Washington State University
Lodwick, the King’s secretary, realizes that Edward is interested in the Countess, based on his witnessing of the King’s behavior when meeting her.
If she did blush, ’twas tender modest shame,
Being in the sacred presence of a king;
If he did blush, ’twas red immodest shame,
To vail his eyes amiss, being a king….
He despairs: “Then Scottish wars farewell: I fear ’twill prove / A ling’ring English seige of peevish love” (II.i.22-23) The King comes in speaking the praises of the Countess’ eloquence. First, she can do dead-on impressions of David and the Scots. Then,
When she would talk of peace, methinks her tongue
Commanded war to prison; when of war
It waken’d Caesar from his Roman grave
To hear war beautified by her discourse.
Edward asks Lodwick for ink and paper, then realizes, “This fellow is well read in poetry, / And hath a lusty and pervasive spirit: / I will acquaint him with my passion” (II.i.53-55). He suggests they go to an arbor: “Since green our thoughts, green be the conventicle” (II.i.63). The King enlists Lodwick’s aid in composing a love poem so effective as to “make the flint-heart Scythian pitiful” (II.i.72):
For if the touch of sweet concordant strings
Could force attendance in the ears of hell,
How much more shall the strains of poet’s wit
Beguile and ravish soft and humane minds?
“Oxfordians, like many traditionalists, believe that secretarial dictation played a significant role in the creation of Shakespeare’s works, and this scene may provide us with a glimpse into that process as King ‘Edward’ (de Vere?) struggles to both find the right words and make sure his transcriber gets things correct” (Farina 112). But The Two Gentlemen of Verona also may be giving us evidence that Elizabeth had Oxford do some writing on her behalf too. And Edward exudes further about the Countess being represented as “Of such estate, that hers is as a throne, / And my estate the footstool where she treads” (II.i.101-102).
Edward considers tropes comparing her voice to music or the nightingale to be cliché. In fact, he pontificates so much that Lodwick gets only two lines down, and Edward finds numerous faults with those. First, “More fair and chaste than is the queen of shades” (II.i.141) — referring to Cynthia, the moon goddess. Next, “More bold in constancy … than Judith was” (II.i.168-169) — a reference to the Old Testament heroine who managed to murder the Assyrian general Holofernes!
The Countess enters and Edward pitches woo, first preying on her concern for his mood and then getting her to swear to do whatever she can to help him. But the Countess works a kind of jujitsu on his verbal advances, and she also remarks, “But that your lips were sacred, my lord, / You would profane the holy name of love” (II.i.249-250), and “In violating marriage’ sacred law / You break a greater honor than yourself” (II.i.260-261). She departs, and Edward continues obsessing:
O that I were a honey-gathering bee
To bear the comb of virtue from this flower,
And not a poison-sucking envious spider
To turn the juice I take to deadly venom!
Edward then finagles and pulls rank on Warwick to force him to persuade her, his own daughter, to become the King’s mistress.
Warwick is naturally distraught, but he decides, “it is my duty to persuade, / But not her honesty to give consent” (II.i.365-366). When his daughter the Countess returns, he hems and haws: “I am not Warwick, as thou think’st I am, / But an attorney from the court of hell” (II.i.380-381). Regarding the effect of her beauty on the King, “The poets write, that great Achilles’ spear / Could heal the wound it made” (II.i.392-393). The Countess is rightly dismayed at her father and the situation: “Hath he no means to stain my honest blood / But to corrupt the author of my blood / To be his scandalous and vile solicitor?” (II.i.415-417). She is resolutely chaste, much to the relief of Warwick: “An honorable grave is more esteem’d / Than the polluted closet of a king” (II.i.432-433). In a diatribe about moral extremes, most interesting is the line: “Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds” (II.ii.451). This identical line serves as the last line in Sonnet 94 (Ogburn and Ogburn 897n)!
Derby, having returned from the continent, reports to Audley that the Emperor is backing the King against France, but the two fret about the King’s mood lately. Edward enters and Derby presents him with letters from the Emperor, while Edward makes side-comments in which he wishes it were the Countess granting his desires. He even slips up, mentioning the Countess aloud by accident. He renders anti-drum sentiments, wishing for the music of love rather than that of war: “Go, bid the drummer learn to touch the lute” (II.ii.57). And he indulges in a punning “arms” conceit.
The drumming is actually accompanying the arrival of Prince Edward, and the boy’s resemblance to his mother the Queen strikes the King with some degree of guilt: “Shall the large limit of fair Brittany / By me be overthrown; and shall I not / Master this little mansion of myself?” (II.ii.94-96). But news of the Countess seeking an audience with him immediately makes Edward think of his wife as foul as compared to the Countess and turns his thoughts away from war: “The sin is more to hack and hew poor men / Than to embrace in an unlawful bed” (II.ii.113-114).
The Countess claims to be willing to succumb to lust but for the couple of impediments — their respective spouses: “It is their lives that stand between our love / That I would have chok’d up, my sovereign” (II.ii.139-140). Edward will have to murder his wife, and Salisbury must die too. She even whips out two daggers for the deeds. But soon she kneels and threatens instead her own suicide on the spot. Edward is instantly ashamed and states that he is “awakened from this idle dream” (II.ii.199) — he will never mention this “suit” again and praises the Countess’ savvy:
Arise, true English lady, whom our isle
May better boast of than ever Roman might
Of her, whose ransack’d treasury hath task’d
The vain endeavor of so many pens.
He’s referring to Lucrece. He immediately and energetically makes battle plans.