“I am not against your faith yet I continue mine”: Virginal Vocation in The Two Noble Kinsmen


Valerie Voight


In the first act of William Shakespeare and John Fletcher’s The Two Noble Kinsmen (ca. 1614), Emilia offers a striking defense of virginity and female community over and against Hippolyta’s praise of marriage. While critics have explored the political and homoerotic connotations of Emilia’s defense of virginity, less attention has been paid to the religious resonance of their debate. Her devotion to Diana evokes not only the pagan past depicted in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale, but also the play’s medieval heritage. Emilia’s sworn virginity, coded in her response to Hippolyta as “faith,” gestures toward the medieval figure of the celibate nun, and the uneasy emphasis on marriage in The Two Noble Kinsmen reflects a cultural discomfort with vocation of votaress. Alongside her counterpart, the Jailer’s Daughter, Emilia embodies the tension surrounding the post-Reformation vocation of godly womanhood and the redefinition of chastity to privilege marriage.

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