Year of the Bard: The Two Gentlemen of Verona

That man that hath a tongue, I say is not man, if with his tongue he cannot win a woman – William Shakespeare

Next on my list of Year of the Bard is The Two Gentlemen of Verona.  This is one I had heard very little about.  I’m pretty sure I know why it’s not readily read in schools.   It would be like watching Judd Apatow’s dirtiest film in grade school.

Seriously though, Judd, you should consider making this one.  It’s right up your alley.

I don’t know if I’ve laughed out loud so much reading Shakespeare than when I read this play (most of it).  It’s very slapstick – perhaps the most of all the plays I’ve read so far, but it’s also got great wordplay (most of it).   One of my favourite lines:

Tut, man, I mean thou’lt lose the flood and, in

losing the flood, lose they voyage, and, in losing

thy voyage, lose thy master, and, in losing thy

master, lose thy service, and, in losing thy

service, –Why dost though stop my mouth?

That’s just a little sample of what you’d expect from this play.

The subject matter however, gives people pause.  Many think this play is one of Shakespeare’s first, and it is in this play he plays around with different themes he’ll go on to use quite successfully, such as women cross dressing.

 The Sum-Up:

Valentine and Proteus, are the mentioned Gentlemen.  Proteus is a lover, Valentine is not.  Valentine travels abroad, leaving Proteus behind with Julia, who Proteus loves, but Julia is reluctant to return the emotion.  Proteus joins Valentine in Milan, but not before exchanging rings with Julia.  Lo and behold, Valentine has fallen in love with Silvia.  Thurio also loves Silvia, but he ain’t no thing.  Proteus takes one look at Silvia (who is kept under strict watch by her father) and falls in love with her, forgetting Julia.  Julia has not forgotten Proteus, and wants to meet up with him in Milan.  She dresses like a pageboy so as not to be accosted on the journey.  Proteus tells Silvia’s father that Valentine intends to break her out, leading Silvia’s father to banish Valentine.  Julia, dressed as the pageboy Sebastian, arrives in Milan and is soon employed by Proteus.  Silvia believes Valentine to be dead.  Julia has to give the ring she gave Proteus to Silvia.  Silvia doesn’t believe Valentine is dead, so she escapes.  She runs into outlaws, and is taken captive.  Proteus and Sebastian follow, and Silvia is rescued.  Valentine is the leader of the outlaws and is able to see Proteus try to convince Silvia of his love, but she will have none of it.  Proteus then insinuates that he’ll force himself on her, and that’s when Valentine intervenes.  Proteus suddenly feels terrible.  Valentine forgives him and offers Silvia to him.  Julia faints, which proves she’s a girl, because of course, boys don’t faint.  Enter Thurio, but Valentine threatens him, and Thurio runs away, renouncing his love for Silvia.  Valentine and Silva are married, as are Proteus and Julia.

You can guess the point where I became a little unimpressed.  Proteus reminded me a little of Romeo, easily swayed in the love department.  And knowing how Valentine felt about Silvia, ignored the bro code, and schemed to get his best friend banished so he could get the girl – even though the girl he mooned over

 He after honour hunts, I after love:

He leaves his friends to dignify them more,

I leave myself, my friends and all, for love.

Thou, Julia, thou hast metamorphosed me,

Made me neglect my studies, lose my time,

Ware with good counsel, set the world at nought;

Made wit with musing weak, heart sick with thought.

was waiting for him.

Then there’s the whole, “no, don’t rape her, here have her” moment between the men.  Judd, if you do end up filming this play, maybe rework this part.  I’m honestly surprised that the man who goes on to write women so well, would have this in his repertoire.  I wonder how it was received when it was first performed.  Women certainly weren’t as well respected as they generally are today, but with such a strong woman leading the country, I couldn’t image her sitting back and laughing during this part.  Especially a woman who defied everyone telling her to get married and pregnant to save the country.  (Although, I do wonder if part of her expected to live forever and was a little bit of a control freak).

It’s disappointing when a book, or a film, or a play that has you for ¾ of the story loses you in the last quarter, but that’s what happened with these two guys – gentlemen they ain’t!  I also think that we shouldn’t run from a play like this.  We can’t sweep this under the rug because we don’t like the subject matter and forget he wrote about this.  Why did he write this?  Was he testing the comedic water?  Did he crash and burn?  Did people genuinely enjoy this type of degrading humour?  Did he learn his lesson and is that why most of his women later portrayed in his comedies are intelligent and strong?

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