*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 changed, for once he meets Silvia he abandons not only his professed love for Julia but also his lifelong friendship with Valentine. After a Machiavellian maneuver through which he secures the banishment of Valentine from Milan, Proteus manipulates both the duke and Thurio into giving him access to Silvia, who, however, remains impervious to his solicitations and deaf to his false claims that both Julia and Valentine have died.
It is as though the change of location from Verona to Milan has brought about alterations in the characters of both Valentine, who has become a lover, and Proteus, who has become an unscrupulous and deceitful scoundrel. The two main female characters, Julia and Silvia, are also forced to respond to changes in their lovers’ status by resorting to drastic measures, including leaving their home cities.
Forest. Just as Verona is an abode of simplicity and inexperience and Milan is a locale in which Valentine and Proteus encounter challenges, the forest turns out to be the realm in which reconciliation becomes possible. Although this reconciliation eventually emerges from chaotic confusion, it proves surprisingly comprehensive, as the duke even pardons outlaws who have been terrorizing the area. Valentine forgives Proteus for his treachery although he is aware that his old friend was on the verge, a few minutes earlier, of raping Silvia. Julia, who in her disguise has witnessed Proteus’s unconscionable behavior, also forgives him as he suddenly experiences a revival of his love for her.
Thus the natural environment of the forest contrasts favorably with the world of the city, in which human schemes so often work against human happiness. The duke’s greedy disregard for his daughter’s love for Valentine, Proteus’s selfishness with respect to Valentine, Silvia, and Julia, and Thurio’s self-centered conviction that he is entitled to marry Silvia all come to naught in the forest, where the true virtue of Valentine, Silvia, and Julia emerges and prevails.
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...
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