Our sense of the distinction between the “medieval” and the “early modern” is structured by two notions: that the early modern period is characterized by the death of a chivalric culture that is dominant in the medieval period; and that the early modern is distinguished from the medieval by its superior historical self-awareness. This essay reassesses these themes through a reading of Shakespeare and Fletcher's The Two Noble Kinsmen (1634). This is a play of knighthood and chivalric spectacle, adapted from Chaucer's Knight's Tale, which brings Chaucer on stage in the play's prologue. Reading the play through a tradition of “Theban” narratives that proliferated from antiquity through the Middle Ages shows that the representation of chivalric culture in The Two Noble Kinsmen constructs a vision of the past very different from how modern accounts distinguish between medieval and early modern cultures.

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