Two Gentlemen Of Verona (The)

By William Shakespeare
June 1 1994
directed by John Dennis

The two gentlemen are Proteus and Valentine, good friends who live in Verona. Valentine opines that love makes men foolish and plans to leave for Milan. Proteus pines for the fair Julia and wants to stay in Verona. Julia is coy at first but soon confesses her love in a letter to Proteus. No sooner does he read it than his father orders him to join Valentine in Milan. Proteus sorrowfully parts from Julia and they exchange rings. After his departure Julia decides to follow Proteus and disguises herself as a boy. Meanwhile, Valentine has discovered love in the person of Silvia, daughter of Milan's ruler. When Proteus arrives in Milan, Valentine asks for help in planning an elopement with Silvia. Proteus, smitten by Silvia's charms, decides to win her for himself. He betrays his friend to the Duke who banishes Valentine. When Julia arrives in Milan (disguised as Sebastian) Proteus employs her as a page and orders her to deliver the ring she had once given him to his new love, Silvia. Outside Milan, outlaws ambush Valentine. When Silvia flees the court to look for him, she is captured by the outlaws, but rescued by Proteus. When she shows no inclination to reward him with her love, he attempts to force himself on her. Valentine intervenes but bloodshed is averted when Proteus repents. Julia reveals her identity and Proteus swears to love her as before. The Duke forgives Valentine, and everyone prepares for a double wedding.

Date Time
Wednesday June 1 12:00 am
Closed

This is one of Shakespeare's earliest plays, part of his own youthful experience. It is about a time of life when alliances are quickly made and broken. Yet friendship is vitally important to the two young gentlemen.

The two gentlemen are Proteus and Valentine, good friends who live in Verona. Valentine opines that love makes men foolish and plans to leave for Milan. Proteus pines for the fair Julia and wants to stay in Verona. Julia is coy at first but soon confesses her love in a letter to Proteus. No sooner does he read it than his father orders him to join Valentine in Milan. Proteus sorrowfully parts from Julia and they exchange rings. After his departure Julia decides to follow Proteus and disguises herself as a boy. Meanwhile, Valentine has discovered love in the person of Silvia, daughter of Milan's ruler. When Proteus arrives in Milan, Valentine asks for help in planning an elopement with Silvia. Proteus, smitten by Silvia's charms, decides to win her for himself. He betrays his friend to the Duke who banishes Valentine. When Julia arrives in Milan (disguised as Sebastian) Proteus employs her as a page and orders her to deliver the ring she had once given him to his new love, Silvia. Outside Milan, outlaws ambush Valentine. When Silvia flees the court to look for him, she is captured by the outlaws, but rescued by Proteus. When she shows no inclination to reward him with her love, he attempts to force himself on her. Valentine intervenes but bloodshed is averted when Proteus repents. Julia reveals her identity and Proteus swears to love her as before. The Duke forgives Valentine, and everyone prepares for a double wedding.

Since The Two Gentlemen of Verona is an "open text" that easily lends itself to different interpretations, directors who choose to present it have freely adapted it almost from the start of its production history. Most of its notable productions have relocated the play in time and/or place. In 1971 Two Gentlemen of Verona premiered as a musical with a contemporary urban style. This blend of modern colloquialisms and Elizabethan language became a Broadway hit. It used an interracial cast and songs based on many different cultural traditions. This year's staging at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival also plays with time and place. The production invokes the exuberance of the 1960s to evoke the play's own youthful charms. Milan is transformed into a University town where these young gentlemen experience freedom from parental authority for the first time. Sights and sounds of the '60s enhance the themes of the play. In the protected rural community of Verona sweet rock ballads and pastoral sounds surround the young people. In contrast, the city of Milan offers sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The young people from Verona "drop out and tune in." The audience sees them change radically as they replace their rural clothes with trendy '60s attire (tie-dyed shirts and cowboy boots) and trade their circumscribed behavior for freedom of action and deed. This fascinating time in recent history introduced the terms "sexual revolution" and "summer of love" into our vocabularies. Combined with the turbulent adolescents depicted in Two Gentlemen, this production promises romantically explosive results.

Parallels and Perplexities 
by Christine Mather Shakespeare introduces many plot elements in The Two Gentleman of Verona which he develops in later plays. Perhaps the most striking parallel for this year's audience is to Twelfth Night. Both plays have young women disguised as boys who woo their master's mistress. Julia even adopts the name Sebastian, the name Shakespeare later uses for Viola's brother. But the circumstances are very different. In Two Gentlemen, Proteus vows love and fidelity to Julia and then abandons her, while in Twelfth Night, Orsino does not meet Viola before she disguises herself as a boy. Instead of pleading for Proteus (as Viola pleads for Orsino), Julia reminds Silvia of Proteus' perfidy to his first love. This successfully elicits Silvia's sympathy for the "absent" Julia. It enlists the audience's sympathy as well and validates Silvia's refusal of the ring that was once Julia's. Shakespeare uses the lover's ring motif for the first time in Two Gentlemen. He also includes such a ring in Twelfth Night. Viola discovers that Olivia loves the boy she appears to be when a servant is sent after her to "return" a ring she did not leave. In the parallel situation in Two Gentlemen, Silvia refuses the ring that Julia offers her from Proteus. At the end, Julia's identity is confirmed by the ring she received from Proteus. Shakespeare develops this theme of exchanged rings in playful form in The Merchant of Venice when two wives tease their husbands with rings they obtain by trickery. He uses it dramatically in All's Well That Ends Well when Helena claims Bertram with the ring she obtained by disguising herself. If a ring symbolizes love in these plays, ownership of an exchanged ring signals love reclaimed. Confusion and resolution in the woods is another favorite Shakespearean theme. In As You Like It the exiled Duke and his men live in the forest like the outlaws of Two Gentlemen. A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Cymbeline all have climactic scenes in the woods. In Shakespeare's earlier play, the magical woods harbor Two Gentlemen's comic outlaws. In the later plays, inhabitants range from fairies, to humans disguised as fairies, to royal humans unwittingly disguised as common humans. The forest always surprises and delights the characters and the audience. All of these elements in Two Gentlemen come from tales and plays familiar to Shakespeare. The multitude of sources may account for puzzles in the script. Inconsistencies about location, time, and dramatis personae may be hold-overs from the source material. No specific source exists for the play's conclusion. When Proteus rescues Silvia from outlaws in the woods, he tries to assault her. Valentine prevents him and reproaches him by reminding him of their friendship, "oh time, most accurst: 'Mongst all foes that a friend should be the worst." Proteus asks for forgiveness. Valentine immediately forgives him. To prove the strength of this friendship, he offers "all that is mine in Silvia I give to thee." All this happens in less than sixty-five lines. Noted Shakespeare scholar John Dover Wilson argues that part of the play's conclusion was omitted by negligent revision. Proteus' quick repentance and Valentine's equally sudden relinquishment of Silvia seem more the stuff of sitcom or soap opera than Shakespeare's superior stagecraft. The most convincing explanation seems to be that this is an exuberant play of youthful love and friendship. When Proteus first starts to love Silvia, the loss of Valentine's love worries him as much as the loss of Julia's. Valentine's first thought on rescuing Silvia is not to comfort her, but to upbraid Proteus for his lack of faith and friendship. Perhaps Shakespeare recognized that adolescents sometimes act impulsively out of love or friendship. Shakespeare himself married at eighteen, and his first child was born only six months after his marriage.

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