The Two Gentlemen of Verona
England, c. 1589-91
I don’t recall how, exactly, I came to decide which five Shakespeare plays I wanted to include on my Classics Club list (other than I really wanted to reread Much Ado About Nothing). I suspect I included The Two Gentlemen of Verona because it is believed to be Shakespeare’s first play. Always good to go in chronological order.
Valentine. Cease to persuade, my loving Proteus;
Home-keeping youth have ever homely wits.
Were ‘t not affection chains thy tender days
To the sweet glances of thy honour’d love,
I rather would entreat thy company
To see the wonders of the world abroad
Than, living dully sluggardiz’d at home,
Wear out thy youth with shapeless idleness.
But since thou lov’st, love still, and thrive therein,
Even as I would when I to love begin.
Proteus. Wilt thou be gone: Sweet Valentine, adieu!
Think on thy Proteus, when thou haply seest
Some rare noteworthy object in thy travel.
Wish me partaker in thy happiness
When thou dost meet good hap; and in thy danger,
If ever danger do environ thee,
Commend thy grievance to my holy prayers,
For I will be thy beadsman, Valentine!
The play tells the story of two young men, Valentine and Proteus, good friends from the city of Verona. As the play opens, Valentine mocks Proteus’s love of Julia, before he embarks on his journey to Milan where, sure enough, Valentine falls for Silvia, the Duke’s daughter. It soon becomes a love triangle: Proteus is sent by his father to Milan where, despite his pledge of love to Julia, he also falls in love with Silvia. Add to this Silvia’s third suitor, Thurio, who her father prefers, and Julia’s arrival in Verona, disguised as a boy, and we have the makings of a typical Shakespearian comedy. As is usual, we also have the servants of Valentine and Proteus, Speed and Launce respectively, who bring a clownish humor to the stage.
Speed. If you love her, you cannot see her.
Speed. Because Love is blind.
One passage that I couldn’t help but notice, was this from Valentine in the third act:
A woman sometimes scorns what best contents her.
Send her another; never give her o’er,
For scorn at first makes after-love the more.
If she do frown, ’tis not in hate of you;
If she do chide, ’tis not to have you gone;
For why the fools are mad if left alone.
Take no repulse, whatever she doth say;
For ‘get you gone,’ she doth not mean ‘away!’
Flatter and praise, commend, extol their graces;
Though ne’er so black, say they have angels’ faces.
Pride and Predjudice immediately sprung to mind: Did Mr. Collins have this passage in mind when he assures Lizzy that young women will often turn down a man they wish to marry?
This is believed the earliest of Shakespeare’s plays, and while elements of his later plays are present, a quick search suggests that most Shakespeare critics do not hold it in very high regard, at least not as compared to his later plays. (Although some point out that this may be an unfair comparison, considering the high level of Shakespeare’s greatest plays.) It struck me more as a typical sort of play, nothing terribly remarkable or memorable—I certainly don’t expect to recall much of this in the future, at least not the way I do some of the tragedies or better-known comedies.
In addition to reading the play, I also found a staged version to watch on DVD, produced by the BBC in 1983 for their BBC Television Shakespeare series. I’ve watched both live productions and film adaptations in the past, always feeling they enhanced my understanding of the plays, including my understanding of the pacing. Too often when I simply read through a play (any play, not just Shakespeare), it feels like everything is happening so quickly, but somehow adding staging and music helps me envision the passage of time. Certainly that was true here. However, I was surprised at how many times I had to pause the adaptation and pull up the play text because the witty banter was so fast I missed most of the meaning. Perhaps it was the British accents, or maybe I’m just out of practice! I was also surprised at the portrayal of Sir Eglamour as so over-the-top. He’s just a bit character, but I hadn’t read him that way at all. It struck a bit of a false note with me, so I remain surprised they staged it that way.
I read The Two Gentlemen of Verona as part of Shakespeare 400: The 2016 Bardathon Challenge and for the category “a classic which includes the name of a place in the title” for the Back to the Classics 2016 Challenge.