The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Two Gentlemen of Verona
by William Shakespeare

This is an interesting play in the world of Shakespeare, though not one of his strongest. It is assumed to be one of his first plays. It has one of his smallest casts and it contains one of the biggest jerks in the whole of Shakespearean literature.

The two gentlemen of the title are Valentine and Proteus, best friends living in Verona. One of the two, Proteus, is deeply in love with a woman named Julia. The other, Valentine, is sent to Milan at his father’s bidding, where he falls in love with the Duke’s daughter, Silvia.

The horrid Proteus follows Valentine and despite swearing his undying love to Julia, he quickly falls in love with Silvia. Not only is he betraying Julia with this infatuation, he is betrays his best friend. He is a selfish and horrible man and it’s hard to understand why Julia would remain true to him.

My favorite scene in the play is between Julia and Silvia. The women find common ground where Silvia expresses her disgust with Proteus for abandoning the woman he swore to love. She had no idea that she was telling this to that same woman and it touches Julia deeply.

The play shares a dozen similarities with Shakespeare’s later work. It has a woman following the man she loves and meeting him in disguise when he falls for someone new from All’s Well That Ends Well. It has Thurio, a useless lover picked by the girl’s family ala Paris from Romeo and Juliet. It also has a bit from Twelfth Night with a woman pretending to be the male servant of the man she loves. These elements don’t work well together to make a great play, but each bit is an interesting plot point that is used more successfully in a later play.

BOTTOM LINE: This play is definitely a precursor to some of the great work that came later, but it doesn’t have the strongest plot. It contains hilarious puns and beautiful lines. Unfortunately the flip-flopping Proteus’ happy ending is not satisfying to audiences and the play is rarely preformed live.

“She is mine own,
And I as rich in having such a jewel
As twenty seas, if all their sand were pearl,
The water nectar, and the rocks pure gold.”

I read this as part of the Let’s Read Plays yearlong event hosted by Fanda. From November 2012 to October 2013 participants will read 12 classics plays throughout the year, at least one each month.


Enbrethiliel said...


Julia is probably my favourite of William Shakespeare's heroines, and my favourite lines from the play are from when she finally reveals herself to Proteus:

It is the lesser blot, modesty finds,
Women to change their shapes than men their minds.

I can well believe that her constancy was enough to shame her lover into being a better man. And I think that the right director and actors would communicate that in a performance better than the text itself does.

Thanks for reviewing this! I like discussing this play, but rarely get a chance to. =)

Sandy Nawrot said...

Ugh! The jerk gets a happy ending? Not cool at all!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Enbrethiliel - I really loved Julia too, but I think that's why I was so disappointed in the ending. She deserved so much more! I can't wait to see this one live. I have tickets to see it in August and I think that you're right about the director/actors bringing the story to life. Thanks for your great thoughts!

Sandy - I know, right!

mercury said...

This is one I've never read but I can see fro your review that it wouldn't have that much stage appeal. Where are yo going to see it?

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

mercury - I'm seeing it in Wisconsin at the American Players Theatre. I've yet to be disappointed by any of their Shakespeare shows!

Jenny Girl said...

this would be good play to get back into Shakespeare again. Even if it's a weak one.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jenny Girl - For me Shakespeare is like pizza, even when it's bad it's good!