I don’t have much affinity with The Two Gentlemen from Verona. I finished it by the discussion start date, but I have not focused any sort of ideas about it. I have had tickets for three productions. Pretty much all I remember from the first two is Crab, once a well-wrangled mutt and the other time a metal dog sculpture on wheels, guided by a stiff leash. There was one memorable Launce moment that I will save for later. Before the third production, open air at Ashland, Oregon, they raised the flag and blew the trumpet, followed by a torrential downpour canceling the performance, a rare occurrence at Ashland. (We once saw Richard II in Ashland and, in the fifth act, with Richard’s body laid out on a bier, falling rain filled his eye sockets. The dead Richard never twitched a muscle. What an actor!)
I’ll pass on some of my running notes, then, I promise, I’ll address Randall’s opening prompts and Ernst’s two redeeming posts. I realize a couple of the following repeat some of Ernst’s observations.
The play opens with the debate between “home-keeping youth” and travel to see the “wonders of the world abroad.” Can we engage a theory of education? Did Shakespeare’s age already have the Grand Tour, happ’ly to see some rare noteworthy object in one’s travels, which I associate with the 19th century, and even then I think of it as affluent young Englishmen traveling to Italy not as much to see magnificent culture as to see color and art in good light. In Shrew, Lucentio “Pisa left/ And am to Padua come, as he that leaves/ A shallow plash to plunge him in the deep” (Taming of the Shrew, I.i.21-23), theoretically to study, but as his servant Tranio points out, there are other broadening values in such travel, “No profit grows where is no pleasure ta’en.” (Taming of the Shrew, I.i.30).
And of course, as with Valentine and later Proteus, “broadening” alludes to the second definition in the South Pacific lyric: “And she was broad where a broad should be broad.” Also traveling to Padua (happiness is Verona in the rear view mirror? doesn’t anyone except Juliet stay in Verona?) is Petruchio. Horatio asks “what happy gale/ Blows you to Padua here from old Verona? and Petruchio replies “Such wind as scatters young men through the world/ To seek their fortunes farther than at home,/ Where small experience grows” (Taming of the Shrew, I ii. 48-52) and only later does he add his intent “to wive it wealthily.” Of course, the withdrawal into cloistered study in Loves Labor’s Lost is the antithesis, but remember this academic aestheticism only lasts for the blink of an eye. Proteus is, of course, staying at home for the love of Julia, while the case for travel is overwhelming: “home-keeping youth have ever homely wits,” or “living dully sluggardiz’e at home/ Wear out thy youth with shapeless idleness” (Two Gentlemen of Verona, I.i.1, 7-8).
Proteus’s father Antonio hears the same education argument from his servant Panthino (hands up, all who remember Panthino) who reports that Antonio’s brother “wond’red that you lordship/ Would suffer [Proteus] to spend his youth at home,/ …let him spend his time no more at home,/ Which would be great impeachment to his age,/ In having known no travel in his youth.” (I.iii.4-5, 14-16), to which Antonio articulates the moral of the education argument: “He cannot be a perfect man,/Not being tried and tutor’d in the world;/ Experience is by industry achiev’d,/ And perfected by the swift course of time” (I.iii.20-23). Proteus then lies about a letter from Julia which he claims is from Valentine, importuning him to join at Mantua, so Proteus is hoist on his own petard, as someone once said.
OK, so this is more plot device to get the boys out of town, but there is a certain irony that such an attractive case is made for the enrichment of travel, yet both young gentlemen are ensnared in lies, betrayal, deceit, and piteous erosion of character by journeying into the unfamiliar. I might have liked him better had Proteus sluggardized at home. Me? I traveled so muc h as a youth, I thought travel was “home.” No wonder I turned out to be a slug.
As we come back to Two Gentlemen of Verona from Romeo and Juliet, one notices starts of scenes or issues from later plays. Take, for instance, Petrarchan conventions. In the first scene Valentine twits Proteus about swearing on some shallow story of deep love such as Leander crossing the Hellespont, and I thought of how deliciously and maliciously Mercutio ridicules Romeo’s undying live for Rosaline. And in II.i, Speed similarly mocks Valentine’s inane behaviors of romantic love, cataloging wreathing of arms, relishing love songs, sighing, weeping, being metamorphos’d into a puling lover, reminding me of Mercutio again, cynical and antiromantic, conjuring up Romeo with sighs and trite rhymes, not to mention Rosaline’s bright eyes and quivering thighs. Romeo and Proteus abandon their eternal loves with similar alacrity.
Sylvia has the perfect foil for an addled Petrarchan lover. She commands Valentine to ghostwrite a love letter for her addressed to an anonymous lover. Surely Valentine must temper the excesses of Petrarchan hyperbole, especially in that he loves Sylvia himself. When he composes it to her, she signs it and gives it back to Valentine, occasion for Speed’s “O jest unseen, inscrutable, invisible” (II.i.135), my favorite bit in this play, a great woman’s jest, perfectly addressing the potential for Valentine’s decayed Petrarchanism.
Meanwhile, Julia has made a journey, disguised in breeches, to follow Proteus to Milan, “a true-devoted pilgrim is not weary/ To measure kingdoms with his feeble steps;/ Much less shall she that hath Love’s wing’s to fly,/And when the flight is made to one so dear,/ Of such divine perfection, as Sir Proteus” (II.vii.9-13). Romeo and Juliet’s sonnet on the dance floor will also use the pilgrim image, but I don’t see Julia’s conventions of romantic love in this scene quite as excessive as Romeo mooning over Rosaline. Thus, I think by Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare is more sure-handed in his parody and put-down of the conventions of romantic love, freeing him to create the soaring lyricism of Juliet’s “The clock struck nine when I did send the nurse” and “Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds” and Romeo’s “Heaven is here/ Where Juliet lives, and every cat and dog/ And little mouse, every unworthy thing,/ Live here in heaven” or the classical aubade, “Wilt thou be gone? It is not yet near day./ It was the nightingale and not the lark,/ That pierc’d the fearful hollow of thine ear.”
Earlier, Julia and Lucetta review a list of suitors, just as Portia and Nerissa do at Belmont, but without the cutting energy of the later play. Proteus and Julia exchange rings and seal the bargain with a holy kiss in II.ii, a troth as binding as Romeo and Juliet in Friar Lawrence’s cell. In Romeo and Juliet this exchange could be the moment of tragedy (though I opt for a different point) and creates the crushing dramatic irony when Juliet’s Nurse advises bigamy (who would know?). But in Two Gentlemen of Verona, Proteus just kisses the spousal pledges off, no tragedy, but not very comic either.
When Proteus rats out his great friend Valentine’s plot to elope with Sylvia to her father, the Duke’s rage, “she is peevish, sullen, forward,/ Proud, disobedient, stubborn, lacking duty,/ Neither regarding that she is my child,/ Nor fearing me as if I we hr father,” is worthy of Baptista’s “affection” for his daughter Kate in Shrew. The Duke then vows vengeance on his daughter’s disaffection: “And may I say to thee, this pride of hers/ (Upon advice) hath drawn my love from her, / And where I thought the remnant of mine age/ Should have been cherish’d by her child-like duty…” foreshadows Lear’s initial response to Cordelia’ refusal to indulge his ego. The Duke rages on, “I now am full resolv’d to take a wife,/ And turn her out to who will take her in:/ Then let her beauty be her wedding-dow’r” and locks his daughter in a tower. More Rapunzel than Romeo and Juliet’s balcony scene, though a rope ladder is introduced. Here we have Capulet’s rage. Tragedy should follow, but instead Sylvia escapes into the woods until all is forgiven.
Before that happens, Valentine is banished. “And why not death, rather than living torment?/ To die is to be banish’d from my self/ And Sylvia is myself,: banish’d from myself,/ Is self from self, a deadly banishment.” Romeo again, but we also had this from Suffolk in 2 Henry VI, torn from his illicit affair with Queen Margaret (“If I depart from thee, I cannot live,/ And in thy sight to die, what were it else/ But like a pleasant slumber in thy lap?” 2 Henry VI, III.ii.388-90). Suffolk’s banishment is cut short [sic] when he is beheaded by pirates, whereas Valentine merely goes off to the green world to become King of the Outlaws, because he alleges he is a killer, he has a nice bod, and he is polylingual (one never knows when a little Portuguese or Swahili might come in handy among a band of outlaws; want to guess which I think is the silliest scene in Shakespeare?
Proteus sends Julia/Sebastian as messenger to Sylvia, a prefigue of Orsino sending Viola/Cesario to Olivia, but Two Gents fails to develop any of the multi-dimensional irony and passion of Twelfth Night. And lastly there is business with pledged rings, similar, but underdeveloped, to Merchant of Venice. But enough (too much?). I’ll be back on coy courtship and direct discussion of Ernst’s last post. Any takers on language? And why the two women are vastly superior creatures to the two men?