The Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare
Early in Two Gentlemen of Verona, a character refers to a shallow tale of deep love, but the play he himself inhabits is something worse, at least where the affection of these two gentlemen are concerned: it is a shallow tale of shallow love.
Proteus shifts his love from one woman to another as quickly as he changes cities, and Valentine is prepared to give up the woman he loves to his friend Proteus, a person who has betrayed his trust and threatened his beloved with rape, all because Proteus tenders a perfunctory apology only after he is caught in the act.
Through all of this, the gentlewomen Julia and Sylvia persist in loving their unworthy men with surprisingly little protest. These four well-born characters are so poorly developed--little more than sketches, really--that their shallowness and odd behavior seem more the fault of poor dramaturgy than a commentary on upper-class manners and morals. (Some critics think this play may be Shakespeares first effort, and I am inclined to think they may be right.)
And yet . . . and yet . . . theres a lot here to like if youre a fan of Shakespearean comedy. All the elements of the classic Shakespearean comic romance are here: topsy-turvy loves, a girl dressed as a boy, comic suitors, a lovely song, a fairy tale forest inhabited by unusual beings (in this case a bunch of Robin Hood types) where surprising things happen, and a pat (perhaps too pat) happy ending. And then, of course, there are the clowns.
Launce, the principal clown of Two Gentlemen of Verona is the best thing in the play. He is so sweet toward his dog Crab and so practical in his views on the choice of a mate that he puts all the upper-class characters to shame. He lingers in our memory long after the two shallow gentlemen of Verona and their unfortunate loves have departed. And--even though this is an early play--I cannot keep from harboring the suspicion that Launce was created to do exactly this: to place the gentlemen of the title in ironic quotations and reveal Proteus and Valentine for the empty suits they are.
Two Gentlemen of Verona Summary
All rights reserved. Act 1, Scene 1. Valentine is taking a gap year to travel, and he wants Proteus to throw some jeans and sneak Julia is lounging around her garden having a little girl talk with her woman in waiting, Lucetta. The big question?
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From the SparkNotes Blog
The primary theme addressed in Shakespeare's The Two Gentlemen of Verona is the conflict between loyalty to friends and submission to passion. While the play ultimately aligns itself with the tradition of espousing one side of the debate the reestablishment of the friendship between Valentine and Proteus leads to a resolution of the non-platonic relationships , the moral twists and turns that each character takes in order to reach the drama's unlikely conclusion involve a host of other themes. Additionally, by writing a play about friendship versus love, the young bard was entering into a debate with writers who, at the time, were more established than he--namely, Chaucer, Lyly and Francis Bacon.
The ending of Two Gentlemen of Verona is one of the most bizarre and disturbing endings that we've ever read. After Valentine puts a stop to Proteus's attempted rape of Silvia, Valentine does something obnoxious — he yells at Proteus for being a lousy friend but says nothing about Proteus's violation of Silvia. Proteus apologizes immediately and then, in a gesture of good will, Valentine says, "All that was mine in Silvia I give thee" 5. Most critics interpret this line to mean that Valentine is offering to "give" Silvia to his friend as a peace offering that will secure Valentine's friendship with Proteus. Read this way, the play would seem to champion male friendship above all other relationships — especially heterosexual romance. This is certainly what happens in one of Shakespeare's major sources for Two Gentlemen. In the story of Titus and Gisippus related first by Boccaccio and later retold in Thomas Elyot's Book of the Governor , Gisippus gives his best friend, Titus, the woman he is supposed to marry after Titus falls in love with her Book Named the Governor , 2.