Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
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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.
Written: Probably 1592 and 1593.
Published: 1623 in the First Folio, the first authorized collection
of Shakespeare's plays.
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
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.
in the Form of Characters and Circumstances
young gentlemen of Verona who are best friends. But love for the same woman
comes between them.
of Valentine. She rebuffs the advances of Proteus.
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 Thurio.
Father of Proteus.
Thurio: A foolish
rival of Valentine.
for Silvia in her escape.
of the establishment where Julia lodges after she goes to Milan.
men who capture Valentine in a forest outside Milan.
servant of Valentine.
servant of Proteus.
Crab: Launce's dog.
Michael J. Cummings...©
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 Julia.
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:
If you love her, you cannot see her.
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.
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 at1
Sir Proteus for going ungartered!2
What should I see then?
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)
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.
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
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.
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.
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
hast lov’d; and I have heard thee say
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.
grief did ever come so near thy heart
when thy lady and thy true love died,
whose grave thou vow’dst pure chastity.4
hearing 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,
Valentine, I care not for her, I;
strongly rebukes Thurio, then turns to the brave Valentine and says,
hold him but a fool that will endanger
body for a girl that loves him not:
claim her not, and therefore she is thine. (5 4.143-146)
by the honour of my ancestry,
play ends happily as Valentine and Proteus prepare for a double wedding
followed by “one feast, one house, one mutual happiness" (5. 4. 184)..
do applaud thy spirit, Valentine,
think thee worthy of an empress’ love:
then, I here forget all former griefs,5
all grudge, repeal thee home again,
a new state in6
thy unrivall’d merit,
which I thus subscribe: Sir Valentine,
art a gentleman and well deriv’d;
thou thy Silvia, for thou hast deserv’d her. (5.4.150-158)
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.
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
. . . . (5.4.137-139)
I do applaud thy
And think thee worthy of
an empress’ love:
Know then, I here forget
all former griefs,7
Cancel all grudge, repeal
thee home again. (5.4.151-154).
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
and forget. Valentine and Julia forgive Proteus for his reprehensible
behavior, and the Duke of Milan pardons the outlaws.
Lovers exhibit 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
My shame and guilt confounds me.
me, Valentine: if hearty sorrow
a sufficient ransom8
't here; I do as truly suffer
e'er I did commit.
Then I am paid;
once again I do receive thee honest.
by repentance is not satisfied
nor of heaven nor earth, for these are pleased.
penitence the Eternal's wrath's appeased:
that my love may appear plain and free,
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.
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.
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.
wouldst thou have me cast my love on him?
if you thought your love not cast away.
he, of all the rest, hath never moved me.
LUCETTA Yet he, of all the
rest, I think, best loves ye.
little speaking shows his love but small.
that's closest kept burns most of all.
do not love that do not show their love.
they love least that let men know their love. (1. 2. 27-34)
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.
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."
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).
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
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:
by these special
first, you have
learned, like Sir Proteus,
like a malecontent;13
to relish a love-song, like a
robin-redbreast; to walk
alone, like one that had
the pestilence; to sigh,
like a school-boy that had
buried her grandam; to fast,
like one that takes
diet; to watch like one
that fears robbing; to
like a beggar at Hallowmas.15
Without garters (devices that keep stockings from drooping).
. . . chastity: Eglamour took a vow of celibacy after his beloved died.
. . . in: Have a new insight into.
By the Virgin Mary.
Play on words (like a malcontent or like a male who is content).
All Saints' Day (November 1).
Questions and Essay Topics
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
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
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