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Table of Contents
Type of Work Composition and Publication First Performance Sources Settings Characters Plot Summary
Climax Tone Conflict Themes Use of Disguises Characterization Blunder? Verbal Razzle-Dazzle
Epigrams Figures of Speech Symptoms of Love Study Questions and Essay Topics Complete Text
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2003, 2010, 2011
Type of Work
The Two Gentlemen of Verona is a stage play in the form of a comedy. In William Shakespeare's day, a comedy was a literary work with a happy ending. The play centers on the friendship of two young men and their romantic adventures with two young ladies. It was 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 conversation.
Date Written: Between 1589
and 1595, probably 1592 and/or 1593.
No records exist establishing the
date of the first performance. However, a
reference to the play appears in a 1598
Tamia (Wits Treasury), by the
English author Francis Meres (1565?-1647).
This reference means that Shakespeare's play
may have been performed before Palladis
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). Shakespeare also drew upon a tale of two friends, Titus and Gisippus, that appeared in The Decameron, by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) and reappeared in "The Wonderful History of Titus and Gisippus," a story in The Boke Named the Governour, by Sir Thomas Elyot (1590?-1546).
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.
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 sayProteus 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.
Upon 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,
Sir Valentine, I care not for her, I;The duke strongly rebukes Thurio, then turns to the brave Valentine and says,
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)..
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The climax of a play or another literary 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:
I do applaud thy spirit, Valentine,
of the play is lighthearted and
adventuresome. However, the tone threatens
to become dark and even tragic when
Proteus becomes infatuated with Silvia and
plots to take her from Valentine. But
Valentine's forgiving nature and Proteus's
mercurial nature--which persuades him to
give up Silvia for Julia--resolve this
conflict, and the two young men renew
The central conflict in the play develops when Proteus makes a play for his friend Valentine's beloved, Silvia. This conflict threatens to destroy the friendship between the two young men.
The following passage spoken unwittingly by Proteus foreshadows the conflict between him and Valentine.
Love vs Infatuation
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.
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.
Lovers' 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.
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.
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.
Forgive and Forget
Valentine and Julia forgive Proteus for his reprehensible behavior, and the Duke of Milan pardons the outlaws.
Use of Disguises
Time 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..
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.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.
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. (1.2.27-34)
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.
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).
they love least that let men know their love.
how this spring of love resembleth
years but young, but his experience old;
use doth breed a habit in a man. (5.4.3)
Coy looks with heart-sore sighs; one fading moment’s mirthAnaphora
Other men, of slender reputation,Apostrophe
Be calm, good wind, blow not a word awayIrony, Dramatic
Valentine, the Duke of Milan, and other characters are unaware of what the audience well knows: that Proteus has betrayed his longtime friend, Valentine, in order to pursue Silvia for himself.Metaphor and Hyperbole
I [am] as rich in having such a jewelMetaphor
Love hath chas’d sleep from my enthralled eyes,Simile
How wayward is this foolish loveWhat's in a Name?
The name Valentine comes from a Latin word, valentia, meaning worth, capacity, or value. The name Proteus comes from Greek mythology. Proteus was a minor sea god who could change his shape at will. Obviously, the behavior of these characters reflects the meaning of their names.
Symptoms of Love
Marry,10 by these special marks:11 first, you haveNotes