‘Tis a Woman, But What Woman I Will Not Tell

Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act III

The arc of the play is starting to look familiar.  This morning I remembered the Aesop fable about the dog and his reflection, a moral tale of risking something great to obtain something appearing even greater, only to end up with nothing at all (but regret).

In case my recap doesn’t jog your memory, here’s the gist from YouTube:

I can’t help thinking that Shakespeare based Proteus on the timeless fable.  But this is mere speculation because I don’t even know how the plot plays out yet . 

We’ve officially reached that point in the journey where it looks like the villain’s best-laid plans will come true. In so doing, however, Proteus has violated two sacred oaths in quest of what he perceives to be the big prize: 1) he double-crossed his best friend, exposing Valentine’s plot to run away with Silvia under cover of darkness 2) he broke a solemn oath he gave to Julia sealed with “True Love’s Kiss” (to borrow a memorable riff from the movie Enchanted).  He hopes now to court the grieving Silvia and win her – but I don’t see how this can possibly turn out well for him.

Maybe, if Shakespeare really wanted an over-the-top happy ending, Valentine will end up with Julia and Proteus with Silvia.  But that would mean rewarding Proteus for an odious moral breach. Proteus’s greed creates three victims where there ought to be four triumphant lovers.  Instead of celebrating Silvia and Valentine along with Julia and himself, now he has paved the way to a tragic personal scenario and a happy resolution of some sort for the others – with Valentine ending up in a threesome.  Otherwise, one girl gets left out – unless, of course, Proteus truly screws up and pushes Silvia into the hands of that unloved rival.

I’m spinning like on a Friday night at one of those rom-coms were you feel pretty certain halfway through how things will resolve just before the credits.  Now it’s only a question of how bad things will get for Proteus – and who Valentine will hook up with.

Lest the play become too predictable, Shakespeare has thrown the audience a curve ball with the creation of Launce, a kind of proto-Hal or Falstaff.  I have no idea what this fellow is doing in the story save to serve as the chorus or clown.  His presence doesn’t effect the plot in any discernible way – at least not yet.  He does have a dog and a dog is always good for laughs in a comedy.  Both he and the dog have some of the funniest lines.

The dialogue is rife with verbal volleyball and complex wordplay.  Both Launce and Speed, Valentine’s assistant, take particular pleasure in bending words backwards, pushing and pulling their meanings inside out.  It heightens the slapstick in what I’ve already mentioned is a comedy with rather dark metaphysical undertones.

Proteus has taken it upon himself to manipulate truth to serve his self-interest.  When you boil that down, there is very little except degree to separate him from Iago.  That alone tells me that things are not looking good where he’s concerned.

Maybe in the sequel.


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