During a war waged by Theseus of Athens against Thebes, two Theban cousins, Palamon and Arcite are captured and imprisoned. Their lifelong friendship is disrupted when first Palamon, then Arcite, sees and instantly falls in love with Emilia, sister to Theseus' wife Hippolyta. Meanwhile their jailer's daughter has fallen in love with Palamon. When Arcite is freed and exiled, she helps Palamon escape. Lost, knowing the hopelessness of her love and fearing the consequences of her actions, she goes mad. Palamon and Arcite’s conflict over Emilia is resolved by Theseus' decree that the two will fight a public duel; the winner will receive the hand of Emilia; the loser will be executed.