, this play has about two dozen roles, many of which needed to be edited out to accommodate the size of the cast, five actors. This meant each performer played multiple roles, which presented particular challenges to keeping the play’s content coherent, organizing the movement of bodies on stage, and managing quick changes between characters. Out of the constraints of cast size emerged a very interesting staging of this work. Of particular note was the effect of the doubling of roles assigned to specific actors. Each actor played at least three roles. Certain plot lines and their associated themes were enhanced, complicated, and advanced by the presence of the body of and player in different roles and in different scenario. Given the limitations and limited resources for this production, what the Fringe company managed to achieve was an astounding feat!