Archive for the Two Gentlemen of Verona Category

How Like a Dream Is This

Posted in Two Gentlemen of Verona on 2014/03/07 by mattermind

Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act V

As I finished Act IV, I couldn’t help but notice that there weren’t many pages left in the play.  How will Shakespeare resolve all these loose ends? I wondered.

Mostly I wanted to know if comedic tradition would hold and somehow the plot would turn out happily ever after.  I didn’t see how it could be possible, what with the pain and heartache that Proteus had caused.

Alas, I underestimated Shakespeare’s ability to pull a rabbit out of a hat.  And I have to say, the resolution left me more than a little unsatisfied, since Valentine’s noble gesture of forgiveness comes after a paltry five lines of “I’m sorry. Forgive me.” Right on the heels of catching him about to take Silvia by physical violence!

Here are the lines verbatim:

PROTEUS: My shame and guilt confounds me.

Forgive me, Valentine.  If hearty sorrow

Be a sufficient ransom for offense,

I tender’t here.  I do as truly suffer

As e’er I did commit.

VALENTINE: Then I am paid.

Valentine might be – but I am not.  This is doubly true when applied to Julia.  It’s as if Proteus had suddenly awoken from a witch’s spell.  Now he understands – voila – that Julia’s beauty was not so very different from Silvia’s.  Whoops, sorry.

I am greatly moved by the lengths everyone else went for their beloved.  The two women in particular.  Both risked life and limb to set out in a wicked world to find their partner.  Valentine never stops pining for Silvia.  Without her, it doesn’t matter that he’s been made the captain of the renegade band of merry men.  And when he finds her again, he’s willing to risk everything to keep her.  His display of devotion is so powerful that it convinces Silvia’s father, the Duke, to grant Valentine’s wish and allow him to marry his daughter.

Only when his fellow outlaws are pardoned too do I understand that this play is about reconciliation and forgiveness.  There is also an element of confession and grace – Catholic shadings in my estimation – but that would parse the play in a controversial manner.

Nevertheless, it is this very magnanimity that both tinges and unhinges the play.  I get (or think I do) what Shakespeare is up to and to some degree it works.  What I’m not convinced of is Proteus’s sincerity or worthiness of such a superhuman gesture. 

But then, that too is the very nature of grace.


Alas, How Love Can Trifle with Itself!

Posted in Two Gentlemen of Verona with tags on 2014/03/07 by mattermind

Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act IV

It’s becoming clear to me how much in Shakespeare depends upon ironies of awareness and perception.  Hidden identities, switched gender roles, soliloquies, twins – they skew knowledge so that characters and/or the audience know things that others do not.  It can be the source of comedy or tragedy depending upon the type of disequilibrium it causes and what the bearer of the information advantage chooses to do with it.

Act IV turns out to be extraordinarily painful from Julia’s perspective.  She has traveled a long way at great personal danger to herself, only to have to witness firsthand how disloyal her lover has turned out to be.  But not only must she endure the heart-rending torture of it. The very nature of her disguise forces her to actively participate in the wooing of her rival.

Dressed a male page, she approaches Silvia bearing a love note and ring from Proteus. About now we begin to wonder how much suffering this woman will bear. What quality in Proteus causes her to put up with this? (Answer: love is blind and beyond reason, so there.)  After all, when we first met her, she was being courted by many eligible men and wasn’t herself sure that Proteus was “the” guy for her.

Now here she is, suffering the worst forms of humiliation in the name of love.  Herein lies perhaps one of the play’s chief faults.  I have read somewhere that playgoers weren’t terribly concerned in Shakespeare’s day with character consistency when it came to motivation.  That would go far toward helping me understand situations like this that tend to stick in my craw.  It’s quite similar to what I experience a lot at the movies lately.  I find myself muttering things like, “But why is he – should they – do we – oh, nevermind.” Plot holes apparently no longer need to be filled for ticket-buyers to leave satisfied so long as a lot of stuff blows up and somebody hot takes off his/her clothes.

Okay, fine then.  It would seem there’s a long tradition for reasons that don’t necessarily add up or ring true.  For me, this is one of them (there’s more coming, but that later).

The one thing we definitely learn is that Silvia is remarkably loyal and true.  She remains steadfast in her love for Valentine, come what may, proving utterly resilient and unassailable from a wayward courtship such as Proteus’s.

She sees straight through him, understands full well what he’s done and what his intentions are.  She wastes no opportunity, pummeling him at every turn.  Instead of pulling back and reconsidering, Proteus is spurred on like an outraged bull.

Here we experience an amazing range of emotions at one and the same instant: outrage at Proteus, awe at Silvia, sorrow for Valentine and abject pity for poor Julia.  This, again, highlights another aspect of Shakespeare’s unique genius.  No matter what the play or circumstances, rarely does he create characters we fail to care about.  We may not like them.  We may disagree with them.  We may love them, revile them, reject them.  But we won’t be unaffected by them.

On a silly side note, I was startled by the mention of Robin Hood when Valentine was captured by a motely crew of outlaws in the forest.  Somehow (see above) they instantly recognize their captive as being worthy of promotion to become their leader.  That quibble aside, I got a jolt from that outside pop culture reference.

Shakespeare was hip to the old school.  Who knew?

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

Posted in Two Gentlemen of Verona with tags on 2014/03/05 by mattermind

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.

And Now You Are Metamorphosed with a Mistress

Posted in Two Gentlemen of Verona with tags , on 2014/03/04 by mattermind

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!

O Hateful Hands, to Tear Such Loving Words!

Posted in Two Gentlemen of Verona on 2014/03/02 by mattermind

Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act I

Two Gentlemen is an early Shakespeare play.  It’s breezy in comparison to the tragedies and dramas, and fairly straightforward next to the other comedies – at least those I’ve covered so far.

Nevertheless, I’m fascinated by the wrinkle Shakespeare added to this simple courtship tale by creating a woman so self-contradictory that even she can’t figure out what she wants or why she acts the way she does.

Wait.  This is the 16th Century we’re talking about, right?  Yup.  Shakespeare has a way of highlighting character quirks that make us all human.  In this case, a girl tears up love letters from a man she may even love – or not.  But in the first act she repeatedly refuses to read them – for reasons she can’t explain.

It’s confounding and inspiring to have the story turn on such perplexing grounds – but that’s Shakespeare.   And now her potential lover is being sent away by his father.  So now there’s an additional obstacle.

I really, really like the setup and can’t wait to see what happens next.

Dog Sought for Starring Role

Posted in Two Gentlemen of Verona on 2014/03/01 by mattermind

Looks like the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is casting a wide net to snare the right pooch for  a production of Two Gentlemen of Verona.

If you think your Fifi or Fido has the chops (or you’re just interested to learn more), click this LINK to a story in the Mail Tribune.

Their site has different access pathways according to platform. This one is optimized for mobile devices but should provide a method for all others to view who wish to do so.