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Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2003
Revised in 2010.©
.This page has been revised, enlarged, and moved to
Type of Work
.......The Two Gentlemen of Verona is a stage play in the form of a comedy. It centers on the friendship of two young men and the women they love. It is an early attempt by Shakespeare at high comedy, a type of comedy focusing on the life of upper classes. The dialogue in high comedy contains
an abundance of witty dialogue.
Date Written: Probably 1592 and 1593.
Date Published: 1623 in the First Folio, the first authorized collection of Shakespeare's plays.
.......Shakespeare based The Two Gentlemen of Verona on Bartholomew Young’s translation of Los Siete Libros de la Diana (The Seven Books of the Diana), by Jorge de Montemayor (1520-1561) and possibly on tales in Renaissance literature.
.......The action takes place in Italy, including Verona, Milan, and a forest near Mantua. Milan and Mantua are in Lombardy, a province in north-central Italy. Verona is in Veneto, a province in northeastern Italy.
Antagonist: Adversity in the Form of Characters and Circumstances
Valentine, Proteus:Two young gentlemen of Verona who are best friends. But love for the same woman comes between them.
Silvia: Beloved of Valentine. She rebuffs the advances of Proteus.
Julia: Young woman who loves Proteus. She remains loyal to him even though he becomes infatuated with Silvia.
Duke of Milan:Father of Silvia. He attempts to force her to marry the vain
Father of Proteus.
Thurio: A foolish rival of Valentine.
Eglamour: Agent for Silvia in her escape.
Host: Host of the establishment where Julia lodges after she goes to Milan.
Outlaws: Three men who capture Valentine in a forest outside Milan.
Speed: Clownish servant of Valentine.
Launce: Clownish servant of Proteus.
Crab: Launce's dog.
Panthino: Servant of Antonio.
Lucetta: Waiting-woman of Julia.
J. Cummings...© 2003
and Proteus, two young gentlemen of Verona, have always been the best of friends. But Valentine says it is time to bid his pal farewell and, with a servant named Speed, goes off to seek his place in the world at the court of the Duke of Milan. Proteus, however, is quite satisfied to remain in Verona, for he loves the city’s fairest lady, Julia. When Julia receives a love letter from
Proteus, she pretends to her maid that it means nothing to her. Secretly, though, she loves Proteus as much as he loves her, and she sends a letter of her own back to him. While Proteus reads it, his father, Antonio, informs his son that he, too, must go to Milan to educate and improve himself. Antonio, believing that the letter Proteus holds is from Valentine, is unaware of his son’s love for
.......In Milan, meanwhile, Valentine has also found love. The object of his affection is the duke’s daughter, the beautiful Silvia. Although her father wishes her to marry an asinine fellow named Thurio, Silvia turns her
attentions toward Valentine, asking him to act as a kind of secretary. Valentine’s servant Speed teases him about his crush on Silvia, saying he mopes around as if he had a disease. Speed provides additional advice:
SPEED If you love her, you cannot see her. .......Valentine's job as Silvia’s secretary is to write love letters for a friend of Silvia, but it soon becomes obvious that the letters are a ploy that she is using to tell Valentine, in a roundabout way, that she loves him.
SPEED Because love is blind. O, that you had mine eyes; or your own eyes had the lights they were wont to have when you chid at1Sir Proteus for going ungartered!2
VALENTINE What should I see then?
SPEED Your own present folly and her passing deformity: for he [Proteus], being in love,
could not see to garter his hose3, and you, being in love, cannot see to put on your hose. (2.1.44-48)
.......When Proteus arrives at the court with his
servant Launce, Valentine introduces Proteus to Silvia, and Proteus falls immediately in love with her—or so he thinks. All thoughts of Julia vanish from his mind. Valentine then shares with him his plan to elope with Silvia by using a rope ladder to effect Silvia’s escape from her room in a tower.
.......Back in Verona, Julia pines for Proteus. Unable to endure separation from him any longer, she disguises herself as a page and leaves for Milan to be with him. While Julia is en route, Proteus—desperate to have Silvia for himself—betrays Valentine and informs the duke of the planned elopement. The duke then
discovers the evidence, the rope ladder, and banishes Valentine from Milan.
.......Proteus accompanies Valentine to the city gate to bid farewell, all the while pretending innocence. Proteus then tries another trick. To worm his way
into Silvia’s presence, he pretends to help the hapless Thurio in his suit. But when the moment is right, he takes over and woos Sylvia himself. However, Sylvia spurns him with insults, for she loves only Valentine. Moreover, she is well aware that it was Proteus who betrayed Valentine.
.......In the meantime, Valentine is captured by outlaws in a forest outside Mantua. But so impressed are they with his manner and bearing that they offer to make him their chief. He accepts on condition that they do not victimize women or the poor.
.......Back in Milan, Julia, who has been spooking around in her page disguise, learns of her beloved’s unfaithfulness. Her heart nearly breaks. Calling herself Sebastian, she then gets herself hired by Proteus as a page. Proteus, still hoping to win
Silvia, tells “Sebastian” his first job is to carry to Silvia a token of affection. It is a ring—the same ring Julia had given to Proteus as a going-away present. Silvia, of course, refuses to accept the ring. Then, determined to be with Valentine, she escapes the city with the help of Sir Eglamour to look for him. Eglamour, a wise and valiant gentleman, sympathizes with Silvia, for he knows well
the pangs of love. As Silvia observes:
Thyself hast lov’d; and I have heard thee say .......Proteus follows Silvia, and the page (Julia) follows him. In the forest, the outlaws capture Silvia, but Proteus rescues her and resumes his wooing. He threatens to force himself upon her if she does not yield. Hidden nearby, Valentine hears everything and shows himself, then orders Proteus to
unhand Silvia. Shame and guilt overwhelm Proteus, and he begs forgiveness. Valentine not only absolves him but, as proof of his good will, reverses himself and says he will allow Proteus to woo Silvia.
No grief did ever come so near thy heart
As when thy lady and thy true love died,
Upon whose grave thou vow’dst pure chastity.4(4.3.23-26)
Valentine offer Silvia to Proteus, Julia, still in disguise as the page of Proteus, faints. When she comes to, she reveals her true identity, and Proteus decides that it is she he loves after all. Julia then forgives him. How will the Duke of Milan receive all of this news? Everyone soon finds out; for the duke, too, has been searching for Silvia and, with Thurio in tow, comes upon Valentine and
the others. When Thurio attempts to claim Silvia as his, Valentine challenges him: “Thurio, give back, or else embrace thy death” (5.4.137). Thurio cowers and backs off, saying,
Sir Valentine, I care not for her, I; The duke strongly rebukes Thurio, then turns to the brave Valentine and says,
I hold him but a fool that will endanger
His body for a girl that loves him not:
I claim her not, and therefore she is thine. (5 4.143-146)
Now, by the honour of my ancestry, .......The play ends happily as Valentine and Proteus prepare for a double wedding followed by “one feast, one house, one mutual happiness” (5. 4. 184)..
I do applaud thy spirit, Valentine,
And think thee worthy of an empress’ love:
Know then, I here forget all former griefs,5
Cancel all grudge, repeal thee home again,
Plead a new state in6thy unrivall’d merit,
To which I thus subscribe: Sir Valentine,
Thou art a gentleman and well
Take thou thy Silvia, for thou hast deserv’d her. (5.4.150-158)
.......The climax of a play or another
narrative work, such as a short story or a novel, can be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins to resolve itself for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting event in a series of events. The climax of The Two Gentlemen of Verona occurs, according to the first definition, in Act 5, when Valentine defends Silvia against the advances of Proteus, shames
him, and causes him to repent his untoward behavior, both to Silvia and to Julia. Consequently, Valentine is reunited with Silvia and Proteus with Julia.
.......According to the second definition, the climax occurs later in the
same act and scene when Valentine faces down Thurio, saying:
Thurio, give back, or else embrace thy death; When Thurio backs off, the Duke—impressed with Valentine’s bold defense of his daughter—has a change of heart:
Come not within the measure of my wrath;
Do not name Silvia thine . . .
I do applaud thy spirit, Valentine, Themes
And think thee worthy of an empress’ love:
Know then, I here forget all former
Cancel all grudge, repeal thee home again. (5.4.151-154).
True love is steadfast and strong while
infatuation is fickle and weak. Valentine and Silvia never waver in their love for one another. Nor does Julia in her love for Proteus. But Proteus, who is infatuated with Silvia, hardly blinks when he abandons his suit for her to return to Julia.
Disloyalty and perfidy
cannot defeat constancy. Proteus (whose very name—that of a Greek god who could change his appearance at will—symbolizes caprice and inconstancy) betrays both Valentine and Julia when he woos Silvia on a whim. But he discovers his flighty, immature behavior is no match for true fidelity.
Father does not always know best. Silvia's father, the Duke of Milan, attempts to force her to marry Thurio, a haughty buffoon. Silvia refuses—and rightly so—for her heart and soul are with Valentine.
Forgive and forget. Valentine and Julia forgive Proteus for his reprehensible behavior, and the Duke of Milan pardons the outlaws.
irrational, unpredictable, or silly behavior. Proteus first loves Julia, then Silvia, then Julia. Julia wears a disguise to be close to Proteus. Silvia dictates loves letters to Valentine, pretending they are for someone else when they are really for Valentine.
Nature heals. Notice that everyone who enters the forest becomes better for the experience. Shakespeare used the "nature heals" theme in other plays as well, including A Midsummer Night's Dream, Love's Labour's Lost, As You Like It, and The Tempest. But nature does not always behave well in Shakespeare. King
Lear found that out during a raging storm, and Macbeth fell victim to the trees of Birnham Wood.
Use of Disguises
and again, Shakespeare disguises women as men to further a plot. For example, In All's Well That Ends Well, Helena wears the attire of a pilgrim to get close to Bertram. In Cymbeline, Imogen becomes a page boy to win back Posthumous. Julia also becomes a page boy in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, as does Viola in Twelfth Night. In The Merchant of Venice, Portia
disguises herself as a male judge to save the friend of her lover in a court of law. Rosalind, in As You Like It, dons the garb of a man to become a shepherd as she seeks out her love, Orlando. In each of these plays, the women disguised as men eventually reveal their true female identities All of this could have been quite confusing to playgoers in Shakespeare's day, for only men played
women's roles. Thus, in the above-mentioned plays, men played women disguised as men who at some point doffed their male identities to reveal themselves as females.
Characterization Blunder? Verbal Razzle-Dazzle
.......Shakespeare appears to commit a serious characterization blunder in the fourth scene of Act 5, when Valentine confronts Proteus after the latter attempts to force himself on Silvia. Valentine first declares that he will never again trust Proteus, a declaration that is entirely understandable. A moment later, he forgives Proteus his transgressions after Proteus expresses
remorse. That change of heart, too, is understandable. After all, Proteus had been his best friend. Moreover, Proteus's contrition seems genuine, and it may signal a rejection of his fickle ways and the beginning of his maturation.
.......What is not
understandable, however, is that Valentine—in reconciling with Proteus—actually offers him Silvia as a goodwill token. Here is the dialogue that takes place:
..............PROTEUS My shame and guilt confounds me.
..............Forgive me, Valentine: if hearty sorrow
..............Be a sufficient ransom8for offence,
..............I tender9't here; I do as truly suffer
..............As e'er I did commit.
..............VALENTINE Then I am paid;
..............And once again I do receive thee honest.
..............Who by repentance is not satisfied
..............Is nor of heaven nor earth, for these are pleased.
..............By penitence the Eternal's wrath's appeased:
..............And, that my love may appear plain and free,
..............All that was mine in Silvia I give thee. (5. 4. 80-91)
Here, Shakespeare seems to go too far in asking his audience to believe this surprising reversal. Would Valentine—deeply in love with Silvia and, just moments before, ready to cancel his friendship with Proteus—really surrender her to Proteus as a kind of peace offering? Common sense says no. However, at
least one Shakespeare scholar says Valentine's gesture is not at all surprising: "It was a common belief in Shakespeare's time that the love of a man for his friend, especially his 'sworn brother,' was stronger and nobler than the love of man for woman" (Harrison, G.B., ed. Shakespeare: The Complete Works. New York: Harcourt, 1952, Page 366). Other scholars maintain that the last line of
the passage—All that was mine in Silvia I give thee—actually means this: I love you as a friend in the same way that I love Sylvia as my future wife.
.......Shakespeare wrote The Two Gentlemen of Verona very early in his career, about 1592 or 1593, when he was still in his twenties and his writing was in its formative stage. In this period of his development, he relied primarily on the flash and panache of clever wordplay—rather than character growth and subtle language—to impress audiences and critics. Consequently, The Two Gentlemen of Verona contains many puns, quips, and other forms of verbal razzle-dazzle.
.......The following exchange in the second scene of Act 1, between Julia and her
servant, Lucetta, is an example of the repartee in the dialogue. Here is the context: When Julia asks which gentleman of Verona would be best for her, Lucetta selects Proteus.
JULIA...And wouldst thou have me cast my love on him? Epigrams
LUCETTA...Ay, if you thought your love not cast away.
JULIA...Why he, of all the rest, hath never moved me.
LUCETTA Yet he, of all the rest, I think, best loves ye.
JULIA...His little speaking shows his love but small.
LUCETTA...Fire that's closest kept burns most of all.
JULIA...They do not love that do not show their love.
LUCETTA...O, they love least that let men know their love. (1. 2.
.......In the dialogue of The Two Gentlemen of Verona and other Shakespeare plays, characters sometimes speak wise or witty sayings couched in memorable figurative language. Although these sayings are brief, they often express a profound universal truth or make a thought-provoking observation. Such sayings are
called epigrams or aphorisms. Because many of Shakespeare’s epigrams are so memorable, writers and speakers use them again and again.
.......Many of Shakespeare's epigrams have become part of our everyday language; often we use them without realizing that it
was Shakespeare who coined them. Examples of phrases Shakespeare originated in his plays include “all’s well that ends well,” “[every] dog will have its day,” “give the devil his due,” “green-eyed monster,” “my own flesh and blood,” “neither rhyme nor reason,” “one fell swoop,” “primrose path,” “spotless reputation,” and “too much of a good thing.”
.......Among some of the more memorable sayings in The Two Gentlemen of Verona are the following:
Home-keeping youth have ever homely wits. (1.1.4) Valentine, eager to leave home and see the world, uses a play on words (home-keeping, homely) and alliteration (home, have, and homely) to express a truth: confining
oneself to the same environment day in and day out dulls the wits (intelligence, perception, ability to think).
Symptoms of Love
O! they love least that let men know their love. (1.2.34)
Paradox and alliteration help make this line memorable. The paradox occurs when Lucetta tells Julia that the women who love least are the women who express their love. Alliteration occurs
in love, least, let, and love.
His years but young, but his experience old;
His head unmellow’d, but his judgment ripe. (2.4.60-61)
Valentine praises Proteus to the
Duke of Milan, using antithesis and paradox to make his point.
How use doth breed a habit in a man. (5.4.3)
Valentine observes that repeated use of—or exposure to—anything can result in a habit. He speaks these words when he becomes used to living in
the peace and solitude of the forest. He realizes, however, that he needs to break his “habit” and rejoin the company of people—in particular Silvia—who can fill a void within him.
.......What does it feel like to be in love? Speed, Valentine's servant, observes that Valentine is in love with Silvia. When Valentine asks Speed how he came to that conclusion, Speed uses a series of similes to describe the symptoms of love (all of which afflict Valentine). Here is what Speed tells Valentine:
Marry,10by these special marks:11first, you have
learned, like Sir Proteus, to wreathe12your arms,
like a malecontent;13to relish a love-song, like a
robin-redbreast; to walk alone, like one that had
the pestilence; to sigh, like a school-boy that
buried her grandam; to fast, like one that takes
diet; to watch like one that fears robbing; to
speak puling,14like a beggar at Hallowmas.15(2.1.18-28)
1.....chid at: Scolded.
2.....ungargerted: Without garters (devices that keep stockings from drooping).
4.....Upon . . . chastity: Eglamour took a vow of celibacy after his beloved died.
5.....griefs: Grievances, complaints.
6.....Plead . . . in: Have a new insight into.
7.....griefs: Grievances, complaints.
8.....ransom: Reparation, atonement.
10...Marry: By the Virgin Mary.
11...marks: Signs, symptoms.
13...malecontent: Play on words (like a malcontent or like a male who is content).
14...puling: Whimpering, whining.
15...Hallowmas: All Saints' Day (November 1).
Study Questions and Essay Topics
Plays on DVD (or VHS)
- The name Valentine comes from a Latin word, valentia, meaning worth, capacity, or value. Is this an appropriate name for the young man in love with Silvia?
- Which character in the play do you most admire? Which character do you least admire?
- In Greek mythology, Proteus was a minor sea god who could change his shape at will. Why is Proteus an apt name for Valentine’s friend? Suggestion: Look up the noun Proteus and the adjective protean in a good dictionary.
- After Valentine goes to the duke’s court at Milan to better himself, Antonio orders his son, Proteus, to do the same. Antonio’s servant, Panthino, had advised Antonio to send him there. Does Proteus, in fact, "better himself" at the court? Explain your answer.
- Write an essay centering on the differences between true love and infatuation in Shakespeare’s plays.
- Is Proteus truly in love with Julia at the end of the play?
- Which characters in the play consistently exhibit good judgment? Which characters exhibit bad judgment?
- In an essay, explain how the presence of minor characters—such as servants and outlaws—helps to expose and develop the major characters.
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