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Shakespeare Company Closes 20th Season by Completing the Canon

“The Two Noble Kinsmen” – say who?
 
Cincinnati Shakespeare caps its 20th anniversary season May 2-25 by completing the canon -- the 38 plays attributed to William Shakespeare. The Bard’s final credit – actually a co-credit with Jacobean playwright John Fletcher – is “The Two Noble Kinsmen.”
 
“Kinsmen” is a minor romance, an adaptation of Chaucer’s “A Knight’s Tale,” one of the famed “Canterbury Tales.” As a box office magnet, it offers the opposite attraction of perennial favorite “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” 
 
“Kinsmen” is so rarely done it’s drawing Shakespeare tourists (from as far as Seattle) and Cincinnati Shakespeare producing artistic director Brian Isaac Phillips says confidently he expects the company’s long-time fan base will want to celebrate the completion of the canon with them. 
 
Set in ancient Greece, the Kinsmen are a pair of cousins and life-long friends who fight for Thebes in a war against Athens. When they are captured they inconveniently both form a passion for the same woman (Emilia, sister of Hippolyta who is wife of Theseus – the latter two are key players in “Dream.”)
 
Stuff happens.
 
The reason “Kinsmen” is under-produced, Phillips suggests, could well be that most of the significant action happens off-stage and is merely talked about by the characters. Audiences don’t see the battle that starts the action or the trial by combat that ends it. 
 
Philips will direct and says, “I am very interested in putting the action on the stage. If I can show you rather than tell you, I want to show you. The play has great potential.” 
 
He ponders the appearance of those characters from “A Midsummer Night’ Dream” and the use of similar plot devices. “Kinsmen,” he muses, “could very easily turn into a darker ‘sequel’ to the ‘Dream’ we all know and love.”
 
“Kinsmen” “was controversial at the time,” notes Bill McKim, who has led the Mercantile Library’s Canon Club for ten years. (The Canon Club has been a sponsor of the last few Complete the Canon productions, easing financial worries.)
 
“Romances were supposed to have happy endings,” McKim explains. “Kinsmen” not so much, although arguably everyone gets what they wish for.
 
As in so many things Shakespeare, not much is known about “Kinsmen.” Whose idea was it to adapt Chaucer? No one knows. When was it first produced? The first documented production was 1634, almost twenty years after Shakespeare’s death, but The Globe, Shakespeare’s home theater, famously burned in 1613, and if any production records existed, they were destroyed.
 
Who wrote what? Scholars have been working on that one for centuries. Analysis has included, according to Hallet Smith in “The Riverside Shakespeare", “metrical characteristics, vocabulary and word-compounding, incidence of certain contractions, kinds and uses of imagery and characteristic lines of certain types.” Never mind contributions from producers, editors and printers.
 
All of what McKim calls “informed speculation” has settled on general agreement that Shakespeare’s hand is most prevalent in the first and final acts (of five.) 
 
McKim observes that one of the more interesting themes layered over Chaucer’s original tale is homo-eroticism – women’s love for women, men’s love for men. 
 
“There are certainly those overtones in ‘Kinsmen,’” agrees Phillips. “Emilia has a tremendous scene where she discusses her female friend from childhood who died. She says that the love she felt for her was so strong that she believes she can never love again. 
 
“The kinsmen have a bro-mance, but they also throw each other under the bus when Emilia enters the picture.” 
 
Phillips believes “Kinsmen” “is served best by its more traditional fantastical setting.” And, “They reconcile in the end, which suggests that their bond is stronger than whatever feelings they were having for Emilia.” 
 
McKim adds one more intriguing hypothesis. The final bit of dialogue in “Kinsmen” may be the last Shakespeare wrote for the stage:
 
“Let us be thankful for that which is / …let’s go off, and bear us like the time.”
 
“Essentially,” McKim says,” he’s telling us to adjust to the time in which we live.”
 
Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts contributor
 
Photo: Matt Lytle as Palamon, Sara Clark as Emilia and Zach Schute as Arcite/provided
 
Information:
 
“The Two Noble Kinsmen,” May 2-25: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday May 2-25. Preview performances are on April 30 and May 1. 719 Race St., Downtown. Tickets $22-$35, previews $20. $14 student rush tickets (valid student ID required) may be purchased 30 minutes before performance as available. Ticketing fees may apply. 513-381-BARD (2273) ext. 1 and www.cincyshakes.comFor information about The Mercantile Library’s Canon Club, Click Here.