The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA
The banished Valentine and Speed encounter a merry band of outlaws in the woods — ancestors to the Pirates of Penzance. Valentine explains that all he has are the clothes on his back. When asked how long he had “sojourn’d” in Milan, he says “sixteen months” (IV.i.20-21) — the same amount of time Oxford was abroad, mostly in northern Italy, in 1575-76 (Ogburn and Ogburn 973). Valentine claims to have “killed a man” (IV.i.27) — an odd insistence but one that arises in a number of plays, making one wonder about the potential autobiographical instance (Ogburn and Ogburn 120). These criminals are goofily honorable despite their former “petty crimes” (IV.i.50) such as murder or trying to woo a lady. One introduces himself and the reason for his banishment: “And I from Mantua, for a gentleman, / Who, in my mood, I stabb’d unto the heart” (IV.i.48-49). The outlaws are impressed with Valentine, especially because he is “A linguist” (IV.i.55)! So they elect him their leader, their “general” (IV.i.59), or “our commander and our king” (IV.i.65). Perhaps this reflects “Alençon’s joining the Flemings for the purpose of becoming their Prince” (Clark 313), or perhaps the outlaws are Oxford’s literary associates (Ogburn and Ogburn 977). In any case, they threaten to kill Valentine if he does not accept the position, but he does, “Provided that you do no outrages / On silly women or poor passengers.” “No, we detest such vile base practices” (IV.i.69-71), they assure him.
Proteus and Thurio visit Silvia’s window at night, Proteus using Thurio’s wooing as an excuse. “Yet, spaniel-like, the more she spurns my love, / The more it grows, and fawneth on her still” (IV.ii.14-15), remarks Proteus, anticipating Helena from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He sings the now somewhat famous lyric, probably “written as a compliment to Queen Elizabeth” (Clark 314), “Who is Silvia?” Despite the woman’s name at the head of this ditty, the song is “exceedingly unspecific and ideal,” unlike Launce and Speed’s itemizing of the features of the milkmaid (Garber 52). Meanwhile, Julia, disguised as a boy, has enlisted a Host to escort her to this scene — interestingly Chaucerian professional title since she earlier called this trip a “pilgrimage” (II.vii.30). She spies on these doings and, saying meaningful things about the music and its “change[s]” (IV.ii.69), is heartbroken to see Proteus wooing another woman. Thus “comedy and pathos come together with Mozartian felicity” (Wells 42).
Proteus and Thurio later will meet “At Saint Gregory’s well” (IV.ii.84). Perhaps this represents St. Généviève’s wall, where the escaped Alençon met Bussy d’Amboise for further flight plans (Clark 314-315; Ogburn and Ogburn 226). And/or perhaps there’s a reference to St. Gregory because his day is November 17th, the same as Queen Elizabeth’s day.
Silvia chides Proteus for being such a “perjur’d, false, disloyal man” (IV.ii.95) and insulting her by thinking she would be swayed by mere flattery. She wants nothing to do with him, “by this pale queen of night I swear” (IV.ii.100) — a clearer reference to Elizabeth (as Diana, the chaste moon). The pathos increases as Julia overhears Proteus declaring that she, Julia, is dead (IV.ii.105-106).
Sir Eglamour (apparently not the same one mentioned in I.ii., which suggests some revision) agrees to escort Silvia to Mantua to see Valentine. Since Eglamour’s “true-love died” (IV.iii.20) some time ago, he is moved by this commission.
“Proteus’ disloyalty to Julia is contrasted with Launce’s self-sacrificing fidelity to his dog, and his forgiveness of Crab’s deed” (Wells 44). Launce explains that Crab is “one that I brought up of a puppy; one that I sav’d from drowning, when three or four of his blind brothers and sisters went to it” (IV.iv.2-4). But Launce is upset with Crab for the dog’s unseemly behavior: pinching a chicken leg from Silvia’s dinner and peeing under the Duke’s table. Launce has altruistically taken the blame for the incident himself, and was whipped. And Launce has taken the blame for the dog’s crimes several times, it seems. Rather chivalric of him. Contrastingly, Proteus, who enters agreeing to employ Julia disguised as “Sebastian,” berates Launce for offering the hulking Crab as a gift to Silvia instead of the little dog Proteus had selected for her — a dog who has been stolen away.
Proteus sends Julia, disguised as the page, to give Silvia a ring — the one Julia had given him — in exchange for a picture of Silvia. This business of the important ring may have been inspired by Alençon’s gift of a ring worth 10,000 crowns to Elizabeth (Ogburn and Ogburn 224).
Silvia is disgusted since she knows the origin of the ring. She asks the “page” about Julia’s appearance: is she “fair”? “How tall was she?” (IV.iv.148, 157) — not unlike Cleopatra regarding Octavia (and hence Elizabeth regarding Mary Queen of Scots), but without the jealousy here. Julia agonizes over the picture, to which she compares herself, jealous but baffled. Silvia’s hair is auburn (IV.iv.189) and her eyes grey (IV.iv.192) — features of Queen Elizabeth (Clark 315; Ogburn and Ogburn 225). “She [Julia] and Launce are the only two people in the play prepared with open eyes to suffer and be humiliated for love” (Barton 179).