Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Verona. City in northern Italy in which William Shakespeare also set Romeo and Juliet (1595-1596). The Verona of The Two Gentlemen of Verona is a highly fictionalized place, a locale of relative innocence. There, Valentine and Proteus enjoy a firm and uncomplicated friendship until Proteus is sent by his father to Milan.
Tensions among the characters in Verona are mild and ordinary, features of fairly uneventful domestic life: Valentine disagrees with Proteus about the relative merits of love and travel; Julia at first does not to know what to make of Proteus’s offers of affection; Antonio, Proteus’s father, disapproves of his son’s devotion to love; and Proteus objects to his father’s command that he join Valentine in Milan. None of these conflicts is particularly significant. They all resemble the conflict between the buffoon Launce and his dog Crab, who refuses to weep upon his master’s departure from home. Contrasted to Milan and the forest, Verona is a place of domestic tranquillity.
*Milan. Major northern Italian city, which, like Verona, is highly fictionalized in the play. In Milan, the two young gentlemen of Verona finally encounter serious problems in their lives. Valentine falls in love with Silvia, but her father, the Duke, wishes her to marry a wealthy but unpleasant character named Thurio.
When Proteus arrives in Milan, his life is also...
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In The Two Gentlemen of Verona, the principal characters—and some of the secondary ones as well—feel compelled to act and speak in certain ways when they fall in love. The conventions of courtly love (a practice which flourished during the Middle Ages and influenced Renaissance literature) required such things as serenades, the frequent exchange of letters, and extravagant praise of one's beloved. Are young people today free to express love according to their individual natures, or is there a standard they have to follow? In the past, young women in love have had to act coy, as Julia does in I.ii, and mask their feelings. Additionally, society has not always encouraged young women to speak openly of their love; rather, they have had to indicate their feelings indirectly, as Silvia does in II.i with her comments on the letter Valentine has written for her. Do some of these conventions affect the way modern young people in love conduct themselves? Has the experience of romantic love changed significantly since Shakespeare's time?
Most commentators believe that The Two Gentlemen of Verona places a higher value on friendship than on romantic love. They believe the play depicts Proteus's betrayal of Valentine as a worse sin than his betrayal of Julia. What would happen today if two young men—or two young women— who have been the closest of friends fell in love with the same person? Would one of them have to step aside, sacrificing love so that...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Arthos, John. "The Two Gentlemen of Verona." In Shakespeare: The Early Writings, 104-73. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1972. Arthos sees significant philosophical issues woven into the romantic comedy of this play, including questions about the nature of faithfulness, what suffering can teach us about friendship and love, and what constitutes perfection. He views Silvia as an illustration of what perfection may be: holy, wise, and fair. Proteus, by contrast, shows us that love without reason leads to loss of integrity and the betrayal of truth.
Berry, Ralph. "Love and Friendship." In Shakespeare's Comedies: Explorations in Form, 40-53. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972. Berry regards Valentine as a self-absorbed young man who affects the pose of a conventional romantic lover and adapts his behavior in keeping with what he sees as the rules of that convention. Berry perceives Proteus as a self-conscious role-player, too, and he compares the play's final scene to a major theatrical production staged—for their own benefit—by "the two egotists of Verona."
Carroll, William C. '"Forget to Be a Woman.'" In The Metamorphoses of Shakespearean Comedy, 103-37. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985. In a section (pp. 107-17) of this chapter, Carroll discusses the implications of Julia's adoption of the role of Sebastian. Ironically, he points out, her willingness to change, to be flexible, demonstrates her...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Leech, Clifford. Introduction to The Two Gentlemen of Verona, by William Shakespeare. London: Methuen, 1969. Concludes that the play is primarily concerned with mocking the idealistic pretensions of Renaissance codes of romantic love and friendship.
Lindenbaum, Peter. “Education in The Two Gentlemen of Verona.” Studies in English Literature 15, no. 2 (Spring, 1975): 229-244. Concludes that the play is about the importance of penitence for past sins. The education of the “perfect man” envisioned at the beginning of the play takes the protagonists to the court and then to the green forest, where they will learn that they are imperfect because they are human.
Perry, Thomas A. “Proteus, Wry-Transformed Traveller.” Shakespeare Quarterly 5, no. 1 (January, 1954): 33-40. Shows that to understand Proteus, one must first see him as a young Elizabethan Italiante in a passing phase; at the end of the play he is a chastened and regenerate youth.
Sargent, Ralph M. “Sir Thomas Elyot and the Integrity of The Two Gentlemen of Verona.” PMLA 65, no. 2 (December, 1950): 1166-1180. Discusses the ways in which Proteus learns that he has violated the codes of masculine friendship and romantic love and how he is regenerated and reclaimed at the end of the play.
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