The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA
“Now the action speeds up bewilderingly” (Asimov 472). Eglamour waits for Silvia at Friar Patrick’s cell. “She will not fail, for lovers break not hours, / Unless it be to come before their time, / So much they spur their expedition” (V.i.4-6). Silvia arrives, worried that she’s being followed. The forest, though, is only a few leagues off from where they are: a landmark that seems to be the Abbey St. Ambrose (Farina 28).
Proteus critiques Thurio’s wooing, amid s(n)ide comments from Julia. There is some initial talk of Thurio’s legs (V.ii.4ff), perhaps because Hatton apparently caught Elizabeth’s attention with his. The Duke brings news of Silvia’s running away: a Friar Laurence (V.ii.37) witnessed Silvia and Eglamour in the forest. They will all head towards Mantua in pursuit, Thurio “more to be reveng’d on Eglamour / Than for the love of reckless Silvia” (V.ii.51-52).
Mention of mountains (V.ii.46), vs. the forest in the first scene (V.i.11), is another apparent contradiction that has been attributed to Shakespeare’s topographical carelessness regarding what was long considered the Italian route he is referring to; but there’s another route from Milan, and the proximity of the two features — mountains and forests — is “not scarce along this northern land route near the lake district” (Farina 27).
Silvia has just been captured by the outlaws and is to be taken to their leader (whom she does not know is Valentine). When the outlaws attacked, we hear, Sir Eglamour bravely ran away — he’s not so noble after all.
Prefiguring the Duke in As You Like It, Valentine ruminates on his sylvan situation and the hermit impulse:
How use doth breed a habit in a man!
This shadowy desert, unfrequented woods,
I better brook than flourishing peopled towns….
He considers his charge: “They love me well; yet I have much to do / To keep them from uncivil outrages” (V.iv.16-17). He hears people coming and hides. Proteus, Silvia, and the disguised Julia appear. Proteus may be chasing after Silvia, insisting that he has saved her from one who “would have forc’d your honor and your love” (V.iv.22). He also insists that she is happy to have been rescued by him, though she claims that she would rather have been eaten by a lion (V.iv.33f). Silvia is still chiding him for being a false friend, but Proteus demands that Silvia love him. She remains steadfast: “solicit me no more” (V.iv.40). A poem featuring the line “Importune me no more” was ascribed to Queen Elizabeth but is actually an “E.O.” poem — one by the Earl of Oxford composed in Elizabeth’s perspective (Ogburn and Ogburn 819). So the love letter that Silvia had Valentine write ostensibly to another lover but which was actually designed for him, by him (II.i.), may also have autobiographical significance.
At Silvia’s refusal to consider him, Proteus threatens rape:
Nay, if the gentle spirit of moving words
Can no way change you to a milder form,
I’ll woo you like a soldier, at arm’s end,
And love you ‘gainst the nature of love — force ye.
. . . I’ll force thee yield to my desire.
Needless to say, this is the start of the biggest critical crux of the play. [Perhaps the pattern of Alençon parallels helps explain the moment. In 1581, after having been strung along for years by Elizabeth, Alençon took a stance: “If I cannot get you for my wife by fair means and affection, I must do so by force, for I will not leave this country without you” (qtd. in Ogburn and Ogburn 226).]
Valentine “with resounding sanctimony” (Wells 45) confronts them and laments that he will never trust his former friend again. Proteus immediately apologizes and Valentine immediately forgives him — “Then I am paid; / And once again I do receive thee honest” (V.iv.77-78) — while Silvia, interestingly, remains silent: “What is the actress playing Silvia supposed to do with herself during the final hundred lines of The Two Gentlemen of Verona?” (Bloom 39). Even more disturbing, Valentine essentially hands over Silvia to Proteus: “All that was mine in Silvia I give thee” (V.iv.83).
Julia faints and at first claims it is because of her despair at not delivering the ring as instructed, but her identity is discovered because of the rings. With a ring exchange, Julia and Proteus are quickly reconciled: “What is in Silvia’s face, but I may spy / More fresh in Julia’s with a constant eye?” (V.iv.114-115). Proteus, then, “renounces the implications of his name” (Wells 45), although one might note the subtle arbitrariness in his reversion to Julia. In some regards, one senses, any woman will do. Proteus is happy for his restored friend: “Bear witness, heaven, I have my wish for ever” (V.iv.119) — for E.Ver? Unfortunately, “the blithe confidence of these victorious ‘two gentlemen’ lacks any sense of the real dangers they have passed” (Garber 56).
Thurio, the Duke, and others arrive. There’s another textual oddity in a reference to Verona that should read Milan (V.iv.129). Thurio claims Silvia; Valentine says no; and Thurio says okay, he doesn’t want her. The Duke is disgusted with Thurio and is somehow impressed with Valentine, now considering him “worthy of an empress’ love” (V.iv.141). “Take thou thy Silvia” (V.iv.147), he says. Valentine requests amnesty for all the outlaws, who, after all, are “endu’d with worthy qualities” (V.iv.153). “They are reformed, civil, full of good, / And fit for great employment” (V.iv.156-157). Amnesty is immediately granted, and we all trot off to discuss the fascinating events and get married.
Please you, I’ll tell you as we pass along,
That you will wonder what hath fortuned.
Come, Proteus, ’tis your penance but to hear
The story of your loves discovered;
That done, our day of marriage shall be yours,
One feast, one house, one mutual happiness.
The same critic who can praise this play at least for its “tender tolerance of the follies of first love” (Wells 40) can also register his dissatisfaction in this diagnosis: “Shakespeare is too obviously manipulating his characters … without fully articulating the emotions his characters are required to undergo” (Wells 45-46). It may be taking Shakespeare too religiously. What if “The play is a kind of love cartoon” satirizing the “glorious banality in love thoughts” (Garber 44)?
Critics naturally have trouble with the last scene in which a nasty cad and would-be rapist is summarily forgiven. Indeed, when the last scene is played as deep heart-wrenching emotional tragedy, as I’ve always seen it done, it doesn’t work. The absurdity cannot be ignored. Goddard, almost always on the mark, insists that Shakespeare intended a tongue-in-cheek (I 43) burlesque, an ironical send-up of “gentlemanliness.” That makes sense. After all, Launce, who recognizes his master as a “knave,” is more chivalric to his dog than any of the supposed “gentlemen” are towards anything (Goddard, I 44-45).
Oxfordians find in the two gentlemen “alter egos of the author” (Anderson 126), perhaps with Valentine representing the courtier and idealist side of de Vere, and Proteus the darker, creative side (Ogburn and Ogburn 971). Interestingly, “Proteus and Valentine are each at their most virile and impressive as writers” (Anderson 126). In Silvia, the play “also features the daughter of the most powerful man in the land, a representation of de Vere’s wife Anne” (Anderson 126), though it makes more sense to align Anne with Julia, somewhat plucky but long-suffering and spurned for a while, like Helena in All’s Well who also traipses after the young unworthy beloved.
The allegory inevitably leads to Elizabeth, and once again, “You can no more separate Lord Oxford from a close relationship to Elizabeth than you can separate Shakespeare from the age to which she gave her name” (Ogburn and Ogburn 980). Allusions to the Queen cluster around Silvia. At one stage of the evolution of the play through however many revisions, the Alençon traces make sense, along with the indications of French scenes. As with the transformation from The Taming of a Shrew to The Taming of the Shrew, the location was shifted to Italy, and perhaps when the word-play on Verona (Ona-Ver) occurred to de Vere, he changed the cities to capitalize on the potential title — hence all the remaining errors of city misidentification in the First Folio.
If we wonder how anyone in Elizabeth’s Court could have had the effrontery to write of matters so directly concerned with her life as these plays, my answer is that the Earl of Oxford was an “allowed fool”; that is, he was permitted to say such things because the Queen was not only amused by them, but believed she got the truth through them…. (Clark 315)