The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA
In Milan, Speed recovers a glove for Valentine. [De Vere brought back gloves from Italy for Elizabeth, notes Ogburn (521).] Then “Speed offers Valentine a cheeky send-up of his behaviour as a lover” (Wells 43); he ribs Valentine about seeming to have been “metamorphis’d” by love (II.i.30) — it’s a textbook case, according to the litany of symptoms recited by Speed, but perhaps “dated” and “stilted” to modern audiences (Wells 43). Speed insists on the subjectivity of love, in effect insulting Silvia while dismissing the validity of Valentine’s assessment of the lady: “these follies are within you, and shine through you like the water in an urinal, that not an eye that sees you but is a physician to comment on your malady” (II.i.38-41).
Silvia arrives, and she and Valentine discuss a letter that Valentine has ostensibly written to a “nameless friend” of hers (II.i.105), but Speed realizes that this is a trumped-up chore and Silvia is just using text as an excuse for contact. She gives the love-text back to Valentine, who is slow to catch on to Silvia’s ruse despite Speed’s explanation: that she, “fearing else some messenger, that might her mind discover, / Herself hath taught her love himself to write unto her lover” (II.i.167-168). So, Shakespeare’s “tendency to hand over most of the initiative and just judgment to the women in his cast of characters was already marked” (Barton 179). I also question even more the authorship of the poetry Elizabeth supposedly wrote to Alençon.
E.T. Clark perceives this scene as a translation from what was originally French (309; cf. Ogburn and Ogburn 224), and the case is convincing: “Yes, yes” and “Ay, ay” (II.i.123, 126) are less likely in English than equivalents of the French “Oui, oui.” “S’il vous plait” becomes the odd “Please you” (II.i.128); and the awkward “so” (II.i.131) comes from a common French usage of “bien.” If the scene was originally written in French, what is the significance of this?
Proteus prepares to leave Verona and, in an emotional scene, exchanges remembrance rings with Julia. They “seal the bargain with a holy kiss” (II.ii.7). Proteus vows his undying love: “And when that hour o’erslips me in the day / Wherein I sigh not, Julia, for thy sake, / The next ensuing hour some foul mischance / Torment me for my love’s forgetfulness!” (II.ii.9-12). (But his name is Proteus!) Reference to the “tide” (II.ii.14f) is another traditionally identified error of Shakespeare’s, but the flood levels on the Veronese canals indeed rose and fell rapidly (Magri, cited in Farina 28). Antonio’s servant Panthino shoos Proteus along — the ship is waiting.
Proteus’ servant, Launce — who may be an “afterthought, imperfectly welded into [the] plot (Barton 177) — comes on the scene with a few malapropisms: instead of Prodigal Son, “prodigious son” (II.iii.3-4); instead of Emperor’s, “Imperial’s” (II.iii.5). Many of Shakespeare’s comic characters are guilty of malapropisms and have trouble with language. Launce has similarly undergone a leave-taking from his own family, but he is exasperated that his dog, Crab, is not emotional about it. Some humorous stage business — proto-stand-up comedy — has Launce trying to replicate the scene with his shoes representing his parents and his stick as his sister. [Is the white staff (II.iii.19-20) an allusion to the staff of the Lord Great Chamberlain?] Then, for the sake of supposed further illustration:
I am the dog — no, the dog is himself, and I am the dog — O! the dog is me, and I am myself; ay, so, so.
“Launce’s inability to distinguish between himself and the dog … pokes fun at the identity crises [esp. II.vi.] of his master, Proteus” (Garber 54). Hence we have “the hapless Launce, a true Shakespearean clown, who speaks in malapropisms, and whose inadvertent language seems to know more ‘truth’ than he does” (Garber 52).
Panthino arrives to hurry Launce along. Worry about the “tide” (II.iii.36) occurs again (see II.ii.15). A virtually unintegrated exchange introduces more bawdry:
Panthino: Why dost thou stop my mouth?
Launce: For fear thou shouldst lose thy tongue.
Panthino: Where should I lose my tongue?
Launce: In thy tale.
Panthino: In thy tail!
The same gag is used, to better effect since we have a stake in the verbal battle of the characters, in The Taming of the Shrew (II.i).
Silvia sparks a verbal fight between Valentine and a rival suitor, the ninnie Thurio (similar to Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night and others). Silvia credits them with “A fine volley of words, gentlemen, and quickly shot off” (II.iv.33f) — a compliment perhaps too often the whole aesthetic of this play. That Thurio has to “borrow his wit” (II.iv.38) has been taken as another connection to Christopher Hatton (Ogburn and Ogburn 181), although it applies well to Philip Sidney too.
Silvia’s father, the Duke of Milan (what? not Emperor?), announces the arrival of Proteus and Valentine goes into raptures about his friend’s worth: “I knew him as myself” (II.iv.62). The Duke says that if reports are true, “He is as worthy for an empress’ love / As meet to be an emperor’s counsellor” (II.iv.76-77). So how do we account for the inconsistency in this ruler’s title? More unpolished revision? Additionally, Milan had been colonial and was long a Spanish stronghold. At the time of Oxford’s visit in the mid-1570s, a Spanish “Duke” indeed ruled the city. “Shake-speare’s Duke of Milan reveals his nationality when he addresses his colleagues using the Spanish honorific ‘Don’ [e.g., II.iv.54]” (Anderson 106).
The two — Valentine and Proteus — reunite and exchange pleasantries. Valentine admits that he has been made a convert to Love and has done some “penance” “With bitter fasts and penitential groans” (II.iv.129-131). Like Palamon and Arcite (in Two Noble Kinsmen and Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale), Valentine and Proteus briefly clash over whether Silvia is “a heavenly saint” or “an earthy paragon” (II.iv.145-146). Valentine compromises: “if not divine, / Yet let her be a principality, / Sovereign to all the creatures on the earth” (II.iv.151-153) — a sort of political angel (and one detects a compliment to Queen Elizabeth). But all this is moot. Since Silvia’s father prefers Thurio, “Only for his possessions are so huge” (II.iv.175), Valentine plans to elope with Silvia:
Ay, and we are betroth’d: nay more, our marriage hour
With all the cunning manner of our flight
Determin’d of — how I must climb her window,
The ladder made of cords, and all the means
Plotted and ‘greed on for my happiness.
The plan to escape out a window with the help of a ladder has been identified as referring to Alençon’s flight from the Louvre where he was imprisoned by the Queen Mother Catherine de Medici and Henry III. This escape took place on February 14th (Valentine‘s Day), 1578 (Clark 311-313).
When Valentine leaves, Proteus reveals in a soliloquy that he is smitten with Silvia now too. This is sudden! Are we to believe that it is simply the chaotic force of love at first sight? It has sometimes been explained by the concept of “mimetic desire” — “a desire arising in imitation of another’s desire” (Garber 44); hence, Proteus asks himself, “Is it mine eye, or Valentinus’ praise … That makes me reasonless, to reason thus?” (II.iv.196-198). He will pursue Silvia:
She is fair; and so is Julia that I love
(That I did love, for now my love is thaw’d,
Which like a waxen impression ‘gainst a fire
Bears no impression of the thing it was).
Thus is he proved a “protean cad” (Bloom 36).
If I can check my erring love, I will;
If not, to compass her I’ll use my skill.
Speed welcomes Launce to Padua. Padua? The First Folio refers to Padua (II.v.2) erroneously, instead of Milan (Farina 26), perhaps more evidence of unpolished revision. In their rude interchange that sometimes resembles Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on first” skit, Launce says that Proteus and Julia are betrothed: “they are both as whole as a fish” (II.v.19): a colloquial Italian expression not covered in the syllabus of the Stratford grammar school. The two head for the alehouse.
With disturbing dismissiveness, Proteus resolves in another soliloquy to betray both friend and lover by pursuing Silvia. He intends to tell the Duke that Silvia and Valentine are planning to elope. That should get Valentine booted. Then there should be no problem in the final elimination round against Thurio. Proteus claims that the fair Silvia “Shows Julia but a swarthy Ethiope” (II.vi.26). He is darkening her as he rationalizes his base plan.
Julia asks Lucetta’s advice about travelling to see Proteus. She won’t be dissuaded, and decides to disguise herself as a page to “prevent / The loose encounters of lascivious men” (II.vii.41). The convention here perhaps “carries no conviction at all” (Asimov 469). In any case, “The reference to the codpiece as a pincushion [II.vii.56] is Lucetta’s wry way of saying that Julia will have nothing inside to interfere with that use. It may also be a sardonic reference to men who use so much stuffing that pins may safely be stuck in it” (Asimov 469). Praising Proteus to the heavens, Julia leaves to Lucetta “My goods, my lands, my reputation” (II.vii.87).