Two best friends fall out over the same woman, while servants spout wisdom and Crab the dog steals the show. Believed to be Shakespeare’s earliest surviving play.
Thoughts: Finally got here, both in terms of five years of reading the classics, and also the general reading malaise that has settled over me in recent months. I read the New Cambridge Shakespeare volume, edited by Kurt Schlueter.
Valentine leaves his home in Verona to travel to the Emperor’s Court in Milan, while his friend Proteus stays behind, chasing the love of Julia. Circumstances force Proteus to go to Milan as well, where he forgets Julia in a heartbeat and falls for the Duke’s daughter Silvia, with whom Valentine has also fallen in love. Having forsworn Julia, Proteus now betrays his friendship with Valentine by revealing their elopement plans to Silvia’s father. And as Proteus plots against Valentine, the very next scene shows us Julia still so in love with him that she is willing to dress as a page and travel to Milan to be with him.
The biggest problem with the plot is in the last scene, where Proteus is prevented in the nick of time from raping Silvia, hastily apologizes, receives Valentine’s prompt forgiveness in the very next breath, and is seemingly ‘gifted’ Silvia by Valentine to cement their brotherly love. That, and Proteus’ second 180 degree turnabout as he professes his returned love for Julia; and her own acceptance of Proteus despite all his black deeds which she witnessed firsthand disguised as his servant. It really needs everyone to have been under a magical spell to wake up from, to justify their forgiveness of this scumbag.
Again, as I said in my very first post five years ago, I am not an English professor, but for my money the quality and beauty and wit of Shakespeare’s writing stands out even to me in this early play, leaving other authors leagues behind. The way he can use different meanings of words in a dialogue to twist an argument or draw out comparisons or alternatives between speakers is simply brilliant.
Some of my favourite imagery and lines from Two Gents are:
Valentine (on being banished from Milan, and hence Silvia)
“And Silvia is my self; banished from her
is self from self, a deadly banishment.
What light is light if Silvia be not seen?
What joy is joy if Silvia be not by?
Unless it be to think that she is by
and feed upon the shadow of perfection;
Except I be by Silvia in the night,
There is no music in the nightingale;
Unless I look on Silvia in the day,
There is no day for me to look upon;
She is my essence, …..
Tarry I here, I but attend on Death;
but fly I hence, I fly away from Life”
Act III, Scene i, lines 171-187
Proteus offers some wooing advice to another rival, Turio
“Say that upon the altar of her beauty
You sacrifice your tears, your sighs, your heart;
Write til your ink be dry, and with your tears
Moist it again, and frame some feeling line
That may discover such integrity …..
Make tigers tame, and huge leviathans
Forsake unsounded deeps to dance on sands.”
Act III, Scene ii, lines 72-80.
Personal rating: 8/10
Kimmy’s rating: 4 paws out of 4 for Crab, Proteus’ servant’s dog, who doesn’t even get a line of dialogue to speak! Here’s hoping he can “heave his leg and make water” on Proteus!