Hardly noticed in the reception of Harold Bloom's Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human several years ago was his hint that not The Tempest but The Two Noble Kinsmen makes an appropriate final accomplishment. On one level, the play is merely a stage adaptation of Chaucer's The Knight's Tale, with a rather crude couple of subplots thrown in, perhaps to please the commoners. In an undergraduate forum, I am less inclined to evaluate Fletcher's contribution as distinct from Shakespeare, but I do think the play important for how it is representative of many of the co-authored English Renaissance plays in the first few decades of the seventeenth century. I will argue that close study of what Shakespeare (and Shakespeare and Fletcher) did to their sources merits more appreciation as a fuller strategy for teaching Shakespeare. When we study how transformative Shakespeare was in adapting Boccaccio, Cinthio, Thomas Lodge and Robert Greene, we ask the right questions about how these plays achieve their goals. The added to Chaucer subplots in Two Noble Kinsmen contain, as David Bevington points out, echoes of a mad Ophelia, a pedantic Holofernes, a newly wedded Theseus and Hippolyta, rehearsals conducted in the Athenian woods, and the mismatched triangles of unrequited love typical of other Shakespearean comic plotting. In addition, just how drastically Shakespeare changed Chaucer's tone and time frame give us a whole different take on how passion becomes manipulated by higher powers. A few creative exercises, especially those asking students to write in the voices of characters who are arguing that they are the creations most original to Shakespeare, can be engaging for students stuck in today's jaded mentality of what is meaningful and lasting.
Gates, Joanne E. "Fun with Palamon and Arcite: Rationale and Strategies for Teaching The Two Noble Kinsmen as the Culmination of the Shakespearean Canon." Presentation at the PCAS / ACAS Conference Popular/American Culture of the South. Jacksonville FL, September 29, 2007.