And Now You Are Metamorphosed with a Mistress

Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act II

Two Gentlemen is another play I had little knowledge of before this reading.  Now that I am through the second act, I wonder what took me so long.

As I said before, it’s a quick, fun, sharp, witty comedy – though the seven-scene second act takes a spicy twist.  If I haven’t recounted the plot yet, it’s because it seems to me that that’s what Cliff’s Notes are for (SPOILER ALERT: he says before immediately recounting the plot). 

It helps to know that the first act sets up the said gents as lifelong best friends at a moment when they are each heading in decidedly different directions: Valentine to make his way in the world by serving in the Duke’s court; and Proteus, to stay home to woo the girl of his dreams (thus far).

Proteus and Valentine are most unusual names for lead characters.  Having Valentine skewer Proteus for abandoning adventure to love is a nice ironic jab on Shakespeare’s part.  But I dare say that Proteus almost seems too on-the-nose as moniker’s go now that I’ve reached the second act and realize just how fickle his love turns out to be.  Proteus, protean, change.  And then there’s the many mentions of “metamorphoses,” one of the most famous and popular classical works by Ovid, the Latin Roman poet.

I should add erotic Roman poet and be more honest because let’s face it, Ovid was the Prince of his day – and many a night afterwards. 

Metamorphoses, however, properly belongs more in the realm of myth. I find it fascinating that it was one of Shakespeare’s favorite works.

So what is Shakespeare doing with a character called Proteus?  As mentioned in the previous post, he sets him out to woo the fair Julia, a woman who, despite some inner equivocation, apparently reciprocates the feeling.  But Proteus’s dad wishes for his son to end his idleness and learn a bit about the world like the good Valentine.  So off Proteus goes.  But not before exchanging rings and even a kiss with Julia, whom he swears to keep close within his heart.

Yeah, right.

In Act II, we soon learn that Valentine too has been bitten by the love bug.  Smitten with Silvia, a woman far enough above his station to refer to him as “servant,” he now suffers from the exact malady that he chided Proteus for just a short while ago.  No sooner does Proteus show up than the two friends share tales of their mutual courtships.  And of course Proteus is not about to let Valentine off easy.

But a curious thing happens to Proteus.  He takes one gander at Silvia and he too falls for her.  This creates a multi-level problem for Proteus, a sticky situation he is quite well aware of.  What about his avowed love for Julia?  What about the bond with his best friend, Valentine?  Is he willing to heave them both overboard and create havoc by pursuing the girl when he knows full well that Valentine has his heart set on her?

Houston, we have a situation!  For rather than back off, Proteus decides to proceed anyway, come what may.  Worse, takes it a step further by actively interfering in what he knows are Valentine and Silvia’s plans to run away together and be married.

Unknown to him, however, Julia has also decided on a major new course of action.  Pining for her beloved, she plans to disguise herself as a page (funny bit about needing a codpiece) and journeying off to be reunited – or united, since they’ve hardly been together – with Proteus.

As I start Act III, I am reminded of soap-opera cliffhangers.  “Tune in tomorrow for another exciting episode of As the World Turns.”

I know it’s a comedy and will likely end well. But you have to admit there’s a dark, almost sinister element to this.  I’m hoping that Valentine somehow ends up with Julia and – what would be the best outcome for Proteus?  How will he deal when Julia arrives in disguise and sees the reality of his traitorous affections?

It’s a hot mess.  A train wreck.

And absolutely “must-see” TV!


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