Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Two Gentlemen of Verona - Shakespeare

This comedy was entirely new to me.  The two gentlemen of the title, are friends named Proteus and Valentine.  Proteus begins the play lovesick over a girl named Julia, while his friend Valentine chides him for his foolishness.  Valentine is sent away to spend time at court.  After this happens, Julia finds out that Proteus loves her and falls for him in return.  Before they can express their love openly for each other, Valentine accidentally talks himself into being sent away to court as well.
While at court, Valentine falls in love with Sylvia, and she with him.  But, alas!, is set to be married to a fop named Thurio.  While Valentine is talking about his love with Proteus, he somehow talks his friend into falling for her himself.  Valentine also schemes to steal away with Sylvia, but Proteus, in a bid to take Valentine out of the picture, gets him caught.  Valentine is exiled and falls in with some outlaws.
In the meantime, Julia has disguised herself as a man named Sebastian and has caught up with the court.  Proteus tries to woo Sylvia out from under Valentine (and Thurio) but she will have none of him for his obvious betrayal of his friend.  Proteus actually employs Julia to take letters to his new love.
Sylvia flees to the countryside and everyone is captured by the outlaws.  They are taken in front of Valentine.  Valentine curses Proteus for betraying him, but then Proteus makes a small speech and everything is forgiven.  In fact, Valentine gives up his affections for Sylvia so that Proteus can have her.  At this, Julia faints and then reveals who she truly is.  Proteus decides that he actually does love her instead of Sylvia.  The two couples are blessed and set off to marry.

There is a lot of fun in this play, but there are two absolutely jaw-dropping moments.  The first is when Proteus betrays his friend for a woman that he just decided he was in love with.  The second is when Valentine quickly forgives this outrage and then gives his love away.  I have no idea how either of those moments played with an Elizabethan audience but each one shocked me.
Each of those flawed moments could be rewritten without too much difficulty.  Even allowing more time for a change of heart in both would help.  The essay that accompanies the play in my Riverside Shakespeare says that I'm not alone in my distress.  Commentators have stumbled over those spots for centuries.  If I was putting the play on today, those would be the two things that I would most need to fix.

There are two fools in this play, each one a servant to one of the gentlemen.  The fool named Speed is quick witted and has outstanding word play throughout.  The other is named Launce, and he is a wonderful oaf.  He is accompanied everywhere by his beloved dog Crab.  Crab is much loved but he puts upon Launce something awful.  I've read Crab described as 'the most wonderful non-speaking role in all of Shakespeare'.  Speed and Launce are both wonderful parts, each in their own way.  My guess is that they often steal the show.

This is one of Shakespeare's early efforts.  In fact, they have quite a bit of trouble dating these plays exactly.  This may be Shakespeare's earliest play.  It's a little rough.  It's certainly not as immersive as the later comedies.  Still, there are some good things in there.  Fix the two big problems and I like it.

(Personal note: One unexpected benefit of reading/watching so much Shakespeare in a short period of time, is that I'm much more comfortable with the language involved.  So much so, that I'm not always looking for a stage version while I read.  I didn't here and I may not with the rest of the comedies.  Maybe not the tragedies or romances either.  I'm...less certain of the history plays, however. 
In any case, this feels like some small accomplishment.)

No comments:

Post a Comment