Three seventeenth century versions of the story of Palamon and Arcite
Lawton, Michael Levy
Piper, W. B.
Master of Arts
Three versions of the story of Palamon and Arcite were published in the seventeenth century; and a study of all three can provide us with a valuable insight into changes in literary taste in the period. The Two Noble Kinsmen, written about 1614 by Shakespeare and Fletcher, is an attempt to bring Chaucer's tale out of its medieval concern with generalities such as the nature of the power of destiny, into a more modern concern with the nature of sex and love. The play can be seen as an analysis of the disruptive power of sexual love. It can also be shown that many changes are made In order to translate the poem into specifically dramatic terms. The Rivals, written In the early 1660's by Sir William Davenant, is an adaptation of The Two Noble Kinsmen, without reference to the Knight's Tale. It is a "musical remake" of its source, with most of the serious concern removed, and replaced by plot-manipulation. In this version, Davenant intends to do no more than to provide an enjoyable evening's entertainment. Palamon and Arcite was written in 1700 by John Dryden, and is a version of the original that professes only to being a translation. But as a result of Dryden's view of his source as an epic and his predilection for dramatic rather than static presentation of events and characters, of his tendency towards individualizing and sensualizing Chaucer's intellectually oriented generalizations, of his concern with applying the tale to topical and political matters, and of his natural tendency towards highly organized versification, the end product is rather more a "version" than a "translation." The three versions provide us with a kind of map of changing sensibility, especially since all the writers concerned were of the first note in their age, and were well in touch with popular interests and tastes.