The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Vol. 40)
The Two Gentlemen of Verona
For further information on the critical and stage history of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, see SC, Volumes 6 and 12.
The first of Shakespeare's romantic comedies, The Two Gentlemen of Verona has been generally disparaged by critics and seldom produced for the stage; the fantastic plot reversals and uneven characterization seem to many a first attempt to dramatize themes that find fuller and better expression in many of Shakespeare's later plays. Robert Ornstein (1986) has claimed that many of the elements that Shakespeare explored in The Two Gentlemen of Verona appear more successfully in The Comedy of Errors and Love's Labour's Lost. Critics such as Kurt Schlueter (1990) have tried to enumerate the sources Shakespeare used—including Montemayor's Diana and Boccaccio's "Titus and Gisippus"—to emphasize the variety of influences Shakespeare drew on to create the play.
Some modern critics have tried to explore the unlikely plot elements by examining Shakespeare's characterization. John P. Cutts (1968), for instance, has found Proteus and Valentine's treatment of Julia and Silvia a consequence of their unwillingness to confront the self-interest that underlies their conduct. Marvin Felheim and Philip Traci (1980) have viewed Proteus as a nearly metaphorical representation of change, which they claim is apparent in the character's soliloquies. Frederick Kiefer (1986) has stressed the importance of letter-writing to the character changes and plot reversals that take place throughout the play.
Many critics have focused on Shakespeare's treatment of desire and gender in The Two Gentlemen of Verona. J. L. Simmons (1993) has argued that the play is "traversed and thwarted by anxieties of 'coming out,'" and involves the overcoming of male friendship in the production of heterosexual desire. Mimetic desire has also become an important topic of recent Shakespearean criticism; René Girard (1989) has explored mimetic desire and the role it plays in Valentine's incitement of Proteus' love for Silvia. The issue of desire is further complicated by the intercession of Julia in disguise, as a servant boy helping Proteus to woo Silvia. Michael Shapiro (1994) has claimed that Shakespeare's handling of the gender reversal is groundbreaking and recurs in his later works. He also notes that such a reversal lends insight to Renaissance sexual politics and finds that Julia's dramatic authority is established in large part by a self-conscious appeal to masculine tropes.
The friendship between Valentine and Proteus and their love for Silvia and Julia forms a main theme in the play. This dramatization of the relationship between male-male friendship and heterosexual love has led to varying interpretations: Ruth Morse (1983) has considered Shakespeare to be dramatizing the tension between the two, William Rossky (1982) interpreted the play to be a burlesque of Renaissance attitudes on the subject, and W. Thomas MacCary (1985) viewed the play as a unification of the homoerotic model of love with the heterosexual model adopted by Shakespeare's contemporaries. Conflicting interpretations of the play and the amount of recent criticism have shown The Two Gentlemen of Verona to be not only important to understanding the elements of plot and characterization that recur in later plays, but also prove the play to be an interesting exploration of themes such as the production of desire and gender identity, and the relationship between love and friendship.
Robert Ornstein (essay date 1986)
SOURCE: "Two Gentlemen of Verona," in Shakespeare 's Comedies: From Roman Farce to Romantic Mystery, University of Delaware Press, 1986, pp. 48-62.
[In this essay, Ornstein surveys the characters in The Two Gentlemen of Verona and compares the play with Shakespeare's other comedies.]
Unlike Errors and Love's Labor's, which are frequently and successfully staged today, Two Gentlemen is not often produced and very rarely to critical acclaim. The play is interesting enough to hold an audience's interest despite an unaccountably silly final scene, but not if directors lack confidence in its artistic qualities or reduce its characters to clichès Silvia often seems to step out of a pre-Raphaelite painting; almost invariably she is golden-haired, ethereal, and pensive. Julia strides forth as quintessential Elizabethan ingenue—sprightly, winsome, remorselessly girlish in doublet and hose.
Proteus and Valentine usually appear as all-purpose Elizabethan gallants who are almost indistinguishable from one another in their romantic posturings. Where the low comedy of Love 's Labor's is often a trial, the low comedy of Two Gentlemen often seems its crowning glory on stage because Launce and Speed steal every scene they are in and make their supposed betters look like cardboard figures....
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John P. Cutts (essay date 1968)
SOURCE: "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," in The Shattered Glass: A Dramatic Pattern in Shakespeare's Early Plays, Wayne State University Press, 1968, pp. 34-42.
[In the following essay, Cutts examines the lack of self-understanding on the part of the characters in Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona.]
The Two Gentlemen of Verona begins to exploit the protean situations love will put man through in his quest for true, unMuscovited, unvizarded, and unshamable love. "Who is Silvia? What is she," the delicious touchstone lyric of the play, is deliberately enigmatical. Who is Silvia? What is she? She is really Julia to Proteus, when, his protean journey over and unmasked in the green woods' episode (a foretaste of many such episodes to follow in Shakespeare), he apparently recognizes his true love, his "wish for ever" (V.iv.119). She is Silvia when in his sea-change into something not rich but certainly strange he is fore-sworn to Valentine, Thurio, the Duke, and more importantly to himself, in the wooing of her.
Proteus at the very beginning of the play is accused by Valentine of being a "votary to fond desire" (I.i.52) his "wit by folly vanquished" (I.i.35), and Proteus, despite his witty answers and agreement that Julia has "metamorphos'd" him to such an extent that he does "neglect [his] studies" (I.i.67), shows too...
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René Girard (essay date 1989)
SOURCE: "Love Delights in Praises: A Reading of The Two Gentleman of Verona" in Philosophy and Literature, Vol. 13, No. 2, October, 1989, pp. 231-47.
[In this essay, Girard examines the role that mimetic desire plays in the plot, which portrays Proteus losing interest in his former lover, Julia and falling in love with Silvia once he learns of his friend Valentine 's overwhelming desire for this lady. Precisely because the two young men are alike, they are predisposed to want the same things.]
Valentine and Proteus have been friends since their earliest childhood in Verona, and their two fathers want to send them to Milan for their education. Because of his love for a girl named Julia, Proteus refuses to leave Verona; Valentine goes to Milan alone.
In spite of Julia, however, Proteus misses Valentine greatly and, after a while, he, too, goes to Milan. The two friends are reunited in the ducal palace; the duke's daughter, Silvia, is present and Valentine briefly introduces Proteus. After she departs, Valentine announces that he loves her and his hyperbolical passion irritates Proteus. Once alone, however, Proteus has his own announcement to make: he no longer loves Julia; he, too, has fallen in love with Silvia:
Even as one heat another heat expels,
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Love And Friendship
William Rossky (essay date 1982)
SOURCE: "Two Gentleman of Verona as Burlesque," in English Literary Renaissance, Vol. 12, No. 2, Spring, 1982, pp. 210-19.
[In the following essay, Rossky views The Two Gentlemen of Verona as a burlesque or satire of Renaissance attitudes toward friendship and love.]
Among the variety of critical approaches which attempt to explain why The Two Gentlemen of Verona is, or seems to our time to be, a Shakespearean failure, the most prevalent is the rationalization that the play is a serious dramatization of conventional Renaissance ethical thought, especially on the supremacy of friendship over love—ideas quite different from our own, meaningful to Elizabethans though hardly to us.1 A few critics, however, have of late tentatively or fleetingly suggested that the play is essentially a burlesque.2 The position of this essay is that the play is, indeed, a good-humored satirical lark, most of all in its controversial ending, and that this view is supported by examination not only of its comic patterns but also by Elizabethan attitudes toward friendship and love.
Paradoxically, a confirmation of this view appears in the comments of those who have attacked the play as a ridiculous failure. H. B. Charlton's denigrating comparison of scenes in the play to Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of...
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Michael Shapiro (essay date 1994)
SOURCE: "Bringing the Page Onstage: The Two Gentlemen of Verona" in Gender in Play on the Shakespearean Stage: Boy Heroines and Female Pages, The University of Michigan Press, 1994, pp. 65-92.
[In the following essay, Shapiro examines Shakespeare 's use of cross-gender disguise in The Two Gentlemen of Verona.]
Although heroines in male disguise are a common feature of medieval and Renaissance narratives, Shakespeare's The Two Gentlemen of Verona (c. 1593) is one of the earliest English plays to bring the motif onstage.1 It is also the first in which a heroine disguised as a page pretends to be a "saucy lackey," the kind of precociously witty boy servant who had already become a stock character on the Elizabethan stage, probably because of the close fit between these cheeky pages and the assumed personalities of boy actors. As a theatricalized page, Julia, the cross-dressed heroine of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, displays an audacity not found in the play's primary narrative source. Not only does Shakespeare himself redeploy the cheeky page as a persona for disguised heroines, but other writers, such as Fletcher and Massinger, adapt the saucy lackey in inventive and effective ways.
The Theatricalized Page
The heroine in male disguise has a long history in medieval and...
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Adelman, Janet. "Male Bonding in Shakespeare's Comedies." In Shakespeare's "Rough Magic": Renaissance Essays in Honor of C. L. Barber, edited by Peter Erickson and Coppélla Kahn, pp. 73-103. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1985.
Claims that The Comedy of Errors and Two Gentlemen of Verona wrestle with the theme of male bonding and its disruption by women, a theme that reappears in Shakespeare's later tragedies and romances.
Brooks, Charles. "Shakespeare's Heroine Actresses." Shakespeare Jahrbuch 96 (1960): 134-44.
Examines the girl-page character in several of Shakespeare's plays to explore its relevance to contemporary issues of appearance versus reality and the quest for identity.
Goldberg, Jonathan. "Shakespearean Characters: The Generation of Silvia." In his Voice Terminal Echo: Postmodernism and English Renaissance Texts, pp. 68-100. New York: Methuen, 1986.
Explains the importance of the name 'Silvia' in the genealogy of the character.
Hamilton, A. C. "The Early Comedies: The Two Gentlemen of Verona." In his The Early Shakespeare, pp. 109-27. San Marino, Cal.: Huntington Library, 1967.
Examines the theme of "the conflicting claims of friendship and love" in Two Gentlemen, claiming that the play explores issues that recur in many of Shakespeare's later works....
(The entire section is 393 words.)