Chaucer’s Jailer’s Daughter: Character and Source in
The Two Noble Kinsmen

Abstract

In Shakespeare and Fletcher’s Two Noble Kinsmen, the Jailer’s Daughter appears to have little connection to Chaucer, the play’s named “noble breeder.” Only a single line in The Knight’s Tale offers a corresponding figure for her: the anonymous “freend” who helps Palamon escape prison. This essay argues, however, that her relationship to Chaucer extends far beyond this task. Through the insertion of her character, Shakespeare and Fletcher repurpose The Knight’s Tale and its competing responses in the First Fragment of The Canterbury Tales. As with The Miller’s Tale and The Reeve’s Tale, the Jailer’s Daughter contests Arcite and Palamon’s myth of courtly love, “quiting” their story by rewriting Chaucer’s own methods. Chaucer’s persistent water imagery—from the overflowing “teeres” that threaten the Knight’s chivalric romance, to the “pisse,” wet “nether ye,” and imagined flood of the village stories—swells in the “moped” Jailer’s Daughter: she drinks only water, attempts to drown herself, and madly envisions leaks and shipwrecks. As the leaky woman reenacting the strategies of Chaucer’s collection, her character “swims” in Chaucer’s “deep water,” to borrow the prologue’s phrasing. More than simply reprising Chaucerian patterns, Shakespeare and Fletcher refigure their source through the Jailer’s Daughter.


Essay